Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 9:36-38.
But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd (Matthew 9:36).
Matthew records, “he was moved with compassion on them.” Note: He did not turn to them with annoyance, with disgust, or with disdain, but with compassion.
That English phrase here for “he was moved with compassion” is encompassed in just a single word in the Greek original: esplagchnithē. This verb means to be deeply moved inwardly with compassion or pity. This is the first of five times this verb will appear in Matthew (cf. Matt 14:14; 15:32; 18:27; 20:34).
At its root is the Greek word for the inward parts of the persons [splagchnon]. We would say the bowls or the gut. We might render it, “When Christ looked upon this mass of sinful and broken humanity encompassing him, he felt for them in his gut.” The apostle Paul uses this term several times in his letters in reference to the bowels of compassion of Christ (see e.g., Phil 1:8; 2:1).
Matthew next provides even a further detail, explaining the cause of Christ’s compassion:
First, “they fainted.” The verb here for “faint” in the traditional text comes from the verb ekluō. The root means to loose or destroy, with a prefix meaning “out from.” We could literally render it as “worn out.” The marginal note in the Cambridge KJV suggests it could be rendered, “were tired and lay down.” That would be something like “to collapse.”
Second, they “were scattered abroad.” This is a pastoral image and leads to the next description: They were “as sheep having no shepherd.” This draws on one of the richest metaphors we have in the Scriptures to describe the relationship between God and his people. God himself is the Shepherd and his people are the sheep or the flock (cf. Psalm 23:1; Psalm 95:7). Yet, these people have no pastor.
This description teaches us that Christ is not unmoved when he looks upon a mass of sinful humanity. He feels for us and our plight, even in the gut. He sees that we are fainting, worn out, scattered, here, there, and yonder. And he does not leave us where we are, but he comes to seek us till he finds us.
Those who work in various fields of human care-giving (whether nurses, physicians, social workers, counselors, etc.) sometimes talk about “compassion fatigue.” Minister can speak this way too. In our worst moments, we might say something like, “This job would be great if it weren’t for these people always bothering me.”
Think of the multitudes who surrounded Christ. Then, consider this: Christ never experienced or experiences compassion fatigue.
If you are a believer, when you were fainting, disoriented, lost and scattered, Christ looked upon you with compassion and drew you to himself. There are some of you in such a state right now upon whom he is working, drawing you with cords of kindness.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff