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Updated: Jun 18, 2023

This 36th verse of Matthew Chapter 9 is beautiful but offers great resources for deeper reflection -the heart of Jesus was moved with pity. Jesus is concerned that the people are troubled and abandoned like sheep without a shepherd. Then, the chief shepherd prays for laborers in his vineyard.

It is important to look at this episode within the context of the entire mission of Jesus, as the messiah sent to redeem us. This passage offers a critical point whereby Jesus commissions the first apostles. With the goal of making laborers, Jesus invites these men to ask the master of the harvest to send in laborers to the harvest. He empowers them by bestowing authority to drive out demons and unclean spirits like the master. He gives clear instructions and provides them with pastoral boundaries. Their primary task is to proclaim the kingdom of heaven and to provide healing. But they have to have the heart of the Lord, without cost they received, so they must give without cost.

To further appreciate this passage, let us put it in perspective of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Jesus was moved with pity at the sight of abandoned and troubled people in the gospel, which clearly defines the heart of God. It is for that reason that Jesus came into the world. Usually, the Feast of the Sacred Heart is celebrated on a Friday, which in most cases, does not offer the opportunity to do elaborate Sunday homilies on the subject. But looking at this gospel passage, it becomes clear that the entire mission of the Christian faith revolves around the mystery of the Sacred Heart. The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy 166, 172, stipulates, “The term ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus’ denotes the entire mystery of Christ, the totality of his being, and his person.”

It is no surprise that Paul captures the reason for our hope as believers as flowing from God’s love in Christ Jesus. Not because of humanity’s righteousness that Christ offers to love us, rather that God’s love proves itself in Christ, who dies for us while we’re still sinners. This is the Heart that moves with pity, to gather the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The Sacred Heart pours itself out for the sick, the downtrodden, the oppressed. It is the Heart pierced with a lance on the cross and from where flowed blood and water. Pope Benedict XVI highlights, “The essential nucleus of Christianity is expressed in the Heart of Jesus; in Christ the whole of the revolutionary newness of the Gospel was revealed and given to us: the love that saves us and already makes us live in God’s eternity.”

Imagine today, the names of the apostles chosen by Jesus in this gospel. Reflect on their weaknesses and failures: “Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; Simon from Cana, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.” Don’t we wonder sometimes, if the Lord didn’t know better before choosing such men? Would Jesus not know that these men would run away at the most critical times or even give him over for a peanut price? Yet, he chose them. That is how the Sacred Heart functions. Benedict’s explanation makes sense, “Even our shortcomings, our limitations, and weaknesses must lead us back to the Heart of Jesus. His divine Heart calls to our hearts, inviting us to come out of ourselves, to abandon our human certainties to trust in him and following his example, to make of ourselves a gift of love without reserve.”

Could this be the meaning of the laborers that the Lord is seeking in his harvest? Is that the key to being a part of the team that Jesus invites into his harvest? The laborers of Jesus are not the best of men and women, not the strongest or the most talented, not even the most righteous, but those willing to commit to his Sacred Heart. The laborers are those ready to abandon their human certainties to trust in him. The work of the harvest is still ongoing today because it flows from the gift of the Sacred Heart. So, we are called into the mission of Christ, to give in abundance without expecting pay back. We are invited into the Heart of Jesus, to move with pity toward the troubled and abandoned members of the flock.

To be a part of the harvest, we have to bring ourselves to the embrace of the master, like the apostles, ready for the harvest, to his healing presence like Mary Magdalene. We’ll have to appear in humility, to touch his cloak, unworthy as we are, like the woman with hemorrhage. We must gather in fellowship around the sacred altar of sacrifice with commitment and compassion, like the Blessed Mother Mary and the pious women at the foot of the Cross. Everything about the Sacred Heart is love. It is the Heart that gives, the Heart that moves with pity, the Heart that takes care of His own.

Venerable Louise Margaret Claret De La Touche sums it up in these words,

· God loves: to love is to give. God has given us everything, and has given himself to us. He commenced by giving existence to us and to all beings: that is Creation.

· God loves: to love is to speak, to make oneself heard by the person who is loved, and that is Revelation, the Sacred Scriptures, God’s law.

· God loves: to love is to make oneself like the person loved; that is the Incarnation.

· God loves: to love is to save the person loved, cost what it may; to die for the person loved: that is the Redemption.

· To love is to wish to be perpetually present to the person loved: that is the Blessed Eucharist, the Real Presence, the altar.

· To love is to give oneself to each of those whom one loves: that is Holy Communion, the Last Supper.

· Finally, to love is to wish to make happy with oneself forever all those whom one has loved: that is the eternal happiness in heaven!

Now we can understand what the gospel writer means when he says, “Jesus’ heart was moved with pity.” This is not one isolated case of Jesus seeing the people, stepping out to engage them, and going back again. Rather, it is an expression of the mission of Jesus, the Heart that loves his own to the end. The lack of sincere hearts that can move with pity in the world is what grieves the Sacred Heart and for which Jesus laments, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” Let’s ask the master of the harvest to fill with his grace the hearts of his followers so we become true missionaries. Authentic evangelizers and missionary disciples must move with pity at the sight of the many troubled and abandoned men and women in our society today.

Readings: 1st- Ex. 19:2-6; 2nd- Rom. 5:6-11; Gospel- Matt. 9:36-10:8

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