About the harassed and helpless …

April 27, 2020 | Written by Jonathan Cleveland

I have been thinking a lot about compassion lately.

Matthew chapter 9 ends like this:

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.”

I find this picture of Jesus’ compassion so compelling. Everyone saw the crowds. The Disciples saw the crowds. The Pharisees saw the crowds. The crowds saw themselves.

But Jesus saw the crowds with the eyes of a shepherd. He was there as a caretaker. 

As a redeemer and restorer. So when he looked at the crowds, he didn’t just see them. He saw something in them.

He saw that they were harassed by (we don’t know what exactly but definitely) the world, satan, each other.

He also saw helplessness there. He saw their inner and outer desperation, and all the ugliness that came with it.

And his heart was moved with compassion.

I find this so compelling for our day. All around us are crowds of harassed and helpless people. What does that harassed-ness and helplessness look like? It looks like:

  • Exhaustion in our medical professionals.
  • Fear in our senior adult population.
  • Frustration in our education system.
  • Disappointment in everyone who had a plan to graduate, to get married, to live life during these months.
  • Despair in the business owner who lost everything in 1 month.
  • Anger at those who aren’t taking this quarantine seriously enough.
  • Anger at our government who is overstepping.
  • Social media warriors posting explosive things that change no minds
  • Loneliness and isolation.

The list of what we are experiencing in this community could go on, but you get the point.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them…

The most amazing thing about that verse is that crowds rarely APPEAR worthy of compassion. They appear frustrating, pushy, desperate and angry. But through the eyes of Jesus they appear helpless.

Jesus doesn’t just want to save our souls, he wants to give us his eyes.

He wants us to see what he sees when we look out at the crowds around us.

That’s how chapter 9 of Matthew ends. Chapter 10 begins with this:

5 These twelve Jesus sent out…

After inviting the disciples to pray that God would “send out” workers. Jesus turns to the disciples and asks them to answer their own prayer.

Here is where I think we are right now as the people of God.

God is asking us to see people with his eyes.

Not just some of the people but all of the people. They are all harassed and helpless. And he is inviting us to leave the crowd behind. (We believers should not think of ourselves as the crowd. We are not harassed, we are loved. And we are not helpless, we’ve been redeemed by almighty God.) He is asking us to see ALL the people as a good shepherd would. With compassion. And he invites us to pray that God would intervene and send help.

God is preparing us to be the answer to our own prayer.

He is sending us to intervene and help these harassed and helpless people. We are his plan. And we know that there is tremendous need coming. Whether the predictions of economic depression, worldwide famine, or tyrannical governments come to pass after this crisis is over, we know this – people will still be harassed and helpless.

And Jesus is clear. He is always sending out his followers as an army of good shepherds to be caretakers and restorers in this world.

So let’s get ready.

Let’s read God’s word. Let’s pursue holiness. Let’s pay off debt and free up resources. Let’s confess our sins to one another. Let’s deal with our dysfunctions. Let’s strategize and plan. Let’s forgive those we are angry with. Let’s educate ourselves about the real problems in our world. Let’s turn off the media rhetoric on both sides. Let’s turn of everything that leads us to anger not compassion.

So that when the time comes we are workers who are ready to be sent out.


Related Stories

a rope wrapped around a tree

A Reminder to Be Steadfast

I’m not sure where your heart is with our world spinning out a bit, but I do know that we are all feeling the weight of this current season in some way. In times like this we are tempted to fix, control, understand, and numb out. But I’ve been focusing on the word “steadfast.” Our God is steadfast. And we should be too.

A Love Without Filters

Erin Ahnfeldt shares about how God used his friend Scotty to remind him of the truth … we have a “Lifter of our heads” who wants us to see Him, because when we look at Him, the mess of this world won’t be so consuming.

Seeing Butterflies

At a funeral for a friend’s daughter, Erin Ahnfeldt reflects on grief, the meaning of symbols and the idea that reality is more than we can see. So much in this world doesn’t make sense. The questions pile up, and the answers aren’t always there, but one thing we can be sure of—there’s a God who loves us.


Leave a Comment