“Being Called to See” Matthew 9:35-38

Robert Parham, former Director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, contrasted blindness and seeing.  He wrote, “Blindfolded Lady Justice symbolizes fairness without prejudicial considerations.  Behind the statue of Lady Justice is the idea that seeing clouds decision-making and corrupts actions.  Equal treatment under the law, for example, can only be achieved through blindness.  So, we talk about a color-blind society.  Politicians protect themselves from the perception of impropriety by setting up blind trusts.  Blindness is an American virtue.  Seeing is a biblical virtue.”          I had never considered his assertion.  How often do we walk along blindly?  Practically everyday.  We become focused on our routines and as robots, we trudge our way through our daily schedule.  “Got to get this done by 11:00 so I can make that meeting this afternoon.”  “Got to hurry through this appointment knowing that something else awaits my attention in an hour.”

We go, go, go at so rapid a pace that we sometimes blindly move from A to B.  We become so tied to our schedules that we are unaware of what’s going on around us.  Our lives become enslaved to a rat race, and we blindly continue running in the little wheel going round and round unaware of our surroundings.  And at the end of the day, we reflect on our activity, think of what we have accomplished, and sometimes we can only remember the revolutions of the spinning wheel.

Being busy, active, and hurried has become an acceptable way of life for us, and that is ok, except when we fail to open our eyes.  There is nothing wrong with being productive; we all hope to accomplish our goals.  But when we become fixated on crossing off duties from our check-list, we can forget that we have been called to see.  It is really easy to be blind.  It is often effortless to fulfill our routines, yet Jesus has called us to sight.  Jesus has opened our eyes for a reason.  We have been granted vision for a purpose.  Walking blindly through life can mean that we are ignoring the needs around us.  Disciples of Jesus are not to be visually impaired, because Christ has given us sight.   As the hymn-writer of old has penned, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

As disciples of Jesus, we are to follow the actions of the Savior.  And to do so, we have to know how he lived.  To be a “little Christ,” to model Jesus’ actions, we have to study his life as found in the Bible.   Let’s now look at our New Testament Lesson and see how Matthew addressed Jesus’ approach to human need.

In the previous passage, Jesus had restored sight to two men and speech to another.  The great healer restored the senses to those who desperately needed them.  Matthew recorded that Jesus went through all the towns and villages.  He was traveling from place to place, but what was he doing?  He was teaching, preaching, and healing.  Jesus was a busy man.  He was traveling the countryside doing what the Son of God had come to do.  Stopping in every hamlet, village, and township in the region would have been draining on anyone.  Jesus was a busy man.

Synagogues were only planted in communities with sizable Jewish populations, so the places Jesus was visiting were not just wide spots in the road.  Teaching, preaching, and healing in sizable communities indicated how occupied Jesus was.  The larger the community, the more people to whom Jesus could teach and preach.  Also, the number of sick folks is directly proportional to the size of the community.  A greater number of people need to be healed in densely populated areas.  Jesus was busy.

But he was not busy for the sake of routine.  Matthew recorded that when Jesus saw the crowds, he was moved by compassion.  He was scurrying and hurrying from place to place; he was keeping a fast pace.  But he saw.  Before he taught in their synagogues, he saw them and had compassion.  Before he preached the good news, he saw them and had compassion.  And before he healed every sickness and disease, he saw them and had compassion.   Note the emphasis on seeing.  Jesus had to see them.  He had to notice the individuals gathered in the Jewish synagogues (note that Matthew wrote “teaching in their synagogues”).  He had to seek those who had not heard the good news.  He had to look for those who needed a healing touch.  Every person was an individual.  To be moved with compassion upon sight showed the tremendous love of Jesus.

While driving in Athens, I scarcely see people.  I know that sounds dangerous, but I drive along not noticing the drivers of the other vehicles.  Cars pass me, and I pass them giving little notice.  While sitting at an intersection, cars turn in front of me, and I don’t acknowledge their presence.

But for me, it’s different in Madison.  While driving in our area, we tend to notice who is about us, because we just might see someone we know.  In Madison, I look for those whom I know, but in Athens, I disregard those I do not know.  I drive blindly in Athens, never noticing that there are people all around me.  Despite their presence, I mind my own business, do my thing, go to the hospital or restaurant just as I had intended to do.  The people I pass in Athens go undetected, because I am focused on my agenda.  When I see someone in need, I try to assist them if possible, but most of the time, I simply am not looking.  Honestly, most of the time, I drive while wearing blinders to keep my focus on my itinerary.

Yet when Jesus went from town to town, his manner was different.  He was not so focused on his agenda that he did not notice the people around him.  Instead his eyes were open, and when he saw people, he had compassion which resulted in helping others.  This formula of seeing, then compassion, followed by ministry was a pattern in Jesus’ life.  Scattered instances throughout the gospels show us that Jesus walked with his eyes opened; had he walked along blindly, he could not have seen the needs around him.

In the words preceding the greatest teaching of all time, the lessons we call the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew also wrote, “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down.  His disciples came to him and he began to teach them saying, Blessed are the  . . .  ” (Mt. 5:1-2)

Our immediate attention is drawn to the fact that “he went up on the mountain and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.”  That is the action; now we are on the edge of our seat, awaiting whatever the Lord was going to do next.  But Matthew thought it was important to write, “Jesus saw the crowds…”  Before he taught them, he saw them.

Matthew recorded many accounts of Jesus walking with his eyes open.  Earlier in the chapter of our gospel text,  we read where some people brought a paralytic to Jesus.  Matthew wrote, “And Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, “Take courage, my son; your sins are forgiven.”  (Mt. 9:2)

Also in the ninth chapter of Matthew, we read of the lady who had a blood disease for twelve years.  Her faith was so great that she believed she would be healed simply by touching his clothes.  And after she touched his garment, he turned around and seeing her, said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.”  (Mt. 9:22)

In our passage today, Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion on them.  What moved him?  The people were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.  Why were they so down?  Religion was booming in their society.  Palestine was crowded with religious leaders.  The Temple in Jerusalem was filled to overflowing, and synagogues dotted the countryside.  Places of worship were packed, yet the people needed more.  They needed a word of comfort, eye contact from someone who cared, a smile.

There were six thousand Pharisees trying to tell everyone how to live under the Law, twenty thousand lower priests doing their duty, and other Jewish groups laying claim to “the most pious lifestyle award.”  An abundance of priests and laymen had made outward religion their chief business, yet the common people were neglected; they were left helpless.

The common people were desperately longing for God, and the Scribes and priests, Pharisees and Sadducees and others comprising the religious pillars of their day, had nothing to offer them; they only focused on the rules.  They only accepted people like themselves who agreed to their understanding of the rules.  The orthodox teachers had neither guidance, comfort, nor strength to give.  The Jewish leaders, who should have been offering people strength to live, were flustering people with subtle arguments about the Law, which had no help and comfort in them.  When they should have been helping people to stand upright, instead people were collapsing under the intolerable weight pushed by the religious leaders’ understanding of the Law.  The religious leaders were trading love for judgment.  They were offering a religion that was a handicap instead of a support.

And Jesus recognized this when he saw them.  His resulting action was to give them what they needed.  He taught in their Jewish synagogues, where he preached the liberating good news of the gospel, and healed them of all sickness and disease.  Jesus gave them hope; he offered them acceptance, and he made them whole.

Jesus also charged his disciples to pray that the Great Lord of the Harvest would send laborers into the fields to help.  Jesus noted that the needs were great, yet the helpers were limited.  The disciples were called to pray.

I find that verse of our passage a bit intriguing.  Jesus had seen the masses, had compassion, and then ministered to them.  He then encouraged the disciples, who saw his works, to pray for helpers.  But weren’t they supposed to work also?

Presumably the praying was not needed because of God’s unwillingness to send, but because of the unwillingness on the part of people to work.  When one prays for the harvest, that person in some way becomes a worker and may be among those sent.  Jesus was reminding the disciples that they too were being called to see.  Once they fully saw the need, as a farmer sees an unharvested field, the urgency would move them to action.

Jesus knew that the harvest would never be reaped unless there were workers in the field.  One of the underestimated truths of the Christian faith is that Jesus Christ needs people to spread the gospel.  When Jesus was upon this earth, his voice could only reach a relative few of the world’s population.  He was never outside of Palestine, and there was a whole world which was waiting.  That world still awaits the good news of Jesus Christ.  A full 25% of the earth’s population still has never heard Jesus’ name.  Christ needs laborers, because the fields are ready to be harvested.  Like Jesus, we are being called to open our eyes and look around us.  Like Jesus, we are called to see individuals, to have compassion, and then to minister to them.

Some time ago a friend of mine stated that he wished God would perform a huge miracle so that all people would become Christians.  I mentioned that I thought the reason that there were not any more Christians was not God’s fault; we are the ones who have been charged to work.  Jesus has given us an example to follow; now we are called to see, to have compassion, and then to act.  But if we become more concerned with our schedules and routines than with the people around us, if we become more focused on trying to protect our understanding of what is acceptable, then people will be forgotten; the fields will go unharvested.

Are we able to see as Jesus saw?  Our world is filled with more people, more different kinds of people than ever before, and the needs of our society are maybe greater than at any other time in history.   When we see the teeming masses, are we moved with compassion?  Are we looking?  When we see an individual, especially someone who is different from us, are we moved with compassion?  Are we willing to do something as a follower of Jesus which will make a difference in the life of another?  A comedian once said, “You know there are people out there, because you see them when you look at them.”  Usually before people were aware of his presence, Jesus saw them.  He saw them, had compassion for them, taught them, and ministered to their needs.  He challenged them to be their best.  And He loved them before they loved him.  (Bill L. Taylor. 21 Truths, Traditions and Trends.  Nashville: Convention Press.  p. 1996. pp. 82, 84)

Want to be a follower of Jesus?  Want to live like a Christian?  Want to be called a “little Christ?”  Then our first action is to open our eyes, because we are being called to see.  Blindness is an American virtue, but as Christians, we are being called to see.