14 June 2020Matthew 9:35–10:8
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (v. 36)
Psalm: Psalm 100
Even though Matthew is the first Gospel in the New Testament, it was not the first to be written. It is generally agreed that Mark was the first Gospel and that Matthew used some of Mark’s sources. Matthew was written in approximately 80 AD, essentially, though not exclusively, for a Jewish audience. The Gospel contains many healing stories and parables, but is especially known for the Sermon on the Mount, contained in Chapters 5-7.
Today's passage comes after a series of healing stories in which Jesus healed a paralysed man, a woman with a haemorrhage and a blind man, to mention a few.
The passage includes Jesus choosing his twelve apostles – the word essentially means 'messenger' – and sending them out. The passage is followed by further instructions to the apostles.
The word 'compassion' in 9:36, in this context, literally means to suffer with someone and the Greek indicates that this feeling of Jesus came from the very depths of his being. The image of a sheep without a shepherd would have been familiar to 1st-century readers: sheep generally struggle when there is no shepherd to guide them.
Jesus responds to this feeling of compassion by choosing and sending out people to whom he gives authority to heal the sick and cast out evil spirits. Jesus cannot do this alone; he needs messengers to help with the task. Note the reference in verse 37 to the harvest being plentiful but the labourers being small in number. The apostles were ordinary people: several of them were fishermen and at least two came from opposing factions. Matthew was a tax collector, responsible for collecting taxes on behalf of the Roman government; while Simon the Cananaean (called Simon the Zealot by Luke) was part of a group who opposed the Romans. . The number 'twelve' could be a reference to the twelve tribes of Israel.
- What strikes you when you read that Jesus had compassion, given the explanation of the meaning of that word?
- How can we show compassion to a world where people often seem harassed and helpless, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic and after the killing of George Floyd in the United States?