"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."
Harassed and Helpless - that's what we are. We are Powerless in this world. That's because were fallen flesh in a fallen world. We're helpless to overcome it. That's why we need Jesus - to overcome the world for us.
I grew up with cows and sheep. I must say that sheep are stupid. As a teenager, I felt nothing but contempt for them. I didn't feel compassion for sheep. Sheep will do the wrong thing, go the wrong place - it's maddening. But I did learn that you cannot yell at or bully a sheep to do the right thing. Now a cow you can yell at, and out of fear she'll go the right way. With cows you can motivate them with either carrots or sticks. For sheep, the sticks just don't work. They get all upset and become self-destructive. Yelling at sheep doesn't work either. You need so be patient, calm and confident. You cannot rush sheep. But they will follow you if they know your name and trust you.
And isn't that how we humans are? The stick of the law didn't work for us. We just couldn't follow it to righteousness. We need carrots. We need love. When Jesus sees us, he sees sheep, and feels compassion. He is the Good Shepherd. He will lead us to green pastures.
Yet in my humanness, since I see sheep and feel contempt, I project that emotion on to God. I assume that when he sees me, harassed and helpless, wallowing in the same self-destructive sin again and again, he sees me with contempt. But the Truth is that God sees Jesus, not me. And Jesus sees me with compassion, not contempt. It takes a lot for me to overcome my inate prejudice and believe Jesus actually has compassion for me. I feel shame at my actions. I don't want Him to see them. But he sees and doesn't shame me. He loves me.
So back to the verse: & tie it in with the Celebrate Recovery concept of Powerlessness. I am powerless over my addictions, over my hurts hangups and habits. But instead of feeling shame over this, all I need do is accept that I am a sheep. Normally this would be scary - I wouldn't want to be a sheep out in this world. The world is mean & dangerous. But we have a shepherd. A Good Shepherd - one who calls us by name, etc. And so we can submit ourselves, as sheep, to the shepherd. We can follow his voice. Our alternatives are all self-destructive: we can flail about in panic, damaging ourselves and all around us. Or we can try to fight back against the world - we can gang up with others to fight off the wolves. Can you imagine a group of sheep out in the wild, surrounded by wolves? Can you imagine someone hands them some sticks & rocks and says "come on, fight for yourselves, you outnumber the wolves"? It's ludicrous. So why do we think we can take on the world in our own strength? It's not even a matter of us fighting along side of Jesus. It's a matter of us getting safe behind him, and letting him fight the wolves for us. As a sheep, there's no other way for us. We're just not made for fighting wolves. A right understanding of our relationship to God means we would willingly and gladly get behind Jesus. No sheep would step in front of the shepherd and say "don't worry, I'll fight off this wolf for you". And there's no shame or embarrasment in that.
And yet, there's this lie I keep hearing - a lie about how it's my responsibility to fight the wolf. A lie that I'm less of a man if I'm not able to fight the wolf. A lie that there must be something wrong with me if I'm not able to fight off the wolf. A lie that I'm scared or chicken or weak and that I let others fight for me because I'm a coward. So I need to embrace, instead, the Truth: I am a sheep. I am helpless and harrassed. I am not made for fighting wolves. Jesus is my shepherd. He is made for fighting wolves. My job is to get behind Jesus and be a sheep. And since I am a sheep, I will feel no shame at being one. I will instead be grateful that I have a shepherd.