June 13, 2016
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.”
There’s a word buried in today’s text we need to stop and walk around just a bit. It comes in v.36 and the word binds together the preceding and following verses with a kind of supernatural super glue. See if you can spot the word now. (Hint- it’s a phrase)
he had compassion on them
Compassion is one of those words we become a bit immune to. We see it a lot and we celebrate it, but there’s so much more to the word than we typically understand. The Greek word transliterated into English is, “splagchnizomai.” Phonetically it sounds like, “splangkh-nid’-zom-ahee.”
Here’s the interesting part. I typically associate compassion with some kind of merciful action toward another person in need. In this case Jesus “saw” the crowds, but he didn’t actually do anything for them. Yes, he was preaching and teaching and healing in all the towns and villages (see v.35). When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Compassion is nothing less than the heart of “Our Father” yearning to shepherd and care for his people. Splagchnizomai, or compassion, can’t be reduced to acts of mercy. Nor can it be defined as a feeling. Compassion is a disposition so deep in a person that the word literally means to come from the intestines. It’s something like the deep disposition you have toward the flourishing of your own children yet feeling it for a crowd of people you don’t even know yet. The word also appears in Luke 15:20 in describing the Father’s heart for the prodigal son when he began to run to meet him on the road.
Note what Jesus doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “You all get out there and get busy helping people!” Nor is he telling them that they need to feel like he feels toward people. Watch this.
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.”
He is asking them to start with God—to ask God. The heart of God for people can only be received from God. It cannot be conjured up. It cannot be an amped up faithfulness to duty. What we are talking about is you and I possessing the very heart of God for people. Anything else just leads to compassion fatigue. Jesus is asking his disciples to ask him to send them out into the harvest fields.
I think he wants them to know that this kind of deep compassionate disposition toward other people—a love that rises to the level of actual power—can only be given to them by him. He gives it in response to our asking him to send us out into the fields. When Jesus says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” this is what he means. This is truly a “higher love” than a human being is capable of apart from the Holy Spirit.
I say this a lot on the Daily Text. True discipleship training is not learning more about God but being trained to be the carriers and bearers of the on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven presence and power of God—which is Holy Love—in the world.
1. How does this challenge your understanding of compassion?
2. How is your discipleship taking you to a deeper place of divine compassion for others? Are you stuck? What might unstick you? Remember, it’s not about getting busier for God.
3. What if having a heart moved by the compassion of God is the secret to authentic preaching, teaching and healing? What happens when we settle for less than this?
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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.