Robert Tuttle, E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism, at Asbury Theological Seminary is known for his passionate teaching and his love of people. â€œTuttle storiesâ€ are legendary among persons who have engaged him in casual conversation or spent extended periods of time with him. Students who have had the privilege of studying with Tuttle come away shaped and formed into the sort of profound people whom God needs to advance Godâ€™s work in the world. What is Tuttleâ€™s secret? A favorite â€œTuttleismâ€ is this brief prayer that he regularly challenges others to pray: Lord, give me eyes to see and love others as though they were my own children. Amen.
This provocative prayer gives us an important insight. We tend to treat others based on our perception of them. If we see people as evil, we treat them accordingly. If we judge a woman to be greedy, we are unlikely to extend aid to her. If we interpret a manâ€™s actions as arrogant, we will probably keep the fellow at armâ€™s length. But what if we were able to perceive others as God does. This is the intention of Tuttleâ€™s deceptively simple prayer. It is a prayer that asks God to give us a new lens through which to view the world and to change our feelings toward it. This second element is vital. Parents love their children. Thus, to see others as our own children is to extend toward others the same feelings and sentiment that we do to our own sons and daughters. Moreover, our feelings toward our own children spill over into tangible actionsâ€”acts of love and kindness.
In our text for today, we get a glimpse into the inner life of Jesus and discover that compassion was the fuel of Jesusâ€™ mission and ministry in the world. The response to Jesusâ€™ ministry was overwhelming. Crowds gathered around him at every stop. His teaching dazzled the ears of those who heard him. His ability to work miracles of feeding, healing, and exorcism was stunning and begged the questions: Who is this guy? Could Jesus be the one? For his part, Jesus kept on moving. He didnâ€™t stay in any one place too long. There was important work to do. The opening verse offers us a summary glimpse of Jesusâ€™ ministry: Jesus taught, preached, and healed (9:35). These actions led to crowds of people clamoring to find healing, hope, and restoration from Jesus.
What would our response be if we switched places with Jesus? Would it be exhaustion? Or would it be frustration at the masses of humanity? Jesus responded with compassion. He was deeply moved by the needs of the persons who came to him. He recognized the persons as harassed and helpless. They were looking to him for help. At this moment, Jesus was compelled to act for the sense of compassion that he felt in the presence of human need. This is the essence of compassion. It is not merely a feeling generated in response to the observed suffering of another, but also a burgeoning desire to act to bring relief. Jesus was the embodiment of compassion. It was his calling card in Matthewâ€™s Gospel (Matt 9:35; 14:14; 15:32, and 20:34).
What about us? This is more than a hypothetical question. Every follower of Jesus becomes an extension of Jesus himself. Each of us who desires to follow Jesus serves as Jesusâ€™ hands, feet, ears, and eyes in the world today. Jesus seeks to unleash men and women to touch the lives of those within their spheres of influence with the good news of the Gospel. All of this begins with compassion.
Consider these reflections by leading thinkers on compassion:
Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things. –Thomas Merton
Compassion is the desire that moves the individual self to widen the scope of its self-concern to embrace the whole of the universal self. — Arnold Toynbee
A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair. — Abraham Heschel
Compassion is central to the movement that Jesus is seeking to unleash into the world. Our Gospel text for today functions as a guide to mission and ministry for Jesusâ€™ followers past and present. In this text, Jesus envisions and launches a ministry of compassion.
Compassion Leads to Urgency
Jesus responds to the overwhelming needs of the crowds around him in a surprising way. He does not merely work harder or add more hours to his day. He does not appear to be discouraged by the immensity of the need. Instead he transforms the scene into a teaching moment.
He sees the crowds as a vast harvest. In much of the Scripture, harvest imagery points to the end of days and to judgment. Harvest was typically viewed metaphorically as a time of reckoning. Earlier in Matthew, John the Baptist spoke of a cataclysmic time of judgment by evoking metaphors drawn from the harvest (Matt 3:10). Jesus himself will use such imagery in the parables of the weeds (Matt 13:24-30). Yet note how Jesusâ€™ compassion transforms the harvest imagery here from a time of reckoning to a time of rescue. There is urgency here. It is a time for prayer. The prayer is not deliverance of self at the time of judgment but on behalf of the world for its rescue.
Jesusâ€™ compassion turns him away temporarily from the pressing needs of the crowd to adopt a strategy for longterm impact. He instructs the disciples to pray for additional workers.
What sort of person do I need to become in order to respond to the needs of the world with a compassion that drives me to pray with a sense of urgency not merely for myself or loved ones but for the needs of the world?
Compassion Drives Multiplication
It is striking to contrast Jesusâ€™ prayer with the typical prayer of a Christ follower. Do we not generally pray for strength to complete the task that God has given us? Jesus presses us to pray more profoundly and more potently by requesting a multiplication of workers. This involves potentially both gain and loss for the disciple. If we serve for the wrong motives, say, self-aggrandizement or to meet some personal need, there may be loss as others rise up to do the same or similar work. But if our goal is the embodiment of the Gospel and the advancement of Godâ€™s work in the world, then multiplication allows our work for God to grow exponentially.
How do I need to change in order to mobilize and empower others to serve alongside of me? How am I consciously paving the way for others to join me in serving God?
Compassion Fuels Mission
The movement of Jesusâ€™ followers is a movement of action. Compassion leads to urgency. Urgency leads to multiplication. Multiplication leads to mission. Jesus not only calls out twelve disciples, but he empowers them by authorizing and deploying them to act on his behalf. The disciples are sent out with the authority to speak and act in the same ways that Jesus himself modeled (10:7-8 cf 9:35).
There is a subtle yet essential assumption here. All disciples are called to serve. No exceptions. Praying for additional workers assumes oneâ€™s own participation in the harvest. Strategizing a system of multiplication assumes that one does not remain on the sidelines. Mission is the reason for the existence of the movement of Jesus.
It is tempting to read Matt 10:2-4 as a list of â€œsuper-Christians.â€ But this would not be correct. The twelve apostles hold a key place in the history of the Church primarily because they were first. In fact, they represented the totality of Jesusâ€™ committed followers at the time. In other words, Jesus deployed all of the human resources that he had at the time. This deployment included even Judas his future betrayer.
How would my life be different if I embraced Godâ€™s call to mission in my life? In what areas can I consistently meet needs and add value to the lives of others, especially to those outside the walls of my community of faith?
Jesus calls his people to live lives of maximum impact. What does it take to embrace and embody such a lifestyle? Our text challenges us that this begins with a profound compassion for the people whom God has placed in our sphere of influence. Compassion is the fuel for Godâ€™s mission and work in the world. Would you like to be filled with a heart of love for others and to see others as Jesus did? An easy way to start is to offer up Dr. Tuttleâ€™s prayer: Lord, give me eyes to see and love others as though they were my own children. Amen.