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36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

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Jesus Compassionating the Multitudes, Asks Prayer for Help (Mt 9:36-38). He had now returned from His preaching and healing circuit, and the result, as at the close of the first one, was the gathering of a vast and motley multitude around Him. After a whole night spent in prayer, He had called His more immediate disciples, and from them had solemnly chosen the twelve; then, coming down from the mountain, on which this was transacted, to the multitudes that waited for Him below, He had addressed to them—as we take it—that discourse which bears so strong a resemblance to the Sermon on the Mount that many critics take it to be the same. (See on Lu 6:12-49; and Mt 5:1, Introductory Remarks). Soon after this, it should seem, the multitudes still hanging on Him, Jesus is touched with their wretched and helpless condition, and acts as is now to be described.

36. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted—This reading, however, has hardly any authority at all. The true reading doubtless is, "were harassed."

and were scattered abroad—rather, "lying about," "abandoned," or "neglected."

as sheep, having no shepherd—their pitiable condition as wearied under bodily fatigue, a vast disorganized mass, being but a faint picture of their wretchedness as the victims of pharisaic guidance; their souls uncared for, yet drawn after and hanging upon Him. This moved the Redeemer's compassion.

37. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous—His eye doubtless rested immediately on the Jewish field, but this he saw widening into the vast field of "the world" (Mt 13:38), teeming with souls having to be gathered to Him.

but the labourers—men divinely qualified and called to gather them in—"are few."

38. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest—the great Lord and Proprietor of all. Compare Joh 15:1, "I am the true vine, and My Father is the husbandman."

that he will send forth labourers into his harvest—The word properly means "thrust forth"; but this emphatic sense disappears in some places, as in Mt 9:25, and Joh 10:4—"When He putteth forth His own sheep." (See on Mt 4:1).