“And seeing the multitudes he felt compassion for them, for they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.”
What do you see when you look at other people? What do you see when you look at your best friend? The man or woman of your dreams? The teacher who always seemed to go the extra mile to make sure you passed Algebra 2? What do you see when you look at the drug addict? The homosexual? The atheist? The adulterer? The guy who just cut you off in traffic and angrily flipped you the middle finger? Often what we see when we look at someone depends upon what we know of them personally, or how we feel about them. We form judgments. We react with either repulsion or acceptance based upon how we perceive them as moral beings. Once upon a time you may have looked up to Jared Fogle and admired the determination he displayed in losing over 200 pounds. You saw him as a role model for obese children. Now you only see him as a child predator. The natural response is disgust. Is it wrong to feel that way? We should be repulsed by the sexual abuse of children. We ought to hate adultery and the devastating effects it has on families. We should avoid the casual company of immoral people who would influence us to join them in their bad behavior. It would be wrong to hire Jared Fogle as your sixteen year old daughter’s private tutor. There is something deep inside of us that hates sin, even though we, ourselves are personally plagued by it. It is part of being made in the image of God. Even though we are fallen, the moral law within still speaks to us. It judges us. And thus, we are prone to judge others.
The problem is that most people don’t openly display their moral flaws. Instead they put on a moral front; displaying the admirable qualities, hiding the ones they know others will find unacceptable. In other words, all of us are very good at hiding the sins with which we struggle. If you suddenly had the power of omniscience and could know everything there is to know about the people that surround you, and the people that you come into contact with on a daily basis, how would it change your perception of them? Not only would you see all their good qualities, but you would also see every flaw. You would know every sin that they have committed, and every sin that they have yet to commit. Every secret thought would be on display. In short, you would see everything . . . The good, the bad and the ugly. And believe me, there would be a whole lot of ugly. How would you see them? More than likely, it would change the way you react to and interact with them. Would the affections you have for someone suddenly morph into hatred if you discovered that they secretly wished you ill will? That two-faced #%$&! Would you think twice about hugging your dear uncle if you knew that he was viewing child porn on his computer each night? Creepy, right? Would you shake the hand of the smiling stranger who you suddenly knew was involved in human trafficking? Slapping cuffs on their wrists would be more fitting. Thank God we do not have the power of omniscience! If we did, we would find it impossible to form any kind of loving relationships with others.
Of course, there was one person who had this ability. Jesus was God incarnate. He had the ability to see anything and everything. He often demonstrated this ability when he encountered people in the New Testament. The woman at the well is a perfect example. The verse above is from Matthew 9. The latter half of the chapter reflects back upon Jesus’ interactions with the many groups he encountered as he was going about teaching and healing. It tells us in verse 36 that each time he encountered a different crowd, he had compassion on them – every single one of them. He could see every secret sin in their lives; the verse above even hints at that. He saw their sin-plagued condition. They were distressed and downcast, much like fallen sheep who are in need of someone to help them get back up. The ESV uses the words “harassed and helpless.” The idea is that he saw every one of them as being in bondage to sin, and suffering the consequences. He saw it all.
Matthew is very clear in telling us how Jesus reacted upon seeing the multitudes in this way: he felt compassion. He understood their condition and wanted to do something about it. In the very next verse he issues a call for God to raise up laborers who will go out into the crowds and continue his work. We should react the same way our Savior reacted. The God of the universe, the one who sees all, and who hates sin, reacted far differently than what one might expect. Instead of revulsion, we get compassion, and the compulsion to reach out and help the afflicted. He was gripped with a love that would eventually send him to the cross to redeem his creation and free them from the power of sin. Contrast this to how we humans react upon seeing the sinful multitudes. The God of the universe who sees far more sin than any of us, and hates it far more deeply, reacted with compassion. Not hate. Not judgment. Not rejection. He went to them. He healed them. And he asks us to do the same.
Returning to my questions above, what do you see when you look at the multitudes? What do you feel when you see a group of people protesting in favor of gay marriage and equal rights for homosexuals and transgenders? If it is anything less than compassion and love, and the compulsion to minister to their needs, then you need to ask Jesus to soften your hardened heart. But keep this in mind: Jesus felt compassion because he saw their sinful condition. He didn’t overlook it or deny it. It was the very thing that drove his compassion. The call to go out into the harvest is not to simply be among the people, taking up their cause. Our task is not to try and convince people that they really aren’t distressed and downcast, harassed and helpless. It is not a call to show solidarity for our fellow man. How shallow is that? It is a call to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom and to heal “every disease and affliction,” as verse 35 clearly indicates. This is what Jesus did. It is what he is calling his laborers to do as well. Anything less than freeing people from the sin that harasses them, is not showing love and compassion.