35 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. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:35-38
That’s how Jesus responded to the crowds.
When he looked at the multitudes before him; across the weighty parade of pain, and need, and sadness that he came face to face with as he moved through the world, this was his default response.
Jesus was, as the word’s original meaning denotes, moved in his bowels by the plight of others; compelled to step into that messy, uncomfortable place with real, tangible, redemptive love. In today’s Christianity, that kind of response is looking more and more like a lost art.
I’m worried about we who call ourselves followers of Jesus these days.
I’m afraid we’ve lost something precious.
I think we’ve grown weary in the polarized, politicalized world of social media. We’ve become so accustomed to defending theological positions and winning online arguments and fighting cultural battles that our hearts have become dangerously calloused over time, largely oblivious to flesh-and-blood woundedness in our path.
We’ve stopped seeing people, (especially those we disagree with or who disagree with us), with the kind of softness and compassion that should mark us as followers of Jesus; the deep empathy that comprises a clear calling upon our lives.
Christians, as much as we want to claim otherwise, the hard truth is that quite often we really don’t give a damn about people anymore.
We may feign some generic concern others, content to fire off half-hearted prayers or cut-and-pasted Scripture sound bytes. We might invest the briefest moments to attend to another’s needs if we can do so without sacrificing too much time or convenience but if we’re honest with ourselves, we so often see those who are different or in want or in crisis, not with compassion but with contempt or perhaps worse; indifference.
The fruit of our shared apathy is pretty easy to spot.
I see it when Christians dismiss all people living in poverty as lazy. That’s easier than learning their stories and truly considering the suffering they’ve experienced along the way.
I see it when they blame every addict for their horrible circumstances. That’s far less time-consuming and complex than walking alongside them in the long, meandering road to sobriety.
I see it when they go on and on about the “sinfulness” of people whose lives don’t look like they believe they should look. It allows them to conveniently paint people as morally bankrupt villains or to merely write them-off as “lost” and ignore them.
I see it in my own fatigue in the face of other people’s pain; my hesitation at really extending myself for someone else, beyond what I deem comfortable or reasonable.
These were never Jesus’ responses to the wounds of the world.
People often ask me what I think Hell would be like, and I tell them it will look a lot like the Comment section of blog posts. That’s a place where evil often takes center stage.
That’s where a Christian’s motives are so often revealed.
That’s the place where our true hearts are exposed; the ones we can keep covered-up for an hour on Sunday.
In those protected, seemingly anonymous spaces the eyes through which we really see people become crystal clear.
There, our theology is laid-open and shown for what it is, not as we’d like others to think it is.
Here and in our daily response to flawed, hurting, abrasive people, we learn the truth about ourselves and about our faith—and much of the time it’s pretty darn ugly.
Christian, does your heart truly ache for the poor, the hurting, the wounded, the weary, the left-out, the unloved; those on the fringes, those with great burdens, those whose roads have led to dead ends and deep valleys?
Is compassion your gut’s default setting as you look upon the crowds?
When the rubber the meets the jacked-up road, are you ever moved in your bowels by the pain in your path and then moved to move into that pain until it’s gone?
I’m not sure we can ever reflect the heart the Jesus, while we hold hatred or disregard for any of his people. I don’t know if we can retrain our eyes to see with the kind of tender-hearted mercy that marked the world two thousand years ago but it’s a mandatory pursuit if we’re to dare and wear the name of Christ.
If you’re a Christian and you want to know if you’re really living like Jesus, a great way to start is to simply take a good look around at the crowds; those where you walk and drive and shop and click, and then ask yourself, “Do I give a damn?”