Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming 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. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
Let’s consider for a moment something that Jesus saw that we don’t see in our church very often anymore. What would that be? He saw the crowds. It has been a long time since our regular worship service was so crowded that it was hard to find a place to sit. And yet, we do see crowds at times.
Where have you seen crowds?
Dodge County fair.
Devil’s Lake on a holiday weekend.
Highway during rush hour.
So crowds do still happen.
Why did Jesus see crowds? They wanted to see him, to be healed by him, to associate with him, to be taught by him. He was a celebrity whose genuineness, love, and compassion for the fringes of society made him well liked and respected by those who normally marginalized by society. Even today those who are described by St. Paul are often more receptive to the Gospel than the elite, the wise, and the learned.
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Our text is just one of many examples of how the crowds would come out to see Jesus. We know from the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of the 4,000 that the crowds were huge by the standards of those days. Obviously, many people had come to realize that they were sick and needed the doctor meaning that they realized their deep spiritual needs and believed that Jesus could help them. AND HE DID.
Why? “He had compassion on them.”
When Jesus observed the crowd what did he see? Before we ask that question, what do we see when we observe a crowd? Well, that depends in part on your perspective.
Some look at a crowd as a source of revenue. In a consumer driven society we may see people as potential customers. Those who will buy our product or services and give us good money for it. There are some dangers in such an attitude. One danger is cited by James in his teaching about favoritism.
1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
I remember when I was a home missionary in Spokane that my mission counselor told me not to shy away from the rich neighborhoods. Perhaps he saw more financial potential. In reality, the ones who were most receptive were not very well to do at all. Even here most of the people I have spent the most time with in visitation and classes lately are very limited in financial resources and should not be “counted on” to balance our church budget even though they are generous in their hearts.
Certainly Jesus did not look at the crowds (the way some modern day TV evangelists do) as a cash cow that would provide him with enormous wealth. He looked at them through the eyes of a shepherd who could help the sheep.
Matthew describes Jesus’ evaluation of the crowd: “They were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” More and more those outside of the church are lacking when it come to sound biblical teaching and spiritual guidance. The flurry of religious posts that are on social media may make some people feel good, but much of it is NOT what the Bible teaches about our God and the way of salvation.
And so Jesus reached out to the crowds and provided them with the spiritual help they needed and did not neglect their physical needs although that was not his main goal.
But even Jesus, the Son of God, realized that his own ability to help would be limited by time and space. As the future unfolded, the crowds who needed help would increase and it would be necessary for more people to be involved in the work of shepherding the flock.
How did Jesus handle this? He trained disciples to carry out the Great Commission. He instructed them to pray for more workers. (Aside on how many hands make light work.) He sent them out as those workers and gave them a task to do.
Do we recognize the needs of others?
Are we praying for more workers?
Are we opening ourselves up to be those workers? (Peter on faithfully using our gifts.)
Illustration of a factory that closed because there were not enough workers.