Matthew 9:35-38 (2nd Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 6—Series A)
“Who Will Have Compassion?”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
June 18, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the opening verses of today’s Gospel Lesson from Matthew 9
35And Jesus traveled around all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. 36Now when He had seen the crowds, He had compassion concerning them for they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38Therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest in order that He might send out workers into His harvest.
A man fell into a pit and couldn’t get himself out. A Christian Scientist came along and said, “You only think that you are in a pit.” A Pharisee said, “Only bad people fall into a pit.” A Fundamentalist said, “You deserve your pit.” A Charismatic said, “Just confess that you’re not in a pit.” A Methodist came by and said, “We brought you some food and clothing while you’re in the pit.” A Presbyterian said, “This was no accident, you know.” An Optimist said, “Things could be worse.” A Pessimist said, “Things will get worse!” Jesus, seeing the man, took him by the hand and lifted him out of the pit.
Do you, like Jesus, see people troubled and helpless? Do you look at people the way Jesus looks at people, having compassion concerning them because they are troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd?
Those upon whom the Lord Jesus looked with His physical eyes in Galilee so many centuries ago have everything in common with people today, including you and me. The prophet Isaiah gave us an excellent summary of humanity’s status and condition when he said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of armies!” (Isa. 6:5). Luther acknowledged this in the Small Catechism, writing in the Explanation to the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed that I am “a lost and condemned creature.”
Have you ever experienced the panic of being lost? Most people have had the experience of waking up in the middle of the night, confused by a bad dream or uncertain of their surroundings, experiencing a moment of fear and uncertainty. Others have had a more dramatic experience of actually being lost. A young girl was at a large public event with her parents. She stopped to look for a moment at something interesting that had caught her eye. When she turned back around, her parents were gone! She ran blindly back and forth through the large crowd in a complete panic, shouting for her parents. The feeling of terror felt like it lasted for hours. In reality, it was only a few minutes before she saw her mother and father again. The relief of being found was enormous.
In the same way, and even more so, being lost from God ought to bring about an even greater panic and fear. Do you want to talk about being troubled and helpless? This is it! Paul speaks in Ephesians 2:12 about being “without God in the world.” That’s what it means to be lost—without God, not because God left humanity, but because humanity left God in order to become “like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). The fall into sin left humanity hopeless and helpless to our sinful condition. Humanity remained captive under the devil’s power, condemned to death, and stuck in sin and blindness. Again, the Word of God from Ephesians 2, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:1 ESV).
Being lost is being troubled by sin, condemned to eternal death and hell because of sin, and helpless to do anything about it. Being lost is to be under God’s wrath and displeasure, doomed to eternal damnation, the just punishment that our sins have earned. This is the human condition from the infant in the womb to the oldest person alive at this very moment. All people stand troubled and helpless in their sins.
The only and eternal Son of God, however, had compassion on all humanity. He had compassion because all people are troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. And so He became fully human, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, in order that He might seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Jesus is the Good Shepherd who seeks and finds the lost sheep and brings them home to Himself and to His Father.
It was Jesus alone who delivered us poor, lost and condemned people, from sin, death, and hell. Jesus brought us again into the Father’s favor and grace. This we believe, teach, and confess in accordance with the Scriptures, that “Jesus Christ, true God . . . and true man . . . has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true (Small Catechism).
The death of Jesus Christ on the cross for the sins of the world has purchased and won forgiveness of sins for all people. Jesus died and shed His blood so that your sins are forgiven. You are no longer “lost and condemned.” You are God’s own son or daughter, adopted into His family through the saving work of Jesus applied to you in the saving waters of Holy Baptism. That’s why we can sing, “God’s own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ! He, because I could not pay it, Gave my full redemption price” (LSB 594:1). St. Peter writes in his first letter, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, . . . God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, . . .” (1 Pet. 3:18 ESV).
It is by grace through faith by the power of the Holy Spirit that you confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. You are His baptized disciples who receive forgiveness for all your sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. Jesus is now the source of your life and your salvation. His compassion for the lost and condemned, which you were once, is also the source for your compassion for these same people. As the Holy Spirit works in your by means of the Gospel and the Sacraments of Christ, you are able to look at people the way Jesus looks at people, having compassion concerning them because they are troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. You see the crowds of people who are just like you were—lost and condemned people—and by God’s grace you care about them.
According to those who estimate such things, there are about 7 billion people in the world. The number of those who believe in and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is around 2.2 billion. So that means almost 5 billion people the world over don’t know Jesus Christ by faith. They are lost in their sins. They are troubled and helpless, without the hope of eternal life and the peace that Christ alone brings through His Gospel by the power of the Spirit. I believe this puts some perspective on Jesus’ words, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” And that, dear sisters and brothers in Christ, is why our Lord tells us to ask that the Lord would send out workers. He tells us to pray to the Lord of the harvest so that He Himself might send laborers with the Gospel of Jesus Christ out into the fields of hurting and troubled and lost people.
Because you and I are in Christ, we now look at others through the eyes of Christ with compassion. That compassion prompts our prayers. Jesus communicates the urgency of the times, an urgency that continues for the Church in the world today. God must send workers into the harvest! All of Jesus’ disciples, both then and now, are to implore the Lord of the harvest to send forth faithful laborers. The compassion of Jesus for the lost produced His command to pray. The compassion of Jesus placed into your hearts, and the hearts of all His followers, will produce this trusting prayer.
As disciples of the Lord Jesus, He asks you to pray that He might raise up qualified men for the Pastoral Office. He desires you to pray that He would raise up qualified women to serve as deaconesses. Your Lord Jesus asks that your pray to the Lord of the harvest that He would raise up men and women who will serve Him as both full and short-term missionaries, as Christian school teachers and administrations, as Directors of Christian Education or Christian Outreach, as Directors of Family Life Ministry and Parish Music. As you pray, also allow yourself to be encouraged by the Holy Spirit to explore these vocations in Christ’s Church. Who knows, you might be the answer to the Church’s collective prayers that the Lord send workers into the harvest! There are so many opportunities for first career or second career or whatever career church workers in the Lord’s fields.
But you don’t need to be a professional church worker to share the Good News of Jesus. In your own daily callings, you can share the Gospel: at work, at school, in your neighborhood, or as a volunteer with our Food Shelf Ministry. As Jesus’ disciples, you also serve the Lord by being out and about among the people who need to hear the message of forgiveness and eternal life which Jesus has won for all people and gives to them freely by His grace.
By the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, have compassion on people who do not yet know the Savior, Jesus, by faith. Care for those who are troubled and helpless because of their sins and guilt. Pray that the Lord of the harvest would send an abundance of workers in His name to seek the lost and share the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection with them in order that they might receive saving faith and the forgiveness of sins. Pray for all current church workers in the fields. Support them with your prayers and in any other way you can and be the compassionate disciples of Jesus which you have been called to be in your Baptism as you share the Gospel with others. Amen.