When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."
Jesus had compassion on people. He saw their need. What sheds light on the condition of these people is found in the context of this statement. It was not a physical poverty alone that overwhelmed the heart of Christ. It was the spiritual poverty of these people. He had healed them and preached the kingdom to them, only to have the religious leaders among them sharply disagree and even work against Him. That is why the crowds were "harassed and helpless". Their spiritual leaders were the ones harassing them and trying to lead them away. They had no shepherd.
But Jesus used this observation to drive a call to ministry home to His disciples. He urged His men to earnestly pray to the Lord to send "laborers" out into the harvest of such hurting, ripe souls. These people were ready for good news. They were oppressed by legalism and false religion. And they had found the Messiah, the Savior Who could bring them a new life.
What follows IMMEDIATELY in chapter 10 is the commissioning of the twelve to do just that. Jesus is using the clear observation of the overwhelming spiritual need of His world to urge the disciples to action. And we need the same kind of mindset today. Not just for foreign missions, but for the entire world of humanity.
I see people who are harassed and helpless, even within the culture of the evangelical church. They come to me hungry, never having been fed a meal from the Word of God. They have existed on formulaic feel-good success-oriented motivational speeches. And they are anemic. They have been shown a church that is more consumeristic than a shopping mall, and struggle with really caring for others. They have been coddled, spoiled, and spoon-fed. And they are harassed and helpless sheep without a shepherd. And that is WITHIN the church! The spiritual poverty outside the church is beyond poverty now. And Christ is calling His followers to address it.
O Lord of the Harvest,
Send me. Here I am. I am ready to go into the harvest. I am ready to work among spiritually starving people. I need to have Your compassionate tears to fall on my soul and compel me as You were compelled in the cities and villages of Galilee so long ago.