Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest." (Matthew 9:35-38)
"Distressed and dispirited," those are the words used in this translation (NASB) to describe how Jesus saw the people. The ESV prefers "harassed and helpless." The first Greek word has its roots in the concept of skinning or flaying something, except it carries with it the connotation of "to give one's self trouble." The second refers to being thrown away. I guess "distressed and dispirited" might be okay, but it includes the concept of self-inflicted. And isn't that the case? Aren't we, like lost sheep, suffering from trials and tribulations inflicted by sin?
Jesus told His disciples to go out and bring these people to Him. No, wait ... He didn't. Isn't that interesting? He told them to pray. "Beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest." Odd. You'd think He would have assigned it to them. Well, in fact, He did (Matthew 28:18-20). But here His point is the magnitude of the job, the need for lots of workers, and mostly to direct their attention to the only One who can help -- the Lord of the harvest.
Backing up, though, I think there is an interesting description that I skipped. Jesus saw sinners, to be sure. He was, after all, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. His response, however, was not disgust or moral outrage at their sin. Notice what it was. "He felt compassion for them." We are supposed to be Christ-followers. You would think that we would aim for the same. Too often we don't. We are offended by those who flaunt their sin and seek to shout them down. Jesus did not say, "That's okay; sin all you want." Neither should we. And there is room for outrage at sins against God. He did it. But the key here is compassion. That is, the key response of the workers He is beseeching God to supply is compassion.
We do spend a lot of time pointing out sin. "That's sin. So is that. And that. No matter what you tell me, that is still sin." But our reaction to that sin should not be disgust. They aren't lepers. They are "distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd." And we know the Good Shepherd that can address that problem. Compassion is what is needed here. They're already aware of the outrage. The Lord Jesus Christ is seeking workers for His harvest. Will you volunteer? Do you have compassion for the lost? If our primary response to the sinfulness of others is not compassion, are we being Christ-like? I have to wonder.
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