Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:35-36
This is a typical Bible passage about Jesus, right? He is preaching and healing. Jesus is so nice, the end. Hold on, not so fast. There is more to these verses than that. After Jesus called his disciples, he started traveling. He went from town to town and probably asked the local rabbi of every town he visited if he could preach in the synagogue. For the record, I tend to turn down people who asked to preach at Bethel to “give me a Sunday off.” Usually these people are trying to drum up support for a ministry cause they think is important.
Yet, Jesus is successful and preaches about the good news of God’s love. He tells anyone who will listen that God is not far off, but really close (like in the room close). Not only that but that God loves sinners, misfits, outcasts, doubters and so on. This is not a typical sermon in first century Israel. Jesus doesn’t leave the people as they are, instead he calls them to “repent for the Kingdom of God is near.” Repent is a fancy Bible word for change. Change the way you think about God, because God truly loves you. Changing the way you think about God will change how you treat others in the world. Especially when you realize that God loves everyone you lock eyes with.
But these aren’t empty words or just a clever new message to attract followers. Jesus backs up his words with definitive action. He heals every disease and sickness. Imagine Jesus and the disciples entering a town where they literally do not know anyone and they not only tell them that they are loved by God but there is a demonstration of that love through the healing of loved ones. My guess is that word traveled fast that Jesus was not just another teacher.
We see in these two verses that God cares and that illness and disease are not welcome in God’s Kingdom. It seems to me we could use Jesus more than ever when I pray over our prayer list and watch the news regarding the pending healthcare legislation. Clearly Jesus addressed the needs of others in a very specific way and he did it with great mercy.
It actually says Jesus had compassion on the people. He felt bad for them. He pitied their condition. He loved them. Its say the people were “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” In other words, the people were lost, afraid and had no one to look to for help. These weren’t friends or acquaintances of Jesus, they were complete strangers. Yet Jesus was moved with compassion for these nameless crowds that gathered.
It makes me wonder, what would it take for us to have compassion for the nameless crowds of people in our neighborhood, city or country? I am sure if we all had the power to heal like Jesus, we wouldn’t be so concerned about what was happening in Washington D.C. this past week. But we don’t have that power and many in this country do not have Jesus sized compassion for others. That honestly saddens me.
Yet, when Jesus saw all the people who had no idea that God loved them because they struggle in life, he said this, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:37-38
We may not be able to heal people but we certainly can advocate for the needs of others. Rather than asking, “What’s in it for me?” we should be asking, “Lord what can I give up so that others may benefit?” Jesus gave his life so that the world could be reconciled and brought close to God. What should we doing in this harvest season? Gathering for our own benefit or giving to further God’s agenda in our nation and world?