Scripture Readings: Exodus 19:2-8a | Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 | Romans 5:1-8 | Matthew 9:35-10:8
"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."
What a wonderful word of comfort for us today from our Lord: to be reminded that when Jesus sees our suffering and confused world, compassion is what moves Him, and compassion is what drives His call for us to move as well. Too often our vision of God can misplace this basic motivation, leading us to forget how vital it is for the Church’s life in the world.
In our reading today, from the book of Exodus, we witness a key moment in Israel’s story, as well as a key moment in the unfolding drama of God’s redeeming love. Having recently rescued Israel from oppression and slavery in Egypt, the Living God invites this community into a covenant relationship. They were called to be His chosen people, set aside to be a “priestly kingdom and a holy nation”, reflecting the goodness and love of God back out into the world, so that all people might come to know and be reunited to the Lord. All of Israel we are told responds in a single voice: “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Yet as their story unfolds, we quickly find Israel failing to follow their Lord, as time and again they turn from His ways, and find disaster waiting for them… leading up to the fall of Jerusalem, and their return to oppression in Exile.
But despite this continuing saga of unfaithfulness, Israel’s story also reveals God’s saving goodness at work: Time and again, the Living God has mercy on His wandering people, and out of compassion the Lord continuously comes to their aide… not ignoring their rebellion and sin, but not abandoning them either. Which leads us to our reading this week from the Gospel of Matthew.
Here we witness Jesus Christ, wandering from Jewish town to town, teaching and proclaiming the good news of God’s Kingdom, and “curing every disease and every sickness.” In Jesus, God’s compassionate love had truly taken on flesh, and just as God had set Israel apart all those centuries ago at Sinai, Jesus now calls twelve of His followers and sets them apart to be His chosen messengers: sending them out to share in and spread His healing Kingdom work, and empowering them to take part in His own rescuing mission. Yet as the twelve apostles’ stories unfold, we hear time and again of their near-constant confusion, missing the real point of what Christ had come to do… leading up to the moment where they all run away in fear, as Jesus goes to the cross.
Not a very promising picture for the people of God, is it? Whether we look to the Old or New Testaments, the story seems the same: faltering, fumbling, failing, faithless. Time and again God calls people to share in and share His goodness, and life, and love… and time and again they turn their backs on their Saviour and Lord.
Maybe we see ourselves somewhere in this story too. We know we have been called as the Church to share in and share God’s good Kingdom, but are we struggling to set aside our old ways, or say no to our favorite temptations? Are we actually eager to do “everything that the Lord has spoken”, or are we just paying lip-service?
We know Christ has called each of us to follow Him, and to help others do the same… but do we find ourselves frightened and faltering when we’re asked to put this into practice? Do we easily give up when we start to run into resistance along the way?
There are so many ways that we can become overwhelmed by discouragement, disheartened by our struggles, and convince ourselves that we are not good enough for God… that He would never have room for somebody like us to share in and share His Kingdom… that we are too weak, or broken, or fearful, or lost to be of any use.
But even if this is you today… feeling frightened, and faltering, and weak… God has good news to share with us all, if we will turn to where He shows His face most clearly: the cross.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
Here at the cross we see the compassionate face of the Living God: offering His life on our behalf when we were at our worst! This is the same face that refused to give up on Israel, but time and again sought to seek and to save them when they had lost themselves in sin. This is the same face that called twelve mixed-up nobodies, and empowered them despite all their fears and faults, with a truly world-changing message. In Jesus, we see the God’s compassionate love poured out for the sake of sinners… so richly that absolutely everyone can have a share in it. It’s not about how good we are, it’s about the mercy of God for all… revealed and offered to us all through Christ’s redeeming death.
One scholar puts it well: "The death of the Messiah on our behalf, when we were weak, helpless sinners, demonstrates how much God loves us; and if he loves us that much, he can be trusted to rescue us from the coming day of judgment. After all, God did the unthinkable thing in sending his son to die for us while there was nothing whatever to commend us to him, and indeed everything to make him revolted by us—when, in other words, we were his enemies. Now that we are his friends, reconciled to him in the manner described in verses 1 and 2, [See footnote] God is not about to abandon us after all."
As we face what seems like an increasingly confusing and broken world these days, one in which many are desperately searching for hope, and truth, and justice, friendship, and restoration, let us take to heart that our Saviour Jesus looks on this same world and is filled with compassion for it, having offered His life on the cross that we all may have peace with God and each other. When the troubling voices and doubts arise, seeking to lead us to despair, let us remember that Jesus looks at us too with the eyes of compassion. That when we feel harassed and helpless our Lord will certainly not forsake us. Rather Christ calls us to look to Him in faith, and find our strength in His grace. And as we seek to answer His calling to share in and share His good Kingdom with our world, may His mercy be the heartbeat that drives all that we do. Amen.
 “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.” Romans 5:1-2.
 Wright, N. T. (2004). Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 1: Chapters 1-8 (pp. 87–88). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.