A Meditation on Matthew 9: 35-38

Kevin J Youngblood

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  (Matt 9:35-38)

I hate crowds. When I see crowds, I turn away and head in the other direction. When I see a crowd, I focus on the jostling and shoving, the noise and the obstruction that it creates. I try to avoid crowds. Jesus’ reaction to the crowd was quite different. When he saw the crowds he was moved with compassion and he commanded his disciples to pray that God would send more workers into the crowds.

As I read this text this morning, it occurred to me that Jesus is asking me directly to pray this prayer. There are not enough people willing to descend into the crowd, to get into the thick of it and see past the jostling, shoving, and noise to the helplessness and aimlessness. What seemed to bother Jesus most was that the crowd lacked leadership. They were like sheep without a shepherd. I don’t know that I ever really appreciated the connection between the statement “like sheep without a shepherd” and Jesus’ command that the disciples pray to God for more laborers until this morning. Jesus is asking his disciples to pray for leaders, not just evangelists. The great need here is for shepherds not salesmen. Of course the crowd needs to be converted, but then what? Conversion is not sustainable without community and community is not possible without leadership. How does a crowd become a community? A crowd becomes a community when God raises up Spirit-led leadership in their midst, when those God has called to leadership surrender to that call and devote themselves to the crowd.

As I prayed this prayer this morning, I noted a shift occurring in me. When I began my prayer I assumed that I was asking God to send someone else, someone more comfortable with crowds than I am, someone more charismatic and dynamic than I am, someone with better organizational and leadership skills than what I have. You see, crowds are not the only thing that I have been avoiding. I have been avoiding leadership as well. Leadership scares me. Leadership means sacrifice and service to an extent that my selfish soul is not yet prepared to render. By the end of the prayer, I could no longer escape the truth that God is in fact calling me. He is asking me to lead. He is asking me to descend into the crowd and be a catalyst for community. As I prayed, I discovered within myself a hardness of heart that struggles to feel toward the crowd what Jesus felt. I felt myself withholding myself from God, resisting the Spirit’s tug to grow into leadership, to aspire to leadership. I have even often complained about the poor quality of leadership in our churches, in our institutions, and in our world, or the lack of leadership, but seldom have I stepped up to lead or help lead.


Forgive me for my avoidance of crowds and leadership and thank you for finally getting through to me this morning. Lord Jesus, I want to feel what you felt when you saw the crowds. Thank you for modeling such patience and compassion, for descending into the crowd of humanity with love and leadership. Holy Spirit, melt my resistance to whatever it is you are leading me to do today in the way of leadership, to be a catalyst for community in the midst of the chaotic crowd.