The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (9:36-10:8)
In today’s gospel reading we hear that Our Lord Jesus Christ saw the crowds and He had compassion on them because they were tired and scattered, like sheep without a Shepherd. What an amazing Lord we serve! He doesn’t look down on His people, He looks to them with eyes of compassion. He feels for every one of them. Indeed, so gracious is the Lord that He feels for each and every one of us that has ever lived or will ever lived. He desires to enter into a relationship with us.
There is no doubt that when the Lord sees the crowd as sheep without a shepherd, He sees them in need of the true shepherd, their Master and the source of their blessings and joy. The Shepherd is Christ. Yet, in today’s gospel we see another aspect of this verse since the verse which follows tells us that the Lord spoke to His disciples as said “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” From this we understand that the Lord sees the whole of the earth as a plentiful field full of harvest. This harvest is none other than the souls of mankind.
It is so interesting that the while the Lord is the true shepherd, He tells the disciples to pray for more laborers to receive the harvest. Even before His crucifixion and resurrection, even before His ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Lord was trying to raise the understanding of the disciples. He wanted them to know the richness of the task that they would be given. He also wanted them to think like shepherds, and to have compassion on the tired and lost people of humanity. Until now, we see the image of the shepherd clearly in the image of the bishop who holds a shepherd’s staff. The bishop guides and protects by teaching the word of God correctly and safeguarding the people from what is most destructive, that is, heresy.
What the Lord saw with the crowds during His earthly ministry is still quite true today; there are many who are lost and tired, hungry and thirsty, because they lack direction from a living relationship with the Lord Jesus and His Church. But my brothers and sisters, it is not only those on the outside who are lost. Yes, they are indeed lost. And, yes, they need us to accept the calling to go out and to bring them back into the fold. But often we who are within the walls of the church are also like the crowds of the lost. What separates us from the lost sheep? It is our obedience to the teachings of Christ and our continual turning to Him in repentance.
Every time we hear the word of God, whether in a sermon or the words of a saint or the reading of the Scriptures, we should allow ourselves to be measured and tested and tried by the word. We should allow the word to teach us and to bring us to repentance.
St. Nikolai Velimirovic writes “Repentance is the abandoning of all false paths that have been trodden by men’s feet, and men’s thoughts and desires, and a return to the new path: Christ’s path. But how can a sinful man repent unless he, in his heart, meets with the Lord and knows his own shame? Before little Zacchaeus saw the Lord with his eyes, he met Him in his heart and was ashamed of all his ways.”
So it is not enough for us to feel badly for those on the outside, and to try to evangelize the outsiders. We who are Christians need to be re-evangelized! We need to start again, we need to renew our love affair with Christ, our life. The Lord is waiting for you. He sees you and He has compassion upon you. He desires only your return. Repent! Leave the crooked paths and the deserted places of sin, and turn with your heart towards His ever present voice. It is not the one who hears his voice, but the one who follows it, that is blessed.
St. Nikolai also writing about repentance said, “No one, except Him, is able to cleanse the sinful soul of man from sin and, by cleansing, to whiten it. No matter how often linen is washed in water with ashes and soap, no matter how often it is washed and rewashed, it cannot receive whiteness until it is spread under the light of the sun. Thus, our soul cannot become white, no matter how often we cleanse it by our own effort and labor even with the help of all legal means of the law until we, at last, bring it beneath the feet of God, spread out and opened wide so that the light of God illumines it and whitens it. The Lord condones and even commends all of our labor and effort, i.e., He wants us to bathe our soul in tears, by repentance to constrain it by the pangs of the conscience to press it, to clothe it with good deeds and in the end of ends, He calls us to Him: “Come now,” says the Lord, “and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). That is, I will look at you and I will see if there is Me in you and you will look upon Me as in a mirror and you will see what kind of person you are.”
May the Lord have compassion on us and allow us to be molded and transformed according to His image and likeness. AMEN.