Reading: Matthew 9:32-38
I was intrigued a while back by a conversation I heard – when a member of our local church here at BBP spoke about “strangers” coming to church on a Sunday – how they didn’t know these strangers.
We can be a bit clubby sometimes.
Years ago – in 1996 – I was privileged to go to Argentina for an international conference run by “Harvest Evangelism”.
There was a revival going on the cities of Argentina at that time – through church unity and cooperation and intense prayer and intercession, local churches were getting together to reach every street in their towns with a prayer cell – and connecting with their neighbours in mission.
I recall the main speaker – the head of Harvest Evangelism – speak on this text from Matthew 9.
It’s the gospel reading for today and it follows on quite well from Sunday – where we read the Luke account of this business of the harvest being great and the workers few.
Ed Silvoso said this – or words to this effect: When you are in a crowd – say in a shopping centre – and you see the masses or encounter their shopping trolleys – or get stuck behind them when you are in a hurry and they seem to have all day – what do you feel?
Are you like Jesus?
The key verse is of course this one:
Mat 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Σπλαγχνίζομαι – splagchnizomai is the word. It’s one of the richest Greek words in the Bible. Literally it is something like a bowel movement – oops. That sounds wrong. Thayer’s Greek dictionary explains it like this:
1) to be moved as to one’s bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity)’
One 18th century commentator put it like this:
(John Gill) … he was moved with compassion on them: his bowels yearned for them, he was touched with a feeling of their infirmities, as the merciful high priest, the good shepherd, and faithful prophet; being heartily concerned for the souls of men, their comfort here, and everlasting happiness hereafter…
It’s about something that churns inside of you.
Compassion is the key. Is that the feeling you have? What Jesus felt?
It is such an interesting verse – in fact all the words are rich – so rich that the various translations sound like this:
(AOV) En toe Hy die skare sien, het Hy innig jammer gevoel vir hulle, omdat hulle moeg en uitgeput was, soos skape wat geen herder het nie.
(ESV) When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
(MSG) When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd.
(KJV) 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.
Jesus is moved by the masses. We sometimes avoid them – as the world is so different from what we grew up with.
The best sense of this that I have experienced was not at a shopping centre – but going with the crowds to watch the Springboks play the All Blacks one night at the Cake tin – the Westpac stadium in Wellington. They came in their droves – and it was so gloomy. OK they were all wearing black – but there were thousands. Streaming towards the stadium – emerging out of the station, off buses, or along the sidewalks. I had a real sense that day – that this is what Jesus is interested in. All those people. Okay that particular group was a bit obsessed with the religion of rugby, so we have to be especially compassionate towards them.
The heart of Jesus is for those who are harassed and helpless.
Back to Matthew 9:37 – Jesus he tells them to pray to the Lord of the harvest:
Mat 9:37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Mat 9:38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
In Mark we read this:
Mar 6:34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
And in that passage he goes on to feed them – with five loaves and two fish.
Dear friends – there is work to be done.
It begins with compassion. And compassion goes together with love. Paul said this of his passion to reach people in his first letter to the Corinthians:
1Co_9:16 Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! And then in 2 Corinthians he says this: 2Co 5:14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.
Of course that verse precedes the one we have mentioned on a couple of Sundays: 2 Corinthians 5:17
2Co 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
May you and I find a new compassion for the masses. This city is a reflection of the world we live in. All shapes, sizes, ethnicities (nations literally) and many, many people who are so different from us.
Yet they are the same us us. Without Christ the good shepherd – harassed and helpless, confused and aimless, in short – LOST.
We are called to be part of this plan to introduce them to Jesus the good shepherd. Amen.