THE LABORERS ARE FEW
Matt 9:35-38 And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then saith He unto His disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers into His harvest.
The lead verse of the lesson text indicates that Jesus, no doubt followed by His disciples, expanded His earthly ministry from the area around Capernaum into many other cities and villages, which were probably located in various areas of Galilee. This is probably the second preaching circuit Jesus made in this Palestinian province, the first of which was recorded in Matthew 4:23, which says that Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. Although the preaching circuit noted in the lesson text took place a year or two after the first, Jesus' mission remained the same - assuring the Jewish multitudes that gathered around Him of the soon-coming kingdom of God, and offering proof by many miracles that His massage came from His Heavenly Father.
We see here that Jesus was moved with compassion on the multitudes that continually gathered around to hear the doctrine of God that He preached. By their dedicated and sacrificial actions, the men and women that continued to follow Jesus demonstrated their undying desire to hear His message of repentance and His promise of eternal salvation that would be found in the kingdom of God that was soon take place. Jesus recognized the trials and tribulations necessary to leave their homes and professions to become His disciples. Continuing such an ordeal was very trying and left them with bodily fatigue. He felt their physical aches and pains in order to move from place to place, having no home in which to find refuge.
However, when Matthew wrote that Jesus had compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd, there was another, even more important meaning for His sympathy for them. These devoted men and women were sad, depressed, and grieving because they thought they were spiritually lost. The people of Israel were burdened with various rites and religious observances that had been loaded on them in order to observe the traditions of men that scribes and Pharisees added to the Law of Moses. These additional doctrinal burdens seemed to be the primary source of grief that resulted in the majority of Jews "fainting" under such religious loads. Overburdened with these rites that were impossible to keep, the Jewish people suffered from the lack of true religious guidance. The self-righteous, self-centered scribes and Pharisees seemed to completely neglect other Jews outside their social status. The result was that these ignored Jews were scattered abroad. That is, having no spiritual guidance or leadership, they wandered away and became disinterested in their traditional Jewish religion, much like sheep having no shepherd. The spiritual leaders (shepherds) of these Jews had abandoned their common Jewish brethren (the flock of sheep) and ministered only to the needs of their own Jewish hierarchy.
The Jewish nation, as a whole, suffered from spiritual fatigue. They had become indifferent and discouraged by the burdensome doctrine of the Pharisees that had been heaped upon them. This was evident by the multitudes that were looking forward to the coming of the Messiah and were continually gathering around Jesus to hear His gospel message of salvation. With receptive hearts, these Jews were hopefully searching for God's truths. Knowing this, Jesus said unto His disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few. True, there were numerous scribes, Pharisees, priests, and other spiritual leaders, among the Jewish nation, that devoted themselves to fulfilling their own self-righteous desires rather than those of the common Jews. Because of this lack of spiritual leadership, Jesus turned to His disciples and indicated that they would become the laborers needed to harvest these scattered souls. For this, Jesus said, they were to pray. Later, having already sent His twelve apostles out among the Jewish people to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick (Matt. 10:1), Jesus sent seventy other disciples to teach the same message, saying that The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few (Luke 10:1-2).