“Sheep without a shepherd”

In Matthew 9 there is a summary of the work of Jesus – “and Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (verses 35,36).

A large priesthood system existed; there were also scribes and Pharisees. There was the Temple and many synagogues, so what was Jesus’ point in saying the people were harassed and helpless with no shepherds? It is obvious he meant the whole religious system was a failure! Would he say the same today?

Are the flock “harassed and helpless” today? In one sense ‘No’, but they have many attractions that are distractions that stop them from giving attention to the greater issues of life. The flock then had leaders that were self-centred, they had no “vision” of eternal things, their prayers were to tell God how good they were (Luke 18:11,12). They tackled the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (verse 11) – so that’s what they thought of others. Do today’s ‘shepherds’ say how good they are?

Jesus as the “good shepherd” set other shepherds an example. He came to bring “new wine” and the “old wineskins were useless” (verse 17) – the old law had served its purpose, the religious leaders had corrupted the essential elements of its message, they had lost any meaningful “vision” of God and the real nature of the service he seeks and the true message “of the kingdom”.

The lesson for us today is that the “new wine” is preserved for us in our Bibles but for most it has become “salt [that] has lost its taste” (5:13). But the words of Jesus are more meaningful than ever for those who have “ears to hear” – and in our world that is so starved of genuine spirituality there is abundant work to be done.

We note how our chapter ends, “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into the harvest”. And there are good harvest fields in a countries of the world where people have not yet been too distracted and corrupted by the ‘wonders’ of our modern, but godless world.