One evening a Scotsman was riding in his limousine when he saw two men along the road eating grass. Disturbed, he yelled at his driver to stop and got out to investigate. He asked one man “Why are you eating the grass?” “Well, we don’t have any money for food” the poor man replied. “So we have to eat grass.” “Well then, come with me to my house and I’ll feed you” the Scotsman said. “But sir, I also have a wife and two children with me. They are over there, under that tree.” “Ok, bring them along too” the Scotsman replied.
Turning to the other poor man he stated, “You come with us, also.” The second man, in a pitiful voice, then said, “But sir, I also have a wife and seven children with me!” “Very well then, bring them all,” the Scotsman answered.
They all piled into the limousine, which was no easy task. Once under way, one of the poor fellows turned to the Scotsman and said, “Sir, you are truly too kind. Thank you for taking all of us with you.” The Scotsman replied, “No problem, glad to do it. You’ll really love my place. The grass is almost a foot high.”
It’s one thing to be a sheep; it’s another to be a shepherd.
It’s one thing to be a bully; it’s another not to be of service to others. It’s one thing to do a negative which of course is not the same as not doing a positive. Not doing a positive is much better than doing a negative.
A man named Gordie tells this story. When he was ten years old, growing up in the Quad Cities, Gordie’s father woke him up in the middle of the night. “Come with me,” he said.
Gordie pulled on his clothes, climbed into the car, and wondered where his father was taking him. They stopped out in the country by a hill. His father got out of the car. Gordie followed him. They climbed up the hill and, as they got close to the top, his dad motioned his son to get down and crawl the remainder on his belly.
When they got to the top of the hill, Gordie looked out on an incredible scene spread below him: dozens of men carrying torches and dressed in white sheets and hoods. They watched silently for a few moments. His dad led him back down the hill.
When they got to the bottom of the hill, he put his arm around him and said, “Son, I wanted to show you what evil looked like.” They drove back home.
There are some really rotten people in the world, for sure. But most people aren’t bullies, hateful or seeking to harm someone else. Most people however also aren’t pursuing positive outcomes for others as much as trying to keep themselves balanced and steady.
To use Jesus’ terms, most people are sheep, which of course is better than being a wolf but being a sheep is not the end-all of our Christian faith, right?!
The call is to go from sheep to shepherds.
Our scripture says, Jesus went through towns and villages, teaching, 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. 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.”
Up to and including our passage, it’s all been about Jesus ministering. The very next verse, the first verse of chapter 10 reads, “Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”
Time’s up. Now it’s your turn.
And you say, “Say what?” I just remembered I had a dentist appointment right now.
I hear you. But here’s the thing: It’s easier, a bit easier to do what Jesus is asking you to be about than you think. Our reading points the way.
Verse 36 reads, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them.” Jesus’ compassion recurs in Matthew. “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Jesus said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.” “Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes.”
Just so you know, our English word compassion in the Greek New Testament is the word splanchnizomai. It’s the root for our word spleen. It’s your guts, intestines, the pit of your stomach. Jesus felt for these people in the pit of his stomach. Now that’s compassion.
Here’s a fun fact: The only times this word, splanchnizomai, is used in the New Testament is with reference to you know who. It’s either used to describe his own attitude toward others or else he uses it in one of his parables.
You would think that the reason for Jesus’ compassion would be because of the sicknesses that he’s encountered. Everywhere he turns, there are people blind, epileptic, paralyzed or even dead. That is certainly worthy of our compassion.
But what moves Jesus here isn’t the physical illnesses that he’s encountered. Verse 36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
What moved Christ was their spiritual need, their aimlessness, their worries, their discouragement, their hope that something good would come of their lives.
Instead of looking at only our own needs, look around you at others. See where they are. Get out of yourself and find how needed you truly are.
We can’t serve if we don’t have compassion. Compassion is the beginning of our willingness to hear Christ’s call to serve and do well.
A fellow pastor shared this on his blog. Several years ago I read about a biofeedback experiment done with some college students. They were connected to a battery of machines in order to measure their biological responses to different video clips.
The first group was shown beautiful vacation spots: the white sand of pristine beaches, cottages on the marsh, cabins in the Smokey Mountains. It was noted that the viewers’ stress levels dropped, their pulses slowed, their muscles relaxed.
A second group was shown a video of the staff and volunteers in a hospital that cared for terminally ill patients. The average stay in this hospital was twenty-six days, and the patients left only when they died. The students were visibly moved by the caring of the volunteers and staff. The machines registered that biologically their responses were much the same as with the first video. Their stress drained away as they saw people with needs much greater than theirs and saw one human caring for another.
The one difference the researchers noted was that endorphins, a chemical cousin to morphine, were present in the second group at a much
higher level than the first. Simply watching other people serving gave the viewers a natural high.
If you want to take a real vacation from stress, and a very inexpensive one, do something for others.
I doubt Jesus was thinking that giving yourself a natural high was the reason why you and I serve the kingdom and labor in the fields of the gospel, but I bet he would have known in his own way what this is like.
The fact is when we serve only ourselves or a person or two close to us whose happiness directly promotes our own happiness, then we simply haven’t jumped gotten out of our little box. We’re like a potted plant that has yet to put its roots down in real soil and started to grow as it is meant to.
Years ago, some researchers decided to find out if seminary students are Good Samaritans. They met individually with forty ministerial students under the pretense of doing a study of careers in the church. Each student was instructed to walk to a nearby building to deliver an impromptu talk into a tape recorder. Some were told to talk on the Good Samaritan parable, while others were told to talk about their career concerns.
Meanwhile, the researchers planted an actor along the path who, as a seminarian approached, groaned and slumped to the ground. They found that more than half of the students walked right on by! The researchers noted, “Some who were planning their dissertation on the Good Samaritan, literally stepped over the slumped body as they hurried along.”
They were so preoccupied with themselves and the immediate pressure that they faced (to deliver a talk) that they did not see the obvious need of this man in their path. And so they did not stop to help him.
Probably your first reaction to that story is to think, “How could these students be so hard-hearted as to ignore this hurting man? I would never do that!” As Jesus tells it, to be a shepherd one must first feel compassion deep down enough that you can feel it in the pit of your stomach. Does that describe you?
Don’t let others do all the kingdom work. Find where you are supposed to stop being a sheep and become a shepherd. Get in touch with the root of Christ’s ministry among us—his compassion. You’ve got it. Now go ahead and use it!
Can the church say Amen?