The United States is the #1 exporter of cotton in the world. South Carolina is 12th in the nation in producing cotton, and Bishopville, SC, is the hub of the Palmetto State’s operation. It is the home of the unique cotton museum, the historical Cotton Trail, and even has a ‘Cotton Run 5K’ race at the end of the summer! It’s not hard to find out why this place is the Cotton King of SC. Many of the roads in the small town are lined with cotton fields, with the agricultural industry being the main player in the economy and workforce of Bishopville.
If I didn’t know better, I’d say Jesus was standing on the side of the road in Bishopville when he was talking to his followers in John 4:35:
"Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest?' Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.” (NASB)
Was Jesus telling the disciples that the cotton had come in early? What else would make the fields white?
Let’s look at this verse closer and find out what Jesus was really saying to the disciples.
First of all, let’s remember that Jesus is a great wordsmith. Anything he said was important and loaded with meaning. Jesus was one of those guys that you really had to listen closely and intently to what he was saying. The disciples often misunderstood his parables, and Jesus would have to talk with them later and explain to them what he meant. Many of the stories and illustrations Jesus told had double meanings. He used drawings, the landscape, and other people around him to make application to the kingdom of heaven. This verse in John is no different.
Jesus was no doubt standing in front of a field talking to his disciples. Jesus tells the disciples that the fields are ready to be harvested. Yet, the first part of the verse says that the crop won’t be ready for another four months. What does Jesus know about farming… he was a carpenter’s son, remember? So let’s find the underline meaning in this text.
First, look at the social aspect of the passage. During Bible times, the field owners often hired people to work their land. Like some lower level manual labor jobs today, the work was hard and the pay was low. The equivalent of the lower class of people in the New Testament was the Samaritans. They were the outcasts, they were socially unaccepted, and were often stuck doing the hard labor jobs no one else wanted to do. So, Samaritans were probably in the field weeding and pruning to keep the crop healthy, even four months before harvest.
Second of all, let’s look at the fashion aspect of the passage (yes I said fashion). Different colors were worn to symbolize different things in Bible times. For example, you’ve probably all heard that purple was the color of royalty. Well, the Samaritans had a certain fashion sense that their people embraced, kind of an outward showing of heritage and culture. Scholars tell us that they all used to wear the same color of clothes. And what color was that? White or off-white. Now you can start to see what Jesus was talking about.
Jesus stops at a field, and tells the disciples to look into the field. Even though the crops are 4 months away from coming in, the fields are white for the harvest. Jesus isn’t talking about cotton or wheat or grain here, but people. So many times when we look into the world we see businesses, restaurants, church buildings, schools, etc. Yet, when Jesus looks out in the world, he only sees people. And not only does he see people, he sees people who need Him. He sees people who need to hear the Gospel. He sees people who are dying everyday without Him. Unfortunately, I think he still sees something else today that he saw while talking with his disciples.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Matthew 9:37)
Jesus didn’t care about the plants, he cared about the people. Look at the people in the field. They are ready to hear the message of salvation. There are so many people in the field ready to hear about Jesus that it looks white from their light colored clothes. What an awesome image!
My prayer for you this week is that you’ll see your city through Jesus’ eyes. I pray that you will see not just family and coworkers and neighbors and friends, but that you’ll see people who need to hear the life saving message of the Gospel. I pray that when Jesus looks at our lives, he doesn’t have to make the grave statement that even though the harvest is plentiful, the laborers are few.
So the next time you pass a field, think about the people in this world that need to know Christ. The next time you see someone wearing white, let it serve as a reminder that Jesus has called us to proclaim the life-giving message of hope to a dying world that desperately needs to hear of the Savior.