Compassion In Action

I have been reflecting recently on Matthew 9:35-38. What I notice about Jesus is that his compassion for the people came as a result of what he saw. The result of his compassion, led him to act. So it would seem that compassion is both an attitude and an action?

It is interesting to note that the Greek word from which the word compassion comes, literally means intestine. In other words, compassion is an emotional response attached to the stomach. To use an Australian-ism, ‘a gut feeling‘.

Down to his gut, Jesus was moved by what he saw when he looked at the people around him.

But what was it exactly that Jesus saw? What situation were these people in that caused Jesus to have such a strong emotional response?

Verse 36 tells us… because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. The word harassed, sometimes translated distressed, comes from a word that literally means to skin an animal. In Jesus’ day, it was used to describe people who were bewildered or confused; people who were unable to make sense of what was happening to them, or what life was all about.

Think for a moment about the society in which Jesus lived. The majority of the people were poor and somewhat socially disadvantaged. They were living in a culture where there was a great deal of manipulation by the religious leaders. They were politically insignificant, in many ways a people without a voice.

From a global perspective, the Palestine of Jesus’ day was nothing more than a backwater on the outer fringes of the mighty Roman Empire.

But more than that, the people are described in verse 36 as helpless. A better translation would be dispirited, which means thrown down or crushed. These were a people who were discouraged and without support; which might sound strange when you stop to think that we are talking about a culture that valued community and extended family networks.

So how could it be, that in a society where social and family networks were so important, that the people still felt discouraged and without support?

When Jesus looked at these people, he saw past their physical needs, deep into their hearts. He saw people who were broken and hurting, not able to find the answers to the questions about what life was about. He saw people who felt all alone in the world with no one to help them.

These were a people who longed for a better way of life, yet could see no clear path up and out of their situation.

Ultimately, what Jesus saw, was a people who had no shepherd. No one to lead them through life with direction and purpose. No one who would defend them or stand up for them. No one who would comfort them and give them hope for the future.

And in his gut, he had compassion for them. But that’s not all he saw. Verse 37 tells us that he also a plentiful harvest.

Jesus was not overwhelmed by the sense of need. He was moved by it! But he didn’t say, “This problem is too great, what can I do?” He didn’t say, “This problem is not my problem.” He didn’t say, “ I don’t really know these people.”

Instead, he said the harvest is plentiful. Why did he say that? What did he see that caused him to make such a statement?

What he saw was the need that these people had for a savior. Someone who would lift them out of their confusion and hopelessness and deliver them into a new and better way of life.

What Jesus saw was the very reason why he had come in the first place. He was ready. The questions was, were they?

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