Our reflection in this article is on compassion, compassion for the lost to be more precise, and three verses of scripture will guide out thoughts. “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 labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:36-38)
Compassion is a commodity in very short supply as is evidenced by the enormous amount of abuse and neglect of those not deserving of such indifference. We should not confuse compassion with love for although the two go hand in hand they are not exactly the same. It is often heard from persons who, for one reason or another, have gripes against the church and often with some justification, “the people in the church these days have no love”. What is even more alarming is that this is now coming from church members themselves as they observe their fellow members’ total neglect of the needs and concerns of those outside the church community, those unconverted for whom Christ died. This neglect is in essence less a lack of love and more a shortage of genuine compassion which speaks to empathy, care, consideration and sympathy. It is as if the only concern of the church is related to those inside the sanctuary and we need to remind ourselves that an essential part of the church’s mission lies outside the sanctuary.
In this reflection the wish is that we see the multitude as Christ saw them and have the same compassion towards them as Christ has and do whatever is in our power to give assistance. We need to understand clearly the real situation in the world and notice that people around us are in deep crisis and without a doubt they are:
1. Hurting spiritually, mentally and some even physically and emotionally and are silently yearning for assistance.
2. Hassled by the vicissitudes of life to the point of despair and if someone does not help them then that despair can lead to tragedy.
3. Hopelessly entangled in sin and can see no exits from their situation and often do not even bother to look for any. It is similar to many long-term unemployed who have given up and stopped looking for work.
4. Helpless to help themselves because Satan has so blinded their eyes and distorted their awareness. Being locked into a vicious cycle they often do not distinguish good from bad and are in dire need of assistance.
As we reflect on this topic – I say can you spare me a little compassion – we need to examine some things about Jesus Christ in Matthew 9:36-38 quoted earlier.
First we notice that Jesus truly cared for them
Jesus Christ all through his earthly ministry demonstrated a level of care for those around him that was truly breath-taking and at times he was hungry and worn from his self-denying efforts. Again and again as he spent long hours ministering to the multitude the disciples begged him to have a rest and take nourishment only for him to pay no heed to them and continue. Jesus seemed to be touched by everyone’s hunger, affliction, tortured soul, troubled mind and waywardness and never met an unfortunate soul that he did not want to or tried to help. Jesus cared for all people of all races like no one before or since and it could be seen during his earthly ministry in his every action.
He profoundly cared about their suffering
Jesus was not high-minded and esoteric involving himself in things only of exalted significance but was down to earth and practical. He knew how to identify and empathize with real people in real time. In our scripture he was concerned that the people would get dizzy and faint and it says, “…he was moved with compassion on them…” (Matthew 9:36b). The absence of nourishment can be a powerful distraction for anybody especially for people who had to travel on foot and could lead to distress and physical injury. Jesus had much to teach the multitude and did not want in the process to create problems; for this could discourage those seeking him. He wanted to connect to everyone including the sick and the old and the little children and he was particularly moved by their suffering and hence an outpouring of compassion.
He called to mind their acute emptiness
Just as physical fainting can be seen and is a measure indicative of lack of nourishment so too can spiritual emptiness be detected. Jesus was not one to be blinded by presentational problems but always dealt with the real substance and always went to the heart of the matter. The encounter with the Samaritan woman as recorded in John chapter four was a typical example of Jesus looking beyond the immediate and real problem of water and seeing the real need of this woman that was to do with spiritual water. In our text it says, “…because they fainted…” (Matthew 9:36c) and this would be normal for some worn down by hunger but Jesus was also seeing deeper than the mere physical. He was not indifferent to their immediate needs but was far more concerned for their spiritual emptiness for He is the bread of life and the living water and it was God’s will that he filled their emptiness.
His passion for souls needing salvation was far greater than just providing physical sustenance to feed them for a day.
Believers need to keep in mind that addressing the physical needs, important though they are, is not the main objective of evangelism and missionary outreach but often they can impede the effort of dealing with the spiritual needs and must therefore be taken into account.
He craved for a complete enduring solution
Repeatedly throughout the Gospels it has been established that Jesus was not primarily about identifying problems but finding lasting solutions. The woman caught in the act of adultery as recorded in John 8:1-11 needed help not condemnation. To the sick Jesus offered healing, to the blind he gave sight and to the lame a helping hand. During his earthly ministry Jesus was about offering help and providing solutions, giving people a respite from the evils of the day and providing true rest for the spiritually weary as he demonstrated here, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Any religion that does not provide real spiritual solutions to existential problems is false and not founded on the principles of Christ. The question must be asked; what are we offering those who are fainting all around us? Are we like some offering a feel good religion or some useless transient quick fix? A warning to us all that the lost require salvation! Nothing else will ever satisfy that inner hunger.
Then we observe that Jesus saw their aimless condition
Unfortunately they had no central focus
An essential quality of anyone offering quality assistance to the needy is the ability to analyse correctly the prevailing circumstances. Jesus saw and understood precisely what was happening for each was drifting aimlessly towards certain doom, each being carried along with the tide of events and our scripture puts it like this, “…they… were scattered abroad…” (Matthew 9:36d.) This suggests that they were not in control of their destiny, not masters of their own fate but merely reacting to and being controlled by situations. Just like the world today many are just following the crowd to certain damnation; the herd mentality fiercely dominates our world and people seem unable to think for themselves and make proper, informed choices.
To spend eternity apart from God, residing in everlasting damnation, is no more bearable because it is filled with similar-minded people. All caring believers need to act now before it is too late. Let us not be guilty when it is said “no man cared for my soul” (Psalm 142: 4c)
Undesirably they had no central home
The fact that the people were scattered abroad would suggest that they had no central home, no fixed place of abode and no safe place they could call their own. Home is where they would have found warmth and shelter, assistance and comfort, companionship and meaning, but now here they were out in the cold. Jesus Christ from the standpoint of his omniscience could empathize with them because he fully understood their situation but he could doubly empathize with them because he himself had no central home to call his own for he said this, “And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20).
No home highlighted the absence of fellowship, comfort and rest. No home suggests constant disruption and movement and weariness. Surely compassion is required here! And that is exactly what Jesus offers to everyone.
Understandably they had no central command
When Jesus was on earth the Temple was still functioning and all the liturgical activities were ongoing but in essence in matters of spiritual guidance and direction the system was bankrupt. It has always been true and still is today that the blind cannot lead the blind else they all fall into the ditch.
In terms of safety and security they were utterly alone and we know that sheep are pathetic when alone for then they make easy prey for roaming predators. In matters of comfort and peace of mind they were sore in need for an important ingredient was missing – the God factor and David put it like this, “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4c). To be without the rod and staff is the equivalent to falling out of an aircraft without a parachute. Perilous indeed!
People everywhere need the guidance of Almighty God even though few would admit it. Left to itself the world is like the troubled sea, constantly shifting and forever restless. Believers cannot pass by on the other side like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan we need to be fully engaged. With so many dysfunctional homes today Christians should be mightily involved right across the board and especially in counseling and guiding the youth who seem desperately in need of assistance.
Finally we saw how Jesus sorrowed for their despair
Jesus was deeply touched by their circumstances
Jesus knew their eventual destination without a shepherd, for he saw them “as sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36d.) This observation was all the more telling because Israel was filled with Scribes and Pharisees and priests and Levis all of whom were part of the leadership crisis for they had shown themselves to be blind leaders of the blind. The circumstances facing Israel could not be more dreadful for the people stood in need of good, reliable, sincere and God-inspired leadership and instead they were getting the opposite and as a consequence were being pummeled by prevailing circumstances. Jesus’ mission was to save mankind and deal directly with the lost sheep of the house of Israel and here the sheep was in great peril and pursuing a God-less agenda and suffering the most distressing consequences.
Without God there is no hope for mankind and all believers everywhere need to communicate this message with some urgency to those around us. It is the devil’s business to try to keep people in spiritual darkness so we must send forth the light of the gospel and give them a chance to escape that confinement.
He was truly moved to correct their plight
Being touched by people’s circumstances and being empathetic with them is a good beginning but it does not go far enough for a lot more is required. Knowing that on their present course they were surely heading for damnation, Jesus was determined to provide them a means of escape, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38.) We should take note that labourers are required but they are to be sent, i.e. commissioned by the Lord himself for it is God who will choose, anoint, inspire and empower them for Christian service. God never sees a problem but that he offers a right and proper solution. It is for this reason that Christian laborers are solution oriented and must carry the good news of the gospel to needy souls. The Lord of the harvest will supply the laborers and it was then in the hands of these faithful laborers to be productive in the employment of the Lord.
God will send us forth and empower us to do his work if we make ourselves available just as Isaiah did when he said, “Here am I; send me.” (Isaiah 6:8) We need to realize that all believers are part of the ministry of reconciliation and no one is excluded and Paul affirmed this, “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).
He crucially made provision for their salvation
Jesus was not just touched by people’s circumstances and being empathetic, he was not just going to send workers to assist them he himself, yes Jesus Christ made the ultimate surrender in sacrificing his life for the sheep and thereby demonstrated his supreme compassion. This was no futile gesture in a lost cause but the ultimate price that had to be paid for man’s redemption and Christ paid it in full, “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8).
Jesus Christ has commissioned the church to carry on his work here on earth until he returns, “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you” (John 20:21). Would to God the church would have the same vision and bestir itself to do more for lost souls. God is depending on us and we must not let him down.
The question then is what are we doing to help? Let us not be too taken up with what others may or may not be doing but rather what am I doing to help my fellow man? Praying is good and needful but more is required. Giving donations for God’s work is always welcomed but that is not enough. God is calling us to witness, to evangelize, to get involve, to dirty our boots as it were. We must not pass by on the other side as did the priest in the story of the Good Samaritan as told in Luke 10:31. If we can help but one soul out of his misery then we are being productive in God’s kingdom. So have you got a little compassion you can spare?
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