Please begin with prayer for an open heart, before you read the passage below. Matthew 9:35-38 – 35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
In Matthew 9, we see Jesus in action. Before this, He finished the Sermon on the Mount and then we see a series of miracles. This passage above becomes the pivot point for a huge transition in the Gospel of Matthew---the commissioning, empowerment, and sending of the disciples!
Matthew gives a recap of Jesus’ ministry in v.35 as He is traveling around and then He shows the heart of Jesus---His compassion (Splagchnizomai!!! Greek word for gut-wrenching compassion that Delton mentioned Sun.) for the people around Him! ‘They were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’ I think I have grown in compassion in some ways, but I can still be very judgmental and stifle compassion because of a person’s situation. I tend to judge someone’s situation (usually without much insight) and think that they made choices that got them there and they can get themselves out. I also frequently lack compassion in areas that I am strong in, which is not fair.
I help manage the Love Fund here at the church and this is one way He has grown my compassion. I have learned that it’s always so important to understand the back story of a person, who they are, and the situation. Today, I have already answered two calls asking for assistance and have had multiple people come in asking for assistance. The timing of this is impeccable, as I meditate and respond to a passage on compassion! God give me a heart like yours and compassion that exceeds the appearance of a person or their situation…
He continues and references them as ‘sheep without a shepherd’---I have very little animal experience and zero with sheep, but my understanding is that they are one of the few animals on the face of this planet with no defense mechanism and they are also not the brightest animals either. The religious/political leaders of that time left these people to fend for themselves and they were not fairing very well. I am a numbers guy, so maybe an equation is helpful---
sheep – Shepherd = dead sheep.
Jesus’ compassion drove Him to action, because the defenseless sheep were valuable to Him. He didn’t belittle them, criticize them, or make fun of their situation, but came in the flesh to redeem them, forgive them, and provide more than they could hope for. We have been and are these sheep that so desperately need to be guided by a Shepherd. Our brokenness and need for a Shepherd must remain at the forefront of our minds and fuel our compassion for those around us! His compassion fuels our compassion…
Finally, notice if certain people/populations really stir your heart. Maybe God has gifted you with abundant compassion for a group or demographic of people. I know in my journey, it’s the high school and college-aged youth. I feel like they fit in this category of sheep without a shepherd, mainly due to the breakdown of the family. I feel called to shepherd them, by pointing them to the Shepherd! Pay close attention to what sparks your heart and respond faithfully to the call!
My prayer begins with me---God give me a compassionate heart that sees beyond the appearance or perceived situation. Help me begin with myself and see how I am one of these sheep that is helpless without my Shepherd!
Do you have a compassionate heart? Is it limited? Is it for a certain population? Do you realize the compassion God has had on you and does this drive your compassion? I would love to hear your journey and how this passage impacted you.
Bonus comment - notice His words in V.37---‘Ask the Lord of the harvest’. My initial step, at least mentally, is to go out and start reaping the harvest. Jesus instructs the disciples to pray for God to send workers into the plentiful harvest field. That’s revolutionary! We pray…then He sends! So, our first step is not just to run out and attempt to reap the harvest, but to humbly pray for Him to send workers. Those are Kingdom prayers! If you continue to read on into Chapter 10 in Matthew, Jesus immediately commissions and sends these same disciples! So, it’s a ‘both/and’ situation---we ask Him to send workers and also go ourselves. Prayer is not an excuse for inaction, but we pray in step with faithful action.