Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. Matthew 9:35-36 (The Message Bible by Eugene Peterson)

 

Sheep Without a Shepherd

 

As in the story of the Good Samaritan, relationship with others, starts with showing mercy, not judgement. In fact, James says, “Mercy triumphs over judgement” (James 2:13). This can revolutionize the way you think about people in your neighborhood, at work, or school. Matthew tells us that Jesus looked upon the multitude, not with judgement, but His heart broke for them, because He saw them like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus used this comparison because He knew the disciples understood fully well what it meant for sheep to be without a shepherd. For those of us who don’t spend time with sheep, we are unaware of how grave it is for sheep to be left alone. Without a shepherd, domestic sheep will die. If they fall over on their back, they can’t right themselves. Sheep are defenseless animals and are so fearful that a stray jackrabbit will cause a flock of sheep to stampede. Without a shepherd, there is extreme tension between sheep…like we see among people in our world today. However, when the shepherd walks up to the sheep all of this stops and they focus on the shepherd. It was Jesus’ intent to help His disciples, and us, to capture the human condition without the Good Shepherd.

Mercy Triumphs over Judgement

One of the significant blemishes on the church today is judgmentalism toward those outside the church. James, Jesus’ half-brother, makes a weighty point that should override the propensity of us Christians to make such judgments. He says, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers…Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:8-9, 12-13). James splendidly conveys, because we have been shown mercy we of all people should in turn pass on that same mercy to everyone else. He points out that if we make distinctions by showing favoritism in loving our neighbors, then we sin and become a lawbreaker. Making these kinds of judgments and distinctions is in violation of the royal law, loving your neighbor as yourself. In other words, if you close your heart to being merciful, then you close your heart to His mercy. The same door through which the mercy of God came into your heart and life, rescuing and transforming you, and enabling you to live by the royal law, is the door through which that mercy must flow out to others. But if you slam that door shut because you don’t like your neighbor or coworker because of the way they live their lives, or feel yourself to be morally superior to them, then you have slammed and locked the very door through which God’s mercy was longing to come to you as well. Now that may sound very severe, but it is true. Please know that I have made judgments of people more times than I would like to admit, but I am grateful that the Lord has rescued me many times from this foolishness because of His abounding mercy and grace.

One of the ways to get over our judgments of others is to look back to our condition without the Shepherd. Do you remember how you were, before His love invaded your life? Before Dave McNeal came into my life in Thailand and introduced me to the Lord, my life was filled with shameful activity. I am not proud of what I was like back then and I have great regret for the way I lived my life. I am not alone, the apostle Paul said of himself, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1Timothy 1:15). Reflecting on what you and I were like should lead us to have mercy. This is where it all begins…having the heart of God for people…one of mercy, not of judgement. It is very hard for us to do, but I have found that judgement accomplishes nothing, but mercy opens the hearts of souls to the love of God. They want to know that God loves them unconditionally and we are the means for showing them that kind of love. Through us they will begin to understand Jesus’ compassion for them no matter what condition they are in without the Good Shepherd.

A Time for reflection

First, take some time to reflect on your way of life before you knew Jesus. Then ponder how He sacrificially died for you and personally stepped into your life and forgave you of all your sins. You might want to do this while partaking of communion. In light of what Jesus has done for you, consider each of those you listed in Chapter 1. How do their lifestyles, attitudes, and beliefs differ from yours? What has been your attitude toward these people or others?

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Respond

Dave McNeal never pointed out the shameful way I was living my life, but took genuine interest in my life and listened to me a great deal. I am sure if he would have been critical about my way of life I would have distanced myself from him, but because of his loving mercy I opened up to him and the Lord. To care for people like Jesus did may require a shift in your attitude from being judgmental to showing mercy. How is the Lord leading you to care for them despite their lifestyles, attitudes, and beliefs knowing they are like sheep without a shepherd? (It may be listening, being kind to them in some unique way, giving them a gift, etc.)

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