Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 104; 149, Jeremiah 35:1-19, 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:3, Matthew 9:35-10:4
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them,
because they were harassed and helpless,
like sheep without a shepherd.
Domesticated sheep are not capable of thriving unattended by a shepherd. Some of them may survive for years, but they become unshorn, parasite-ridden, vulnerable, malnourished, painfully diseased creatures. It’s not really the sheep’s fault; centuries of breeding to maximize their economic potential have manipulated them so far away from their wild counterparts that they lack the strength and intelligence to flourish.
When Jesus looked at the crowds, he saw people who’d been manipulated for the economic benefit of both the empire and their religious leaders, then left to their own means of survival. To paraphrase Tiberius – a Roman statesman and contemporary of Christ – they had been skinned rather than sheared.
Reclaiming an abandoned or neglected flock takes a great sacrifice of time and effort, but we know Christ didn’t want a single one to remain lost.
Do we feel any less harassed and helpless today? As corporate, religious, and political interests become increasingly entangled and mutually corruptive, it can certainly feel like we are used up for gain and then abandoned. Government “of the people, by the people, for the people” seems more like government despite the people. These forces are less concerned with tending us than commodifying us.
Fortunately, none of those entities or people is our Good Shepherd.
Christ calls and guides us through the wilderness to the pastures of compassion. We are of course expected to be more responsible and accountable than actual sheep, but Christ is there to help us with the things we just aren’t built to do. He can shear us of our anger, doubt, and fear when then have grown thick and burdensome. His words – in the Gospels and in our hearts – can talk us away from the cliffs and warn us of those wolves lying in wait.
Always remember that Christ is looking at you with compassion. Even if you think you’re a real mess – maybe especially then – he understands how you got there and calls you to come home.
Comfort: Jesus calls because you need help, not despite it.
Challenge: Read about what can happen to sheep who don’t have a shepherd.
Prayer: I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart. (Psalm 138:1)
Discussion: When do you feel harassed and helpless?
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