When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36
Anne Frank is well known for her diary describing her family’s years of hiding during World War II. When she was later imprisoned in a Nazi death camp, those with her said “her tears [for them] never ran dry,” making her “a blessed presence for all who knew her.” Because of this, scholar Kenneth Bailey concluded that Anne never displayed “compassion fatigue.”
Compassion fatigue can be one of the results of living in a badly broken world. The sheer volume of human suffering can numb even the best intentioned among us. Compassion fatigue, however, was not in Jesus’s makeup. Matthew 9:35–36 says, “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. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Our world suffers not only from physical needs but also from spiritual brokenness. Jesus came to meet that need and challenged His followers to join Him in this work (vv. 37–38). He prayed that the Father would raise up workers to respond to the needs all around us—people who struggle with loneliness, sin, and illness. May the Father give us a heart for others that mirrors His heart. In the strength of His Spirit, we can express His compassionate concern to those who are suffering.
For more on this topic, see Compassion: Learning to Love Like Jesus at discoveryseries.org/q0208.
While contemplating the crowd in Matthew 9, Jesus did three specific things. First, He “saw” the crowds (v. 36) and recognized they were “harassed and helpless.” Second, He felt compassion toward them (v. 36). Finally, our Lord acted by challenging His disciples to pray that the Father would raise up workers to serve in the harvest (v. 38).
We find the same pattern in Acts 17 when Paul entered the city of Athens. He saw (v. 16) that the city was filled with idols, which stirred strong feelings within him (“he was greatly distressed”)—perhaps because of the self-destructive nature of idol worship. Then Paul acted by engaging people with the message of Jesus and His resurrection (vv. 17–18).
This pattern practiced by both Jesus and Paul established a model we can embrace today.