Summary: How do we decide whom to help and how, of all the needs presented? Jesus responded to the needs that presented themselves, He discerns what the real problems are, and He trusted others with authority.
The problem is never whether somebody needs help. The problem is always which somebody we can help.
The issue is never whether there are any needs. There are always needs. In any given moment there are more needs than anyone person can possibly address. The issue is how to make the choice. Who needs help, how can we give that help, is this the right way to help? But never is the question: "Does anybody need help"?
There are no end of good things to do. There is no end in sight of the needs that human beings have. Someone speaks of the thousands of homeless people on the streets of our cities. Someone else describes the plight of the unemployed. Still another talks of the need to combat AIDS, and someone else counters with the need to fight heart attacks. My mail every day brings me appeals to do everything from supporting public television to collecting for the disease of the month to writing letters to the President. How do I select from all those things?
Closer to home, one group in our church seeks to work with single parents, another with at-risk youth, another with persons who need to make decisions for Christ. Still another hopes to run an after-school program for children. How are we going to center down on something? How will we choose where to make a difference?
It feels overwhelming, doesn’t it? The sheer volume of human need is absolutely staggering. So most of us end up doing one of two things. Either we turn it all off, every bit of it, and do nothing, feeling very guilty. Or we do a few little symbolic things, the odd gesture, five dollars here and a couple of hours there, and feel we’ve done our bit to make the world a better place.
But I wonder. I wonder whether there isn’t a better way to decide who we are going to help and how we are going to do it, out of all the thousand and one possibilities. Washington Irving writes of the frightened schoolmaster Ichabod Crane that he saddled his horse and rode off in all directions! Can we do better than that?
There is a clue in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus’ style of helping others was to have authority and to give authority. To have authority and to give authority. Jesus first developed a sense of personal rightness; and then he enlisted others to help Him. Having authority and giving authority.
Listen to how the Scripture describes it. Matthew 9:35:10:1
The picture you’ve just seen is of a confident Jesus, someone who knows who He is and what He is doing. How did Jesus gain this sense of authority? How did Jesus gain confidence in dealing with need?
I believe that He gained authority and confidence by responding to the needs which were right around Him. He did it by healing the very personal hurts that were right in front of His eyes.
If you look at Jesus’ helping ministry, you will see that it took shape after a series of dramatic encounters with needy people, almost all of whom put their cases to him very personally. In Chapters 8 and 9 of Matthew’s gospel, no less than eight different persons present themselves to Jesus and ask for help. The leper who came and said, "Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean." The centurion who appealed on behalf of his servant. Jairus, ruler of the synagogue, about his dying daughter; the woman with a history of twelve years’ hemorrhaging. All these and others came to Jesus with all their highly personal needs, and he responded to them.
Here’s the thing: Jesus did not run around looking for something to do; He didn’t go out of His way to find somebody to help. He certainly didn’t conduct a surveyor commission a cost benefit analysis. He just responded to what was right there in front of Him.
It is in responding to real people, with names and faces, that Jesus grew His personal passion, His authority. "Then", says the text. ’’Then’’ Important word. Then ... after meeting all these individuals ... then "Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness."
How did Jesus decide to get involved? He first responded to real live persons who came to Him with their needs. And seeing them turned Him to go out and look for others to heal.
When some of us were young, raised during the shortages brought on by World War II, how did our parents get us to eat? If we balked at eating everything that was on our plates, how did our parents urge us to finish it off? Well, mine did it by reminding me that there were thousands of children in China who would be glad to have it. Eat because there are needy, starving children in China, they said. They never really explained to me how my eating asparagus, which I loathed ... how my eating asparagus in Kentucky would help a hungry child in Peking! And I stumped them one day when, in a smart-alec mood, I asked them just to name one. Name one of those starving children in China! I’ll send him this asparagus! It was partly bluff-calling, but it was also partly an instinctive feeling that if I could put a face on suffering, I could be a more willing helper. If you can give a name to the person who is hurting, it makes helping more authentic.