So what do you think of when you see a crowd of people—at Walmart, at a restaurant, or in a traffic jam? I am impressed by the attitude of Jesus “when he saw the crowds . . .”
Matthew 9:35–36 says,
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching 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.
When I think of how I normally look at crowds of people, this Scripture is very convicting. When I see a bunch of people queuing in the checkout lane or waiting in my favorite restaurant, I usually don’t have a vision of compassion such as Jesus had. My thoughts are more along these lines: I wish all these obnoxious people would get out of my way so that I can do what I want to do!
When Jesus saw the crowds, it made him think of a flock of sheep who were harassed and helpless. Other Scripture versions translate these words “downcast and depressed” or “tired and scattered.” The first word pictures a sheep that is worn out and exhausted from a long journey. The second word describes a sheep that is so exhausted it can’t take another step and plops on the ground. These descriptive words show the deep level of empathy Jesus had for people.
The word translated compassion in this passage is connected to the word for bowels or intestines. In the first-century world, the bowels were the seat of emotions, much how we think of the heart. The idea is that something happens that touches you at the core of your being, causing you to act to help someone. C. S. Lewis writes about the temptation to feel without acting in The Screwtape Letters when Uncle Screwtape gives the following advice to his junior demon-in-training:
Let him do anything but act. No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will . . . . The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.
I was so intrigued by the deep meaning of this word compassion in Scripture, I did a concordance study of the New Testament to find out where it shows up. Except for a couple of exceptions, it is only used in reference to Jesus. In my next few blog posts, I am going to visit three different scenes in Jesus life recorded in the gospels when he felt this deep compassion for someone else. We will look at two blind men, a leper, and a grieving widow. These were people Jesus couldn’t walk by, he was touched at the core of his being and he had to act, he had to do something to help them.
Reflections: What are your first thoughts when you see a crowd of people? Ask the Lord to give you his heart of compassion whenever you see a crowd today, this week, or the rest of your life!
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.