Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Seventh Sunday after Trinity + July 15, 2018
Baptism of Jerimiah & Natasha (Jenks) Hodson, Giovanni, Roen, and Noah
Text: Mark 8:1-6
There aren’t many dogs or cats that like to go to the vet. Nevertheless, compassionate owners knows when it’s the needed thing. So, in compassion, they pack them up against their will and force them to endure it.
There are many things we can learn from the Feeding of the Four Thousand. The most significant thing is simply that the Lord had compassion on the hungry crowd that come out to hear Him, and He acted on it. The Lord also has compassion on us. He has not sent His Son to die in vain, nor merely for our future spiritual good. The Father sent Him to redeem us, to make us His children, now. He who was crucified is risen from the dead for us, in order to be with us, to keep on feeding us. And He is concerned with all of us, our bodies and souls, our spiritual lives and our family lives, our churches and our cities.
He has compassion on us and He acts on it, delivered to us in real time in Word and Sacrament. Often He makes us hungry first. Being driven to the vet can feel like betrayal. Yet faith learns to see that the Lord acts all times in compassion and mercy, that He works all things work together for good those who are in Christ. (Rom. 8:28)
If we look closely at the scene in the Gospel, we notice that it looks a lot like the Church’s Divine Service. The people have come to hear Jesus, to listen to His Word, to be in His presence. They have been so caught up in this that they have forgotten their physical needs.
The Lord does not exaggerate when He says, “if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way” (v. 3). If He sends them away without feeding them some of them will likely die. They do not have the strength for the walk back to the green places. So also do the disciples answer correctly in their question, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” There is no way to feed that crowd in that desolate place. Even if there were a bakery, a field of wheat, or a Walmart, it wouldn’t be enough to feed this number of people. Go now to Costco or Walmart and buy 1,000 loaves of bread at once. It can’t be done.
The Lord has done this to them on purpose. It is an act of compassion. He exposes their need. They have come to hear Him and that is good. Man lives not by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. [Deut. 8:3] They have no bread but they do have what they came for: His Word. They live, but they are dying. They cannot help themselves, but He is their Help and their Food.
In this, they are the perfect congregation, perfect Christians. They come hungry and needy, and they are in just the right place. They are not chastised for foolishly forgetting a sack lunch. Rather, the Lord responds with compassion. They have come for His Word and He loves them in their need. He does not put them to work, organizing them into committees and work parties, assigning leaders and tasks. He simply has them all sit down. He doesn’t form a bread line. He doesn’t create a buffet. Instead, He treats them as though they’ve come to a restaurant. Though the place is desolate, and they are the poor and weak, they prepare to partake of a banquet as though they were kings and the apostles wait on them.
The Lord takes bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and gives it to them. They eat in luxury, as much as they want, and are satisfied. They receive from His bounty without merit or worthiness, in perfect passivity and trust, likely less than fully aware of the danger they were in and unable at the same time to fully appreciate the gift they were given. So is the life of faith on this side of glory. We are gladly the lapdogs that eat the crumbs that fall from our Master’s table even if He sends us now and then to the vet.
While no man could feed 4,000 people in the desert, the Lord can and the Lord does. So also, what is less obvious, is that no man can feed even one person, even himself, in the city or in fertile land without the Lord. Our parents are right to teach us to pray before eating for this very reason. It’s not commanded by God in the Bible, but it is very good custom. To neglect it is foolish and arrogant. The Lord gave thanks before He fed the crowd. He gave thanks also at the institution of His Supper before He fed them with His Body and Blood. Christians say grace because it is necessary for us to confess and give thanks to God that He provides what we need for this body and life and that without Him we would have nothing. Indeed, if He were to withdraw His hand for a second, we would be destroyed. This goes right along with our confession that if Jesus had not redeemed us by His sacrifice on the cross none of it would matter, no matter how much or little we had. So, we pause before we eat. We recognize that the food we need, He gives, and we thank Him for it.
There are those who question or even deny the Lord’s miracles. Some have thought that the point of this miracle was sharing. They don’t think the Lord actually multiplied bread and fish. Instead, they say the crowd was inspired by the boy who had five barley loaves and two fish (John 6:9), and they were moved to pull out and share from their own stashes. They had just been selfish and Jesus taught them to be nice.
This is a deadly error because it not only denies the plain words of Scripture, but it also turns the Gospel on its head and makes the Lord’s primary purpose not to redeem us and forgive us, but simply to guide into us into a higher morality. It’s not that the idea of sharing is bad in itself, it is that the Lord’s compassion is greater than that. His compassion doesn’t help those who can help themselves; it helps the helpless. Thus the Lord had them sit down and be waited upon.
Part of the problem is that many don’t believe that the Bible is inspired and inerrant. Some think that Christ is a great man but only a man and not true God. They don’t think that He has the power to perform miracles and He is nothing more than an inspiring moral teacher like Ghandi. Those errors need to be confronted. The Bible is inspired and without error. Our Lord Jesus Christ is true God and true Man who has redeemed us by His death and resurrection and has ascended, as Man and God, to the right hand of God the Father Almighty. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him.
But, the purpose of the miracles also needs to be clarified. Many Christians have thought that the primary purpose of the miracles was to prove that Jesus is true God. To be sure, the miracles do demonstrate this. He is the Lord of creation who created the world and is still active in it. It bends to His will. But the Lord isn’t trying to prove anything in the feeding of the 4,000. His purpose isn’t even to try and get the crowd to worship Him or be nicer to one another. Even though those things happen, His purpose is to provide for their need. He has compassion on them and He acts on it.
The miracles do show us His Divinity. Through His Word, the Spirit does cause us to believe and worship, and to live out our faith. There’s no doubt about that. The miracles, however, do more than that. They show us the character of the Christ: “His mercy endures forever,” He has come in peace to restore creation and us to His Father, and He has overcome death and devil for us. The miracles show us the kind of God who lays down His life to make us His: the kind who has compassion on the hungry, the lame, and the downtrodden.
The Lord is compassionate and kind. He looks upon us with His mercy. Our crosses and hardships, our pain and sorrow, are not signs of His wrath and distance. They are His loving chastisements, like a trip to the vet which is always followed by extra attention and treats. Let the injustices you suffer cause you to long for the goodness and mercy of God. Let this world’s pain and disappointments send you running to the God who is constant in His love and keeps His promises. Let this world’s many harsh judgments and the Law’s accusations make you eager—desperate even—for the Good News of God’s forgiveness in Christ and the promise of the Last Day.
May our daily hunger make us long for what the Lord gives, for righteousness, and for what He has promised, life with Him, so that we never become satisfied and want to stay in our cities but are always ready and willing to follow Him in His death even if it is to our death.
All that to say, may we ever be unsatisfied by this life, aware that it is a desolate place, and be ready to give it up. Until the final summons, may we find constant solace and comfort in the Divine Service where Christ Himself is present for us, where He causes us to sit down and be waited upon. Here, He speaks words of chastisement and accusation and instruction. He also speaks the life-giving words of the Gospel, His compassion for us, forgiving us anew and bringing us back to Himself, making us alive with Him. May the crowd which gathers here find nourishment and satisfaction, a green place in the midst of desolation, where the Lord Himself takes bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and give it us as His own risen Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins. “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good and His mercy endureth forever.” (Psalm 136:1) Amen.