“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 35:36).”
The itinerant preaching ministry of Jesus led him, Matthew tells us, to crowds of people who were harassed and helpless. What a powerful and troubling description. The word harassed brings to mind people who are stressed, oppressed and under duress. Helpless suggests those who are powerless to change their situations. Equally troubling is the comment that “they were like sheep without a shepherd.” These words are a strong indictment of the temple and synagogue system because though there were many who were connected with the synagogues and the temple, apparently there were not many who were receiving real guidance.
The clue to unlocking this text is the simple phrase, “he (Jesus) had compassion on them.” Like the father in the Parable of the Compassionate Father, the compassion of Jesus governed everything that he did. Gratefully we can now say that though harassed and sometimes feeling helpless we are not like sheep without a shepherd. There is one who became harassed and helpless for our sake, was raised for our sake and goes before us now to guide and direct.