When will we see the harassed and helpless crowds (Matt. 9:35-38), really see them? When will the concerns of those who’ve been beaten down in life become our concerns, enough to liberate our compassion, enough to break our hearts, enough for their suffering to become our suffering? When will we see the harassed and helpless, the oppressed and impoverished, the rejected and outcast, with enough compassion to make possible the answer to our prayer, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven”?
When Jesus saw the crowds, he was moved by compassion, “his heart broke” (The Message). Since almost the beginning of his ministry, large crowds followed him wherever he went (Matt. 4:25). I suspect he was learning to live with a breaking heart. I suspect it was his breaking heart, his compassion with others, his suffering with the crowds, that allowed him to experience and embody and proclaim the good news that a full, life-giving relationship with God was at hand. Now he sees how big a job it is to bring his good news to the “harassed and helpless,” and he realizes he needs help.
Where does he turn? He turns to his disciples, to James and John, Simon and Andrew, Philip and Bartholomew and the rest. He turns to you and me, to all of you who deeply trust Jesus and his message of reconciliation, who have staked your life in the good news that our relationship with God is restored, and who have begun to live as if that good news is true, because it is (Mark 1:14-15).
No one who is human today could fail to see the harassed and helpless crowds, those beaten down in life, those impoverished by the holders and protectors of great wealth, those caught in the endlessly repeating cycle of opportunities denied and dreams deferred, those brought low by the systemic oppression of racism and white privilege. No one could fail to hear their cries. But who will listen? Who will allow their hearts to be broken? Who will muster the courage and commitment to suffer with those who cry out?
Disciples of Jesus – authentic disciples, not those in name only – are summoned and sent with good news to the harassed and helpless crowds. They hear his prayer that God will send laborers into the harvest, and they answer: Here I am, Lord; send me. Some gather and sing and march to demand change. Some organize to disrupt and topple systems of oppression and injustice that have been long entrenched. Some stand or sit with those who suffer, and allow their hearts to break, and they listen.
“For everything there is a season,” the Teacher wrote, “and a time for every matter under heaven,” (Eccles. 3:1). There’s a time to gather and sing and march to demand change, and this is such a time. There’s a time to cast down idols and disrupt the systems of oppression and injustice they have created and bring those systems to an end, and this is such a time. And there’s a time to sit with the harassed and helpless crowds and listen to their cry and simply let our hearts break before we do anything else. And this is such a time.