Jesus lived in a messed up world just as we do. Just turn your head and look at the people around you and you will see the same kinds of problems that Jesus saw.
Seeing all the pain, suffering and need does something to a person. You learn to defend yourself against it all, isolating yourself in an imaginary world without need, and constantly guarding against seeing the needs of people whom you wish were invisible.
Or it pulls you towards helping those who suffer… This is, of course, a very risky pull, for the needs of people are simply overwhelming and capable of sucking all your resources and leaving you needy as well! This is a crucial moment – for you and for them – for if you allow yourself to feel compassion, compassion will begin to move you.
You see this powerfully in the life of Jesus. Jesus simply refused to turn his head away from human need. Rather, he usually walked straight into it, or at least did not run away when it approached him. His compassion drove him to engage need and provide relief and help for the people caught up in it. No wonder they called him the savior!
Jesus was moved by compassion to help the needy people around him. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Jesus’ image of a mass of needy people – harassed and helpless - becoming a “harvest” is a paradigm shift. With this simple device Jesus invites you to look into the pool of need and see opportunity rather than a reason to turn your head.
But where do you start the journey that compassion is pulling you to make? According to Jesus you start with prayer! Listen to his advice to his students: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” It is not enough to merely replace the crippling dread of unmet needs with the joy of abundant harvest – for in both situations there is an overwhelming sense of the volume of work necessary to make a difference. Even work that seems a joy because of the promised reward is still energy consuming and often exhausting! But imagine the joy of working on a very large “harvest team!” That is why we pray for the Lord of the harvest to send out workers.
So we begin by praying for workers, because prayer is the way that God pulls us into and equips us for the mission he is giving to us. But after we get up from prayer, we get to work responding faithfully to the needs we see around us. Jesus fed crowds that were hungry, healed people who were sick or demon possessed. He told a story in which he based his judgment of people on the way they helped the sick and prisoners, the hungry and thirsty, and strangers. Jesus even went so far in that story as to identify himself with the people in need. Ironically, neither the sheep nor the goats perceived Jesus in the needy! The goats claimed they would have helped – IF ONLY – they had recognized Jesus. The sheep said they did not help Jesus, only people! Jesus said to both groups – what you did or did not do to help the least of these you did or did not do to help me. Imagine your joy in discovering one day that compassion moved you to help Jesus!