For those who have studied the Gospels and the life of Jesus, it is quite easy to recognise that he spent most of his time training up the twelve. Jesus knew the importance of pouring his life into a smaller group, which would then be able to impact thousands of people (as evidenced in the book of Acts).
But, though Jesus spent time giving so much to the twelve, he also regularly interacted with the crowds. Why? Jesus was the great shepherd (John 10) and he cared for people because that is exactly what shepherds do. One of the most detrimental things within church leadership would be those who are ‘untouchable’. One who calls himself or herself ‘pastor’ and yet is never accessible to the people – that person has failed to understand the shepherd heart of God.
I want to point out an important passage about shepherding. Though many might read the passage as a specific message about evangelistic mission, it is possible that we need to rethink what it’s communicating:
35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for 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 labourers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” (Matt 9:35-38)
Now, there is no doubt this passage speaks into the area of mission. But I believe it does so from an angle least expected – from Christ’s shepherding heart.
In vs36, we see that Jesus is moved with compassion for the people because they were ‘harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’. It is following such a statement that Jesus then states, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’
So we are not only sent with good news to tell other people, but we are sent to care for those to whom we bring the message, for we are to be a community of shepherds together.
We also see Jesus’ shepherd heart in the specific ways he interacted with people. We can specifically note these human senses: touch, sight and hearing.
1) Jesus Was Willing to Touch People
Here is a good passage to start with:
1 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 3 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4)
In vs3, we read that Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the leper. As most of us will know, the leper was a hopeless case in such a society. The Jews of the day had probably used the commands of Leviticus 13-14 to completely ostracise anyone with a skin disease. Therefore, Jesus was stepping over such a formulated boundary to touch this ‘unclean’ man.
When was the last time this man had been touched? Months, years, decades? This man truly needed to be touched by someone. And it is from this touch of Jesus that the healing power flowed into the man’s body.
We see a similar story in Mark 5:25-34 where a woman touches Jesus to receive healing from a 12-year bleeding disorder.
Jesus also showed his love for children by extending a touch to them, holding them and blessing them, even in the midst of the selfish rebuke of the disciples.
13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:13-16)
In all, as Jesus was, we must be accessible to people. We cannot be standoffish, closed off or even feel too important to interact with people. And we must even be willing to let people have access to us, even close access. This is part of the true shepherd heart of Jesus to reach humanity.
Jesus Was Willing to Look at People
If you can, take a moment to read Mark 10:17-27.
This rich man had fooled himself to believe that he had done all that was needed to inherit eternal life. But he was lacking one thing.
Now, Jesus could have been frustrated with the man and given him a strong rebuke. But we read these incredible words in vs21: ‘And Jesus, looking at him, loved him…’
Eye contact shows interest, involvement and vulnerability, even communicating love. Now, the rich man could have avoided such eye contact, but, from these words, we again see Jesus’ willingness to closely interact with humanity. And only after looking at him did Jesus say, ‘You lack one thing.’
Also, take a minute to read Luke 19:1-10.
In vs5, we read that Jesus looked up at Zacchaeus and spoke to him. Why is this significant? Well, we have Zacchaeus, short in stature, climbing up in a tree to see Jesus. He was not your average religious man, nor a popular man by any means. He was more likely a very hated man. But here he is desperately climbing up into a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus. It reminds us of the blind man, Bartimaeus, who kept yelling out for Jesus to come over to him (see Mark 10:46-52).
So, to the detriment of his own public image, we see Zacchaeus making every effort to see this man he had heard so much about. And when Jesus arrived at the tree, he simply looked up at Zacchaeus, spoke to him and then went to hang out at his house. Again, Jesus made himself available to the despised of his culture.
Jesus Was Willing to Listen to People
If you have a moment, check out Luke 24:13-39.
Here we find the account of Jesus on the road to Emmaus with two of his followers. They are quite disillusioned following Christ’s death on the cross, unaware of the fact that he had risen back to life.
What we must realise is that this is Jesus’ ‘big day’. Remember – he had just risen from the dead! It seems obvious (at least in much of modern-day society) that he would have chosen to make a spectacular, grand entrance back onto the scene.
But what does he do? Jesus simply walks a seven-mile, dusty road with two of his disillusioned followers.
In their confusion and disillusionment, Jesus drew near to his two followers, walking the dirt path with them, listening to their conversation (vs15). Jesus, then, throws a few questions out to provoke some more conversation (vs17 and 19). And he, again, takes time to listen to their story, or their complaint. Later on, Christ would end up staying with them and it was through the act of breaking bread that their eyes were opened (vs28-31).
Jesus could have spent time performing more miracles and wonders, though he never actually did such to amaze people. He could have made appearances to the religious leaders and Pilate to prove his resurrection. But he decided it was best to draw near to two of his disciples, two bearing the weight of their dashed hopes.
You see, he was more interested in restoring two disillusioned followers than awing the crowd with a spectacular performance. This is the Messiah-King, this is the great servant of all. He was interested in drawing near to people, hurting people, and listening to them.
Another great ‘listening’ account is found in John 4:7-26 between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.
Jesus was not so important as to keep people at a distance. He was committed to people, committed to interacting with humanity. Here was the great shepherd whose first focus was not preaching nor casting vision nor having great evangelistic crusades. Here was the good shepherd interacting with the ones he’d come to liberate. Here was the divine Son willing to touch, look at and listen to people.
His modus operandi remains even today – with us and through us.