“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” (Matthew 9:36-38).
Jesus instructed his disciples to pray. He traveled through “cities and villages,” preaching in synagogues. Crowds thronged to hear him. He told them a message that they heard as good news, a message about the kingdom. As he spoke, he noticed that they were “harassed and helpless.” Their condition aroused compassion in Jesus. Politically, Jesus and these people lived in a land occupied by foreign military forces and ruled by a nation far away. Socially, many lived in poverty; they also frequently suffered from diseases for which we know cures but they did not. Religiously (and often politically), they longed for a savior, a Messiah, who would rescue them; some however had so entwined themselves with their vision of what that savior would be that they could not hear his message without encasing it in their vision. People chafing under political oppression wanted to take Jesus by force and make him king Read the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand in John 6 and look for that phrase). At least one of Jesus’ apostles, Simon the zealot, was or had been one of them. Others had so aligned themselves with the occupying forces that they had trouble hearing a message of deliverance. One of Jesus’ apostles, a tax collector named Matthew, had worked for the occupying government. Religious leaders shared some of the popular concepts; when they heard and saw Jesus, they feared him. Somehow he posed a threat; they charged that he cast out demons by the power of the ruler of the demons (Matthew 9:34).
Sometimes, we want to package this story in the clothing of our own political, social, and especially religious context. Some aspects of the story fit; helpless people still live today, and many suffer harassment from others who do not respect their race, gender, religion, or social status. We, however, may divorce these factors from our application of the story. When discussing good news, or “gospel,” we may not consider how what Jesus said seemed to be good news to his contemporaries. So we may also mistake how what he said is good news for our contemporaries. While Jesus taught in synagogues, he taught a message that applied to every part of life. He revealed that “comfort zones” and that “felt needs” often obstruct God’s healing our hurts and meeting our real needs.
Jesus preached, but also healed hurting people. He healed, but stressed to his disciples that his priority was preaching the good news. Again, Jesus instructed his disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field. Then he sent them out preach the kingdom of heaven and to heal. The next chapter of Matthew gives insight into his message and his messages. Jesus saw people who needed leadership, and he trained leaders. Jesus saw beyond the felt needs of his contemporaries to their real needs. Jesus told his disciples to pray for workers, then he sent them out as those workers.
We too see people who are harassed and helpless. We may be those people. We long for a Savior, and want God to do something. He has through Jesus. Jesus instructs us to pray for workers to rescue the harassed and helpless. When we pray, let us consider that he may call us to be the rescuers.
God who loves the poor and the helpless, open our eyes to the suffering in the world around us. Give us courage to work for you. Renew our hope and give us healing of body and spirit. Help us to hear your call and to respond as you wish. In Jesus’ name, Amen.