When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew’s gospel, chapter 9 verse 36)
You find lots of harassed people on Oxford Street in central London; talking on their smart phones as they weave through the crowds, crossing the busy road (still on their smart phones) anxiously getting to the next shop in search of a bargain. How to be a compassionate presence amidst all that while trying to do my own shopping – that’s the challenge!
If you seek to follow the Way of Jesus of Nazareth you are part of ‘the Jesus Event’. (See the second post in this blog back in 2013). Jesus himself is the source of this river and each of us is a tiny eddy in its onward flow.
Matthew has given us a glimpse of the headwaters of that river in chapters 5 – 7: the sermon on the mount. Now (picking up where I left off before Christmas) in chapter 9 verse 35 through to chapter 11 verse 1 we see the compassionate energy of the river flowing through the disciples from that one simple, humble, vulnerable presence. Here we find some clearly post-Easter instructions and warnings for the fledgling Christian community. There’s no need to take some of them literally – “take no gold,or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics…..” (10:9) Shopping on Oxford Street like that would be a bit of a problem! But I am part of the ‘Jesus Event’ among these crowds. Like those remote spiritual ancestors of mine that Matthew was addressing I am called to be a simple, vulnerable, compassionate presence as I do my shopping, carrying as little baggage as modern life will allow.
Well, there are times when I’m not very good at it – just like them, actually. Already we can see Matthew and his readers making assumptions – “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans.” And for those who won’t receive the message: “it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement.” Hmm! Don’t think that’s the Jesus I’m getting to know in this exploration!
But then there are Christians today for whom verses 16 to 23 do ring horribly true: in Syria and Iraq for example, like the experiences of those earliest followers of the Way.