There can be no doubt about the compassion which Jesus felt for the crowds who just wouldn’t give him a minute’s rest. He was sorry for them, because they were without proper leadership, and the regular biblical way of describing the people of Israel when they had no leader or king , was as “sheep without a shepherd “ And this is a good comparison.
Sheep are helpless creatures. They follow each other almost blindly and are easily thrown into a panic. They overeat, lie down and then find it impossible to get up. And they won’t come in out of the rain.
Do you know anybody like that? Perhaps the only thing that keeps sheep alive is the fact that they follow their shepherd.
Our story makes it clear that Jesus didn’t have compassion on the people because they were poor or sick. His compassion was because he knew the people were without a leader and were well and truly lost. Not lost in the sense that they didn’t know where they were geographically, but lost in the sense of being without the kind of purpose in life that comes from being under the leadership of God. And people like this can soon go on to say :-
“I’ve lost control of my family, my job, my emotions and my life, and I don’t know if I shall ever be able to find my way again. “
When you feel like that you start to grasp at anything, and then it’s easy to get drawn into a place of much deeper darkness. Like sheep, people who are lost are easily misled, and there is no shortage of bad shepherds ready to exploit them. When people are looking for a purpose, or a shepherd, we must never assume that they will automatically find a good one.
We are easily led into a whole range of dangerous beliefs and practises. Think of those leaders of political movements which are basically evil and work by exploiting our natural feelings of patriotism. The National Front Movement for example. Or Fundamental religious groups which may claim to speak for Islam or even for Christ. False shepherds can entice us to stray into the most dangerous places, and like lost sheep we often follow each other.
C. S. Lewis was an Anglican theologian who suggested that hell wasn’t a place to which wicked people are sent. He said that people got there as a result of bad choices. Like finding ourselves lost in a dark and dangerous place and then realising that no one is coming to show us the way out.
I read a copy of a classified advertisement a while back. Perhaps it was written as a joke , but let me read it to you. This is what it said: “Lost. One dog. Brown hair with mange. Leg broken. Blind in right eye. Left ear bitten off. Answers to the name of “Lucky”. “
We might think at first that the poor dog was unfortunate in the extreme, but, of course, a little thought shows us that he was really a very lucky animal indeed. He was lucky because even with all of those things wrong with him,somebody still wanted him and was doing everything to get him back.
Aren’t you and I lucky? Jesus told a story about a shepherd who got home with 99 out of 100 sheep. You and I might have been satisfied with that, but the shepherd wasn’t. God’s arithmetic is different to ours and that’s really good news. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who wants us, and keeps trying to get us back no matter how often we follow the other sheep and get lost.
And Jesus is the human face of God. This is what God is like, he won’t let us go, and he follows us until he finds us.
Then all we have to do,like the men and women in the frantic crowds who pressed up against him in Galilee ,is to touch the hem of his garment and we shall be made well and brought home again. Amen.