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Have you ever seen the 1949 British film noir, The Third Man? The movie stars Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, and Trevor Howard. It tells the story of one of the worst racketeers in the Vienna black market in the period just after WWII. His name was Harry Lime.

Through his connections with military hospitals, Lime has been stealing vials of penicillin, diluting it, and selling it on the black market. While these crimes have made Harry rich, they’ve had a devastating effect on patients who’ve been administered his contaminated medicine. It’s resulted in the death and brain injury to numerous children who succumbed to meningitis.

Like Berlin, post-war Vienna is divided up into four sectors – British, French, American, and Russian. Harry conducts business from the Russian sector, where most crooks are safe. At Harry’s invitation, a childhood friend, Holly Martens, arrives in Vienna. Harry Lime has offered Martens a job. But when Martens goes to Harry’s home he is informed that his friend is dead.

In time Holly finds out that Harry is very much alive. He cleverly staged his own death. He murdered the hospital orderly who helped him steal the penicillin, then placed his dead body in his own coffin.

When Holly Martens finds out all the sordid details of his former friend, he is horrified. Holly knew Harry could be devious and opportunistic, but he had no idea he would stoop to murder.

Intent on confronting Harry, they agree to meet at the 212-foot Wiener Riesenrad Ferris Wheel. They get into one of the wheel’s many compartments and have a heated discussion as the wheel carries them to the top. Holly tells Harry everything. He knows all about his crimes and the many deaths. But none of this concerns Harry. He only bemoans his acid-indigestion and regrets not telling Holly to bring some anti-acid tablets from America.

Frustrated and angry with Harry, Holly asks him, “Have you ever seen any of your victims?” – a reference to the many dead children.

          Harry rolls his eyes. “Victims? You’re being melodramatic.” Harry opens the door to the Ferris wheel compartment and points down at the crowd of people 200 feet below. “Look down there. Would you feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, Old Man, tell me to keep my money? Or, would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare.”

While recently reading in Matthew’s Gospel, I thought about Harry’s words concerning those “dots,” the little people in the crowds that were only an irritant to him. That annoyance and contempt for the masses has been echoed by many others. Josef Stalin remarked, “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic.”

What a contrast to Jesus! Thousands of people pursued and surrounded Jesus, carrying their sick and lame to Him to be healed. But instead of being annoyed or threatened by the crowds, Matthew tells us this. “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). When Jesus looked at the crowds He saw every individual’s burdens, pain, and sorrow. No one was “lost in the crowd.”  Every heart spoke loud and clear to Jesus.

Even when the crowds interrupted His plans, Jesus didn’t lose patience with them. Mark 6:30-44 records the time when both Jesus and His disciples were tired and sorrowful over the death of John the Baptist. In a rare moment, Jesus suggested that they take a break. “‘Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest for a while.’ For,” Mark explains, “there were so many coming and going that they did not even have time to eat” (Mark 6:31).

Unfortunately, the crowds caught wind of Jesus’ planned retreat and intercepted it. While the disciples were clearly angered by this intrusion, Jesus, we are told, “felt compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). Jesus proceeded to feed them spiritually with the Gospel and physically with the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes. Even at the worst possible time, the crowds were not an irritant to Jesus.

And, again, when the crowds stubbornly pursued Jesus – even after they ran out of food, their presence did not bother Him. Rather, Jesus said, “I feel compassion for the multitude; because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way” (Matthew 15:32). So, once again, Jesus miraculously fed the multitude, before sending them home. What an amazing leader Jesus is! He knows all about the needs of His people and supplies them all.

You know, we can be frail and pathetic representatives of Jesus. I suspect, we’d be just like the disciples, annoyed at the intrusive crowds. We might even nurture a contempt for them. Perhaps even the dark thoughts of Harry Lime or Josef Stalin might cross our minds.

But we must never think that Jesus is as weak and frail as we. Jesus never lost His cool, exploded, or had a meltdown. He always exhibited perfect patience, compassion, and an eagerness to bless and heal others. This is an example for us to aspire to – “for the one who says he abides in Jesus ought to live in the same manner as He lived” (1 John 2:6).

But there’s also a lesson of hope here for us – and for the whole of humanity. For, just because we’re “fed up” and ready to give up on the world, that doesn’t mean Jesus feels the same way. Do you remember when James and John wanted to call down fire upon a Samaritan city which closed its doors to them (Luke 9:51-56)? That’s our typical response, not God’s.

In fact, Jesus explained to James and John that He didn’t come to destroy people’s lives but save them. That’s why, when His enemies mocked and taunted Him as He agonized upon the cross, Jesus prayed for them, rather than curse them (Luke 23:34). For He came to save and not to judge (John 3:17; 12:47). For how could Jesus ever accomplish our redemption if He retaliated against everyone who offended Him? Such a reaction would defeat His purpose in coming.

Therefore, never assume that God has “lost patience” with this world and is ready to wash His hands of it. God paid a hefty price to save this world and we should be doing our part by sharing the Gospel, supporting others who do, and praying for God to grant our fellow Americans repentance and faith that they might be saved.


PRAYER: Dear Father in heaven, though the sin of this world abounds, remind me that Your grace also abounds. Help me, Father, to partner with You through my Christian witness and through my prayers, in Your great work of leading sinners to Jesus and building His church. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


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