Seeing People in the Crowds


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.”Matthew 9:35-38

 This is a popular passage in Scripture, but like many popular passages we can become blasé and skip over them, without reflecting anew and being held in wonder at how Jesus did his ministry. There are many things that can be taken from this passage, but I would like to draw your attention to focus on the people that Jesus saw and the response from Jesus.

The people

Depending on your translation, the people Jesus noticed were described as harassed, helpless, confused, worried, distressed, distraught, malaise, heart-broken, anxious. Unsurprisingly, I would use many of these words to describe a high proportion of people in our western society. The description of “harassed and helpless” also paints a picture of a predator and its prey, where the prey is continually mangled by the predator until it gives up trying to escape and just lies down and takes it.

We can also see that the harassment was felt on 3 levels:

    Physically, Jesus was ministering to frail, broken people with all kinds of health problems, including fever, paralysis, leprosy, deafness, blindness, demon-possession, and  even death

    Mentally, Israel as a nation had been conquered successively by Babylon, Syria, Egypt, and the Romans and lived under political oppression that often denied their human rights

    Spiritually, the Israelites were also oppressed by the religious leaders of the day, being condemned by the man-made rules added to the law


Jesus’ response

We should note firstly that Jesus went. He didn’t expect people to come to him. We are challenged to go out, rather that expecting people to come in. We should also observe that in going, Jesus proclaimed the good news and healed. The good news and healing go hand in hand. Its not evangelism or mission, but integrated ministry.

Jesus saw the crowds. He actually noticed people and the state they were in. Do we notice people or just rush past?

Jesus responded with compassion. Other translations say that Jesus felt sorry for them, was filled with pity, his heart broke.

I love this old quote from Spurgeon who commented on this passage:

“Those who watched him closely perceived that his internal agitation was very great, his emotions were very deep, and then his face betrayed it, his eyes gushed like founts with tears, and you saw that his big heart was ready to burst with pity for the sorrow upon which his eyes were gazing. He was moved with compassion. His whole nature was agitated with commiseration for the sufferers before him. If you would sum up the whole character of Christ in reference to ourselves, it might be gathered into this one sentence, "He was moved with compassion."

Challenges for us

Who are the harassed and/or helpless people in your community?

Do you have compassion when in the crowds? Or do you feel harassed?

Declining numbers of volunteers. How do you value your workers?

A prayer

Dear Jesus,
We ask that you would watch over all of our neighbors who are without a home. We confess that we have often been consumed by our own material greed, and failed to recognize the needs of our neighbors. Help us to conform to the image of Christ, who saw every need and was moved with compassion. Amen.