Matthew 9:36 says this, “Seeing the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Jesus’ teaching and miracles have drawn huge crowds. Some have travelled great distances to see Him. Earlier in Matthew, Jesus felt the need to get away from the crowds, escaping in a fishing boat all the way across the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:18). In those specific moments, Jesus recognized the need to rest and refresh Himself.
In a broader sense, though, Jesus looks at the crowds of people and is filled with compassion for them. These are the children of Israel. These are the people of God. Instead of flourishing, Jesus sees that they are harassed and helpless. If Matthew had stopped there, we might think Jesus’ sympathy for them had to do with Roman occupation. Instead Jesus feels compassion for a specific kind of misery: symbolized by the image of lost sheep.
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1–2), Jesus challenged the attitudes and behaviors of Israel’s religious leaders in several important areas. This, though, is the greatest charge against them. Instead of shepherding the people of Israel with kindness and mercy, the Pharisees and the other religious leaders judge, intimidate, and bully the people into following rules and procedures not even found in the law of Moses. The people are helpless against these leaders, since their participation in the worship of God and life of the community is dependent on the approval of these men.
Jesus’ compassion and sympathy are another connection to God the Father (Psalm 103:13–14). His impulse to shepherd the people points again to the fact that He is the Messiah (Micah 5:4).
Compassion, mercy, sympathy. These are what Jesus teaches us to participate in. Acts of kindness, of goodness. Acts that reflect the Father each day.
How’s that going for you today?