I watched, mesmerized, as the scene unfold before me. I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t.
A group of undercover policemen had set up a sting operation to arrest prostitutes in the act of soliciting.
A plainclothes officer pulled his car to a stop beside the target and spoke through his rolled-down window.
“Fifteen bucks? Hop in.”
I quickly swiped the tears welling up in my eyes, not wanting my husband to see me crying over a reality television program.
But fifteen dollars?
My heart ached for this one whose self-dignity had been valued at what I spend on a month’s supply of toilet paper.
As the undercover policeman transported the unsuspecting prostitute toward the location where the other cops were waiting for the arrest, something didn’t seem quite right about the prostitute, though I couldn’t make it out in the car’s dark interior.
When the car jerked to a halt, one of the waiting police officers threw open the passenger door and yanked the prostitute out.
“Get on the ground! Get on the ground! Get on the ground!”
Rough hands grabbed the prostitute, then flung him harshly to the ground. Yes, him. By the light of a streetlamp overhead, I could see that the prostitute who dressed like a woman was clearly a man.
That’s when my aching heart broke. The floodgates opened and I wept.
I wept for a man who assuaged agonizing pain by trying to become someone he’s not.
I wept for a broken person who placed such a low value on himself. Fifteen dollars.
I wept for the man’s parents who likely never imagined this future for their son.
I wept for the boy he had been. Was he abused? Neglected? Did a loving mom ever gaze at him fondly and caress his chubby cheeks? Did a proud dad ever take him camping? Did his teachers tell them he was a great speller or that he had the best handwriting in the class? Did a coach ever look into his hopeful eyes and urge him to keep trying and not give up?
I wept for this person who had never tasted the supreme joy of divine relationship. Who had never entered the presence of the One who counted him worth dying for.
And I wept for his belief in Satan’s lies. The lie that he’s a misfit, a mistake. The lie that he’s virtually worthless. The lie that his only hope is himself and the best he can do.
I wept that maybe no one has ever even told him the truth. Has he heard the name of Jesus? Even once listened to the testimony of another broken person who’s been healed by the blood of the Lamb? Has anyone beckoned him to come and see a Man who can heal every wounded place and restore every shattered piece?
I wept that perhaps no Christ-follower had ever looked at him with a smile and extended hand, but had probably rather turned away in revulsion.
And I wept that I wasn’t sure what I would do if I encountered this man on the streets.
I’m pretty sure my husband thought I was kooky as I sobbed for this man I will never meet. I was kind of surprised myself.
But when the tears finally subsided and I began to process what was happening in my heart, I was flooded with supreme gratitude for this proof that God is living and working in me, producing in me a tenderheartedness I could never muster on my own.
Matthew’s gospel tells us that 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 (Matthew 9:35).
What did He see in the crowds?
He saw people. This one’s illness. That one’s disability. Her heartache. His grief. Their addictions. Wickedness. Good intentions gone bad. Selfishness. Greed. Sin.
What did He make of it all? Because I don’t know about you, but I’m desperate to know what conclusions He drew about the messed-up plight of humanity as He gazed at the masses.
I’m sure a lot of thoughts went through His mind, but we’re told only one. And I can only imagine that’s because it’s the most pertinent one for us.
He had compassion for them (Matthew 9:36).
If anyone had a right to turn away in disgust, it was Him. This perfectly sinless One. This Lamb without blemish.
If anyone had a right to take offense at what they had become and give them a good tongue-lashing, it was Him. He had created them, after all.
But instead He concluded that they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).
Helpless against his power.
Harassed by sin’s lure.
Helpless against its appeal.
Harassed, each one, by his own sinful nature.
Helpless against its domination.
And then He says something quite amazing to His disciples – those who had identified with Him and left all to follow Him and devoted their lives to Him, just like you and I have done:
“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” (Matthew 9:38)
Jesus spells out pretty clearly what our right response is.
The short answer is to pray earnestly, and while that’s the most important take-away, there’s another implication here for us. An implication we’d better come close and look hard for, because it will make a difference in the way we view this thing.
Because before we can pray earnestly, we have to see people the way He sees them. Beyond the sin. Beyond the disgrace. Beyond the shame.
To the harvest.
Seeing the harvest means seeing the needs of people and caring enough to be passionate about them. Not passionate about their sin and how they’re offending my delicate sensibilities, but passionate about people who are hurting and broken and needy, entrapped and enslaved by sin and Satan when they don’t have to be.
Passionate about how for them, Jesus’ cruel death on the cross is going to waste.
Passionate about how much God wants to draw all lost souls to Himself and magnify His glory through their lives.
Passionate enough to pray earnestly, longing for more laborers.
And maybe even passionate enough to become a laborer myself. A laborer who is utterly aware of the power of one in the life of one. Who is willing to be uncomfortable and do hard things in hard places with hard people.
Just like our Savior.
With Him as our Example and the Holy Spirit as our Guide, we just might change the world.
Not by our compulsion.
But with His compassion.