Short Sayings of Jesus

See, Feel and Do

Matthew 9:37-38

Teaching t30696


We are concluding a series entitled “Short Sayings of Jesus.”  Jesus was a master teacher, and He employed many teaching forms (e.g., lecture, Socratic discussion, parables, etc.).  He also uttered short sayings that are easy to memorize and have wide application.  He used two types of short sayings:

Aphorisms, which are short, pithy sayings that express a general truth – either directional (“Take a chance and you may lose. Take not a chance and you have lost already” – Soren Kierkegaard) or observational (“If anything can go wrong, it will”).  Many of the Old Testament Proverbs are aphorisms (e.g., Prov. 27:6).

Mini-teachings, which briefly develop an important truth.  Jesus frequently utters these in response to a situation/person, as is the case with this passage (read Matt. 9:37a,38).  9:35 is the summary statement of Matt. 8,9, which narrate a series of healing miracles Jesus performed in Galilee early in His public ministry.  9:36,37a describes Jesus’ response to the enormous need that remained even after His healings.  So 9:37b,38 narrates Jesus’ instructions to His disciples concerning this need.  Before we look closely at Jesus’ mini-teaching to His disciples, let’s take a closer look at 9:36,37a . . .

Seeing >> feeling >> acting

Note the verbs of 9:36,37 – “seeing,” “felt,” and “said.”  Seeing something ignited His heart to feel something, which led to doing something.  We see this same pattern in two of Jesus’ most famous parables: the Good Samaritan (read Lk. 10:33,34) and the Prodigal son (read Lk. 15:20).  And there are other passages with this sequence, one of which we will look at a little later.[1]

What is the meaning and significance of this sequence of seeing to feeling to acting

“See” here refers to more than merely physically glancing at something or someone.  It refers to taking something in, letting it really register.  In another passage, the verb is theoreo, which means “to view mentally, to consider . . . to discern.”[2]  The Good Samaritan (unlike the priest and Levite, who also physically saw) really saw the plight of the man left for dead on the road.  The prodigal son’s father discerned the true broken state of his son who was returning home.  Jesus didn’t just see crowds of nameless people or their illnesses; He discerned the enormity of their spiritual plight. 

“Seeing” ignites “feeling.”  Comprehending the reality of people’s plight ignites not a superficial, fleeting feeling (like watching a news segment and then “now this”), but a deep response from one’s heart.  Jesus and the Good Samaritan and the prodigal son’s father all “felt compassion.”  This term (splagchnizomai) literally means “to be moved as to one’s bowels.”[3]

“Feeling” leads to intentional and redemptive “acting.”  The Good Samaritan’s compassion motivated him to bandage the man and then provide for his full restoration.  The father’s compassion motivated him to forgive his son and restore him to the family and celebrate his return.  Jesus’ compassion motivated Him to heal and deliver certain individuals, and to devise a plan that extended His deliverance to many others.  More on this plan in a few minutes – but first, let’s ponder the profound truth that this pattern reveals about the one true God.  It is utterly unique among the religions of the world . . .

The God Who Sees & Feels & Acts

He is not far off, oblivious, distracted, uninterested, etc.  He is the God Who sees (Elroi –explain Gen. 16:13).  Because He is the infinite-personal God, He can give His whole attention to each one of us as though no one else exists.  He sees us and knows us completely, infinitely better than we know ourselves (read Ps. 139:1-6).  He knows our thoughts and aspirations and hopes and fears.  And He especially knows our plight (whether we know or admit it or not) – that we are lost like sheep without a shepherd, that we are maimed and helpless like the man on the road left for dead, that we are like the prodigal son who has left his father’s house and squandered his inheritance and corrupted his whole life.  What we may not admit to ourselves about our lostness, God sees (read Eph. 2:12).

He does not just know us; He is deeply moved by this knowledge.  The God of the Bible is not apatheia (dispassionate); He feels deeply and passionately about each one of us.[4]   He feels many things about us and our situation.  He feels righteous anger at our rebellion against Him.  He feels outrage at how we have been deceived and victimized by evil people and Satan and his world-system.  He feels deep grief that we have fallen from what we could have been.  But most fundamentally, He feels compassion for us (read Hos. 11:8) – a deep concern for our plight an intense desire to comfort and heal us.

And because God sees what He sees and feels what He feels, He takes action to rescue us.  Like Jesus who took the initiative to visit these Galilean villages, so He does not wait for us to come to Him – He takes the initiative to come to where we are in our lostness.  Like the Good Samaritan, He freely pays the full price for our recovery by giving His life to pay the penalty of our sins.  Like the prodigal son’s father, when we choose to humbly admit our rebellion to Him, He not only forgives us but also lavishes His love on us and throws a party to celebrate our return.

This is the real God – the God who sees and feels and acts.  Not only not a dispassionate God.  Also not an impersonal cosmic force that you can manipulate.  And not a finite fickle god like the Greek-Roman gods, who were just projections of finite and fickle people.  And not a mean-spirited cosmic-killjoy god, like the God of the Bible is often misrepresented to be.  And not a god that is the product of your imagination – “God as I like to think of him.”  This is the God with whom you have to do.  How will you respond to Him?  Will you try to hide from His knowledge of your lostness – or will you let Him show it to you?  Will you refuse to believe that He has compassion for you – or will look to His compassion as your only hope?  Will you reject the action He has taken to rescue you through Jesus death on the cross – or will you humbly return to Him and receive His forgiveness so you can experience His healing love?

Representing the God Who sees & feels & acts

Now let’s come back to Jesus’ mini-teaching to His disciples (re-read 9:37,38).  Note two things in particular:

Jesus says that “the harvest is plentiful.”  He seems to be referring, not to all of the people in Galilee, but to the people who were distressed and dispirited because they knew that they were like sheep without a shepherd.  Unlike the religious leaders, their sufferings had convinced them that they could not make their lives work, that they needed a Good Shepherd to heal them and lead them.  Need is the mother of spiritual receptivity.  Because these people were more likely to be “poor in spirit” (receptive to God’s rescue through Jesus), they were a “plentiful harvest.”

I believe Jesus says this same thing to us.  We each have neighbors and work-associates who know that they are unable to make their lives work, who lie awake at night (like many of us did) wondering if this is all there is to life, how they wound up so empty and quietly desperate, etc. There are also whole groups in our community who know they need something or someone to deliver and heal them.  People who are addicted to drugs, family members of addicts, immigrants and refugees and international students who are lonely and culturally dislocated, military veterans who are shattered by war, urban youths who are broken by absent or dysfunctional families, people who are going through divorce, single parents, people who are dying of old age or terminal diseases, people who have family members who have committed suicide, people who struggle with mental illness, etc.  Messy people, but people who are often poor in spirit.  Do you see them? 

Jesus says that “the workers are few.”  There are so many people who know they need rescued that Jesus seeks many under-shepherds who will guide them to the Shepherd.  This is a clear statement of human agency – the fact that God has chosen to work through His people to rescue other people.  This is an amazing and gracious privilege, and it is also an implicit call for us to step forward as His under-shepherds, and to let Him teach us to see and feel and act like Him.  Notice this same pattern in Paul, for example (read and explain Acts 17:16,17).[5]  No program or campaign (as important as they may be) can take the place of many such “harvest workers.”

What do you see?  Lift up your eyes (quote Jn. 4:35), and ask God to open your eyes to see them.  Don’t distract yourself with another cooking or home-improvement or reality TV show.  Don’t focus your attention only on your own family and friends, and maybe on your next vacation.  Jesus sees a plentiful harvest, and He wants to teach you and me to see them.

What do you feel about what you see?  Maybe you don’t want to see because you’re afraid that if you see you will feel overwhelmed.  But if you’re willing to ask Jesus to enable you to see, He will also enable you to feel His compassion for those whom He shows you.  He is also able to give you His heart of love for hurting people, a heart that motivates you to reach out to them instead of dismissing them or treating them like a project.

What will you do about what you see and feel?  If you are willing to let Jesus enable you to feel compassion for people, this compassion will motivate you to act

Jesus says that our first step of action should be to pray (9:38) – to pray for more workers.  This should be a priority for us in our private and corporate prayer lives (e.g., our monthly prayer concerts). 

Then Jesus summoned those same disciples and sent them into the harvest/lost sheep (10:1ff.).  As we pray for laborers with a willingness to be sent by Him, He will send us into the fields He has prepared for us.  It may be to a neighbor or work-associate; it may be to one of our ministry teams that is reaching out to different kinds of hurting people.  It may be to simply offer a helping hand (like Jesus healing people).  It may be to begin something with a new group of people.  It may be investing in other brothers and sisters to help them develop as workers.  Ask Him what He wants you to do.  An as you act, He will enable you to see even more clearly, and feel even more deeply, and ultimately to act even more effectively.


NEXT WEEK: “He who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted”


[1] See also Mk. 10:22, where Jesus “looked” (emblepo) at the rich young ruler, “felt a love for him,” and “spoke” a hard word to him.

[2] Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

[3] Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

[4] “The God of the philosophers is . . . indifferent to man; He thinks, but does not speak; He is conscious of Himself, but oblivious to the world; while the God of Israel is a God Who loves, and God Who is known to, and concerned with, man . . . He does not judge men’s deeds impassively and with aloofness; His judgment is imbued with the attitude of One to Whom those actions are of the most intimate and profound concern.  God does not stand outside the range of human suffering and sorrow.  He is personally involved in, even stirred by, the conduct and fate of man.”  Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets, Volume 2 (Harper Torchbooks, 1962), p. 4.

[5] Paul beheld (theoreo) this great city as “smothered with idols,” and this ignited a deep provocation of his spirit (paroxuno).  This involved anger that God’s name was not honored, but also compassion for the people who were being deceived and corrupted by this idolatry.  This moved Paul to creatively communicate the gospel as God gave him opportunity.