Matthew 9:32-38 (NIV)
32 While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. 33 And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”
34 But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”
The Workers Are Few
35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
The “harassed and helpless”… Reading this today made me think instantly of recent attempts by politicians to define groups they claim they are reaching out to.
We had Ed Milliband’s “Squeezed Middle”
We had Theresa May’s “Just About Managings”
We had Nick Clegg’s “Alarm Clock Britain”
This is nothing new. Back in Thatcher’s day we had “Basildon Man” – defining a constituency of aspirational working-class voters, and Tony Blair tried to reach out to “Mondeo Man” – “the self-employed working man with a new mid-range motor car on the driveway.”
Maybe the phrase “harassed and helpless” hit home harder today because I have been catching up with the excellent BBC Drama – “Broken”.
As the grinding reality of poverty in Britain unfolds, I sat there with the awful knowledge that this is not entertainment, but this is the absolute reality for so many people in Britain today. It’s a long time since David Sheppard wrote “Bias to the Poor” – that ground-breaking book that spawned (among other things) the Church Urban Fund. But Sheppard was right. He was not talking about a “political bias” but God’s priority to “listen to the poor, exist with them, try to stand in their shoes, and then be willing for them to take a full share in the leadership and decision-making.”
Until recently I couldn’t imagine a UK political leader standing up publically and proclaiming that his/her programme was designed to appeal to the “harassed and helpless”. Until very recently, conventional political wisdom stated that you only ever gain power by appealing to the Middle Classes. Now I’m not so sure. (you can decipher that subtle political code for yourself!)
But then – as is always the case with reading the Gospel – the finger points back at me. I sat and thought and became uncomfortably aware that over the years my life has changed and the nature of my job has changed (I won’t bore you with the details) – such that most of my time is now spent IN the church or going about some kind of church business. Not much of my time is now spent directly in the company of those who Matthew described as “harassed and helpless” – those who Jesus met with compassion.
so… Im going to fix that. I have been to the Exeter volunteer site and registered my interest in a project working with some of those Matthew might have described as “harassed and helpless”.
I’ll repeat a warning I often give… read the gospels with caution: they have a way of challenging and changing your life.