” When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”. Matthew 9:36
Jesus is at the height of popularity. Huge crowds are following him wherever He goes. And everywhere he goes preaching the Good News healing and miracles occur. Lepers are cleansed, a Roman Centurions servant is healed, a demon possessed man is delivered, a paralyzed man gets up and walks away, the blind see, the deaf hear and a little girl is raised from the dead. In the midst of this amazing account in Matthew 9 we read
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them”.
The writer had witnessed the miracles, the healing of diseases and sickness first hand and wants us to consider something we may overlook in the shadows of the miraculous.
“they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”
He saw their confusion and helplessness their immediate need, but He also understood the reason for their distress. They had no shepherd. This phrase is borrowed from 1 Kings 22:17
“Israel was spread all throughout the mountains, wandering aimlessly. They were like lost sheep without a shepherd to guide them”.
Matthew Henry in his commentary writes
“The teachers the Jews then had pretended to be shepherds, yet Christ says they were not shepherds, for they were worse than no shepherd at all; they were idle shepherds that led them away, instead of leading them back, and fleeced the flock, instead of feeding it”
The religion and the leaders of the sheep of Israel had failed them miserably. The leaders of Israel left them exposed, helpless, at the mercy of an adversary.
In the chapter titled “In enemy territory“John Eldredge writes:
For some reason we keep forgetting that Jesus, in the Gospels, is operating in enemy territory. We project into the Gospel stories a pastoral backdrop, the quaint charm of a Middle Eastern travel brochure—picturesque villages, bustling markets, smiling children—and Jesus wandering through it all like a son come home from college. We forget the context of his life and mission. His story begins with genocide—the massacre of the innocents, Herod’s attempt to murder Jesus by ordering the systematic execution of all young boys around Bethlehem.
Jesus was hunted by an adversary even before His birth. An adversary who desired not only to destroy Jesus but all those Jesus came to save and deliver. Jesus knew the healing, the miracles, the deliverance would give only temporary relief. He knew the greatest need for all was for a Savior who would provide a way back to the Father. A Shepherd unlike the other shepherds willing to go the distance, even to lay down His life for the lost sheep of Israel and all who would come after John 10:16
When Jesus saw them he had compassion and He knew their greatest need. What do we see when we look at the crowds?
Do we see their confusion and helplessness and dismiss them as victims of their own actions?
Do we choose who is worthy of our compassion or refuse to see them at all?
Do we condemn them in their sin write them off as unsalvageable not worth the effort?
Do we forget that the trouble, the suffering, the despair is only a symptom of the greater problem?
Do we reach out to those who are trapped in darkness and sin and because we fear rejection or disapproval refuse to share the truth that will set them free?
Do we forget in all our doing that the greatest need we all have is for a Shepherd?
If there were ever a time for us to see not only with compassion but with purpose it is now. Jesus understood what an awesome task was before Him, so He said to His disciples,
“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send more workers into His harvest field.” Matthew 9:37-38
We are the workers in his harvest field. It is time to answer the call and get busy!
picture credit nooutcasts.org
copyright: John Eldredge from the book “Beautiful Outlaw”