Why invest time, money and effort in fulfilling the mission of Jesus? Jesus’ teaching to his disciples in Matthew 9:37-38 is often and rightly highlighted: “He [Jesus] said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.’”
The vision of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes is “to see the world transformed by Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes.” In pursuit of that, FCA sends workers into the harvest field of sports. But if we are going to grow as disciples of Jesus, we must understand the context of this mission.
“When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36, NIV). We are told the sight of crowds moved Jesus to compassion. In its original language, this strong word indicates deep, heartbreaking pain. It’s only used in the gospels when referring to or quoting Jesus. Why such compassion?
By describing the crowd as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd,” Scripture uses Old Testament imagery relating the crowds to Israel who rejected God and lived without his leadership. Again, the original language is strong: “harassed” means “flayed, mangled and with skin ripped off,” “helpless” means “thrown down.” Jesus’ heart is broken for the crowds; He sees them as sheep in the process of being destroyed by wolves in their lives. This is an important lesson for us.
Today, we must look on people like Jesus did and see beyond athletic prowess, power and adoration. Beyond good looks, grades and salaries—and beyond everything on the surface of our athletic world—we must see what’s at the bedrock of the human condition. We must find compassion for others because all of us are mangled by wolves, without exception. We are helpless and harassed souls unless we have a personal relationship with our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. Our salvation motivates us to help others.
Jesus wants His disciples to contribute to His mission, and this is evident in the world of sport. Even if our first impression of athletes is strength, power and leadership, we must recalibrate both our intellect and emotion, remembering that anyone, even those appearing to be the strongest, leads a wrecked life without Jesus. It’s the compassion of Jesus and what He does in the face of leaderless, confused and wrecked lives that saves.
Jesus was not depressed (as I certainly can be) by the size of this task. It was not a burden, but an opportunity. In Matthew 9:38, the opportunity is called a “harvest.” In order to have a harvest, there must be workers in the field. What an honor it is to play any part in sending out such workers! By financing, praying or going ourselves, we can join the Lord of the harvest on His mission. It’s neither up to FCA nor single individuals to save, but it’s Jesus who creates new life. It’s Jesus inviting us to work in His harvest field. It is He whom we represent.
The honor and privilege of making disciples as Jesus commanded leads to Christ-like compassion. May our compassion and humility grow as we work the harvest field and learn His wonderful plan to save athletes and coaches. May we be in awe as we continue to discover we belong to His harvest!