“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)
In this instance, the crowd did not come to Jesus. This time it was different.
So often they had pressed against him by the Sea of Galilee, so much so that he was forced to climb into Peter’s boat to avoid being crushed. On that unforgettable occasion when he sat down to teach them on the hillside, the crowds came famished for his feast of words, and he also lavished them with a banquet of bread and fish to satisfy their hungry bellies.
But in this particular passage in Matthew, we read an entirely dissimilar account. This time we see that Jesus “went” to them, went seeking them “throughout all the cities and villages” (Matthew 9:35) as if they were a hidden treasure he had come to find. The one who was, without question, the greatest prize of all, was on a mission with a distinct purpose in mind for those he would encounter.
When Jesus reached them, he entered their synagogues to open the Word and open their eyes to truth. He made it a priority to proclaim “the gospel of the kingdom,” since he was, after all, the King who had come to usher his kingdom to earth. A new kingdom had come with his arrival, a kingdom open to all who would receive, who might believe.
But his life-altering message was not the only gift the Savior dispensed freely. In addition to the talking, he moved into action to heal “every disease and every affliction.” Couldn’t have been easy for him, this enormous, draining mission. It had to have been taxing, to say the least, had to have taken a toll on his stamina and his time. Might have been far more convenient for him to speak and leave. He did not.
Why all this effort? Why did Jesus go out of his way to go “throughout all the cities and villages” (Matthew 9:35)? Why did he unequivocally teach and preach and heal everywhere he went?
The Scriptures tell us “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them,” because they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” His noble heart moved him to respond to their needs in order to alleviate their afflictions in hearts, minds, and bodies. His life was marked by mercy and tenderness. There was nothing in him that allowed indifference to their pain.
We sometimes wonder what our function might be in this chaotic, modern-day world. What does God want us to do, what is his will for us even now? Jesus precisely clarifies our roles by how he spent his days. With his priorities, he set the example for us by laying out a crystal-clear plan while he walked in that ancient world.
Go to where the people are, don’t wait for them to find you. Feed them the truth of Scripture and make sure the greatest news of the gospel is clearly lived out and declared. Broadcast the reason the Savior came to earth through any means available, but don’t just stop there. Provide healing, compassion, and care for the hurting and helpless. Don’t be indifferent to the crowds. Recognize them as sheep in desperate need of a shepherd and step into the void to become that mindful guide who leads, protects, and nurtures those who are helpless and harassed.Jesus did.
His life is an invitation for us to go and do likewise.
Elizabeth A Mitchell