I met a little boy named Tyrell while I was at the University of Southern California, spending time on Skid Row at an after-school program. One day, he gave me this little red fire truck that he had made, and I keep it with me to this day (much like that picture my dad keeps in his wallet of that little baby girl) as a reminder. He was a beautiful little kid. He stole anybody’s heart that came into contact with him. I can still hear his joyful laugh and see his massive smile.
Tyrell was born into a family that needed some help. He and his parents moved in and out of homelessness. Neither of them could really sustain an ongoing job. Tyrell and his brother struggled to find consistency in their life, as they moved from a house, to the streets, to a house, to the streets. This had negative consequences on their mental and emotional stability, as well as their health, education, and ability or desire to dream.
The last time I saw Tyrell, we said goodbye because he and his family were moving into a house that we only hoped would be permanent. But we knew, as many of the families that ended up on Skid Row, they had a high likelihood of being back again.
As I look back on the time I had with Tyrell, I can’t help but get a huge smile because he brought so much laughter into my life. Then, as I sit and think about where he might be now, my heart hurts.
There is a bit of the story of Jesus that stuck out to me recently because it was brought up at a Bible study. It’s in Matthew 9 as Jesus is in Galilee preaching, teaching, and healing. Jesus, like on many other occasions, sees a crowd of people and “had compassion for them” (Matthew 14:14, 15:32, 20:34; Mark 1:41, 6:34, 8:2; Luke 7:13). This compassion that is spoken of is more along the lines of what we’d call today empathy. It was not a sentimental feeling for the suffering and pain of others. It was an internal sense of understanding - in some ways even feeling the feelings of another. It is described by Charles Spurgeon as “a striving of the bowels, a yearning of the innermost nature with pity.”
But what stood out most to me is that some of these times, people were simply hungry and needed some food. Others were sick and in need of healing. But in the situation of Matthew 9, the text states,
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
I was struck by this phrase “harassed and helpless.” As I read these words, I found myself wondering, who exactly were these people?
I think that within this crowd of people, each would feel connected to at least one of these questions and longing for relief and compassion.
It is Jesus who has the relief and compassion when no one else does and he takes it a step further, passing on the work of compassionate justice onto his disciples; the work of the shepherd, of protecting from wolves, of feeding, of guiding and leading, of caring for, of helping back to health and strength, and of leading alongside calm waters and plentiful pastures.
Unfortunately, in today’s world and in particular in America, the discussion of families like Tyrell’s and the crowd that is harassed and helpless quickly becomes political. Our first reaction is to attack one group of people’s policies and programs.
But, what if that wasn’t the case?
What if we focused on the oppressed, the harassed, and the hopeless?
What if we wondered about their lives and how they got to where they are?
Even more, what if we drew close to them because we, like Jesus, felt that bowel-shakingcompassion?
What if we saw the opportunity for the harvest?
I think that if we do this, we will be ready for this thing that confronts every area of our lives: justice. Because justice does not belong to politics and it will not be created by different policies or programs.
Rather, it belongs to us. It is ours because we are moved by that same bowel-shaking compassion that Jesus felt for the crowds and we can’t help but create justice because it is injustice in this world that is harassing and making the crowds helpless.
Will you answer the call of the Shepherd?