2nd Sunday after Pentecost (A) June 18, 2017 Text: Matthew 9:36 Rev. Jon Nack
Dear friends in Christ, I remember listening to the radio after the terror bomb attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester England. I heard a man – a father – speaking about what he felt knowing that his daughter had gone to the concert. He said that when it happened, they were 2 or 3 hours away at the time and they never felt so helpless. They wanted to be able to do something; he wanted to protect his daughter. But she was caught in the blast. Emergency responders took his 15 year old daughter to a nearby hospital where she had surgery to remove shrapnel from her shoulder and arm, and thankfully well on the way to recovery. In that moment, Gary felt helpless because he knew there was nothing he could do.
But you do not have to feel helpless to be helpless. I don’t suppose too many of the people in the crowds that Jesus saw as He went throughout the towns and villages of Galilee felt all that helpless. Sure, there were the sick and the demon possessed. And certainly, there were examples of people who were driven in their helplessness to Jesus for His help. In chapter nine, we see a paralytic who is completely helpless lying on a mat. His friends carry him to Jesus who forgives his sins and heals him so that he can stand up and walk. We see the ruler whose daughter died and was helpless. We see the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years and was completely helpless. We see the two blind men who also were helpless and who turned to Jesus. And then, there was the demon possessed man who couldn’t speak who was brought to Jesus. In his own way, he too was helpless to do anything to help himself.
But for most of the people in the crowds, they probably lived fairly normal lives, went about their daily work and were able to deal with their problems and challenges on their own the best that they could. There were those who were doing O.K. for themselves, and probably those who were doing quite well for themselves. Most of these folks probably didn’t feel like they were helpless.
Probably most of us don’t feel that way either until something happens that makes us feel that way and we have to face the fact that there is nothing that we can do to help the situation. Something like a death in the family, the loss of a job, the serious illness, or marriage problems that seem to just get worse. Or depression (or maybe even having to depend on family to take care of you.) (There was also a Denzel Washington movie John Q. some years ago about a father who felt helpless because the insurance company was denying the medical treatment necessary to help his son. In that movie he takes matters into his own hands and takes a hospital hostage to get his son the heart transplant that he needs. People want to cheer him on in the movie because no one likes feeling helpless. We want to believe that there is always something we can do.)
But most of the people in those crowds probably felt like they could take care of themselves just fine, thank you very much.
But Matthew tells us that when Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. They didn’t feel helpless. But they were helpless and Jesus knew it.
They were helpless first of all because their leaders were misleading them. They weren’t being led to repentance and faith in Jesus. They weren’t being directed to God’s Word. They weren’t being called to turn from their sins to God. They weren’t being told that there was nothing that they could do to save themselves. Instead, they were told that if they led basically decent lives and followed the rules of the scribes and Pharisees, that they would be O.K. with God.
But where does that relying on the law lead. Jesus says that anyone who relies on the law is under a curse. And St. Paul says that if you put yourself under the law, you must obey all of it.
They were helpless and harassed by human leaders who had forsaken god, and they were harassed by the spiritual forces of evil. They were harassed by the popular religious ideas of the day that had no basis in truth, were the figment of human (or satanic deception) and were leading people to their own destruction. They were helpless because they were being kept in the dark about the seriousness of their own condition and that if they perished apart from Christ, they would be doomed to eternal hell.
They were helpless because they had no answer for their sin and no hope for salvation. This is true because what the leaders offered did not provide any true relief or life.
They were helpless because they thought they could justify themselves. And we do that too. We excuse our sinfulness; our ignorance of God’s Word, our judging of what we deem is right and good instead of accepting what God says. And we even attempt to excuse our own sin sometimes by saying, “I couldn’t help it!” When we are making excuses for ourselves is about the only time we will admit that we are helpless!
Just because we don’t always feel helpless, doesn’t mean we aren’t helpless. But Jesus sees and has compassion. And He has come to shepherd His sheep in compassion, justice, and righteousness. He comes to provide the help that we cannot provide ourselves.
By His blood, He provides the answer to sin and separation from God. By His Word He gives us something to stand upon and be protected from the assaults of the devil and those who would assail us. We can stand on the Word of God and say, “I have been baptized for the forgiveness of sins and have been given the gift of faith and life.”
It is for this purpose that the Lord says that we are to pray for workers to be sent out into the harvest field. Because it is through the preached Word of the Gospel, the good news of forgiveness in Christ that people are shepherded in truth and mercy. It is there that the helpless find help for their greatest need.
Jesus truly is the help of the helpless. It is not just in the crisis situations, but every day that we acknowledge before the Lord, “Lord, I am helpless. I cannot do anything to save myself. I cannot justify my sin. I cannot excuse my actions and inactions. I cannot find my own way. I cannot even know or understand the truth unless you lead me and guide me. But you have promised to come and shepherd me through your Word. Protect me as my shepherd from the attacks of the evil one. Let my conscience be cleansed by your powerful Word of forgiveness. Let my life of death be filled with your life and power. Turn me away from useless pursuits and beliefs that lead nowhere. Guide and direct me through your Word that I may follow you all the days of my life. For when I follow you, I am no longer harassed and helpless. For I have you as my Good Shepherd. In your merciful name I pray. Amen.