7. August 2011
Jesus draws great crowds to Him by His teaching, preaching, and mercy. Not too long ago, Jesus walked on water. He healed the sick in Gennesaret. He rebuked the Pharisees. He taught us that “what comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, comes evil thoughts [and deeds]. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” He has healed the Syrophenician woman’s daughter and commended her faith. Finally, he has healed the deaf man by spitting on His fingers, placing them in the man’s ears, and calling out “Ephphatha,” that is, “be opened!”
Jesus doesn’t merely walk about the earth, waiting for the time to ripen for His death and resurrection. He is actively involved in the lives of the people, first – teaching and preaching and second – providing for their needs of body and soul. Jesus establishes this two-fold pattern through the narrative of his ministry. He cares first for the spiritual needs of the people and then the physical needs.
His method shows great wisdom. Providing us with with food, drink, house, and home does not give us faith. Without faith, we just as easily attach these blessings to ourselves. We says silly things like, “I deserve this new car” or “I’ve earned a comfortable life.” Jesus, in His divine wisdom, first provides for the spiritual needs of the people. He teaches us about sin, which comes from within, and mercy, which comes only from Him. It is a truly great gift that we are not expected to save ourselves but rather are taught to acknowledge our great weakness of flesh. We daily sin much and deserve nothing but punishment.
On first glance, this doesn’t seem empowering but actually destroying. But as St. Paul teaches us in the Epistle, this is quite true. He uses the analogy of slavery to help us understand. In sin, we are slaves to impurity and lawlessness. To many, this is freedom. To live, enjoying all the pleasures of the flesh. By this is is truly slavery, for it binds us to the eternal fate of hell.
On the other hand, the Christian is made a slave to God. To many, slavery or bondage is negative. But slavery to our Lord’s righteousness, we are given a sanctified life, lived according to His commands, and leading to eternal freedom with Him in heaven. This free gift of God is eternal life, says Paul. Sounds a lot better than wages of sin, I’d say?
Jesus begins by teaching us about our nature. We think freedom is means we can do as we please. But true freedom that leads to everlasting life is nothing something we do, but something we receive as a free gift. A good gift is something that benefits the person. Our Lord truly cares for what kind of spiritual food we receive, as He demonstrates in His own life. He nourishes his people not with freedom to sin but instead slavery to Him and his good and righteous will. We subject ourselves to his lordship, calling his the Most High, recognizing that he is the great king over all the earth.
In his humility, the Father sent His son to die for us. Our sin was nailed to the tree with Him and His death was our death. The unreasonable gift was exactly the thing we needed. Without His intervention, the world would continue to lay in bondage to sin, doomed to death. He preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins, so that we might come to His saving waters and be redeemed from the cursed life. Jesus also healed the deaf, mute, the sick, and the lame. By His healing, He taught us that He had all power over our sinful flesh and could remove its dreadful curse from us. He is Lord of all creation, able to make dead bones walk.
But after he preached by voice and action, he provided for the people in the most fundamental of ways. He gave them food. Already he performed a great miracle, feeding 5000 men plus their wives and children at the shore of a desolate place. Then, where no food could be found, Jesus provided for the great crowds that followed after Him. Despite Jesus’ desire to mourn for the death of His friend and prophet John, he had compassion upon the people and from five fish and two loaves, he fed them all. Amazing!
You will recall the disciples reaction then. They said, “send them into the villages and countryside to buy themselves something to eat.” The disciples were falling into the same trap, forgetting that Christ, the Son of the Living God, is the Lord of all creation. All authority in heaven and earth had been given to Him. If anyone can feed the multitude, its Jesus. They should first trust that He will provide for the people.
But just as before, the disciples have forgotten that He is the true source of every need, both in soul and body. Again they ask, “how can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” To our ears, its such a naive question. How could these disciples not know that their rabbi, their teacher, who had revealed His power over water, flesh, and demon, would not also have the power to provide for the needs of the many.
A short time thereafter in the Gospel appointed for today, Jesus finds himself in the same position. A great crowd has joined Him. They have listened attentively to His Word. Just as before, the Lord knows the hunger not just for the pure spiritual milk but also require sustenance for their bodies. He looks upon them and has compassion. Literally, he pours himself out upon them. He gives them all that they need. Here too they have bread and fish which He miraculously distributes to the 4000 men plus their wives and children.
These words are here written that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Just like the disciples, we easily refuse the gift of faith. We refuse to believe in all the Jesus is and has promised to be. We are just like the disciples and need to hear. When we hear the Gospel account of the feeding of the 4000, we are hearing of our own weakness to see that God will take care us in every time of need. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. These promises are underscored by His daily granting us our daily bread as we pray when we wake and when we go to bed.
There is a lesson to be learned from Christ’s own pattern of life. He is concerned for providing the staples needed for the people to continue to hear His Word and to return to their homes in safety. But His priority is that they first hear His Word and believe it. Daily bread keeps them alive in this earth but not to life in the next. He comes with His own body, the Bread of Life which nurtures and sustains for everlasting life.
We are all newborn babes who crave the pure Spiritual milk, His Word and His blessed Sacraments. Our Lord feeds us with Himself… the best gift our soul can possibly receive. It needs no attempts to richen or sweeten. Its chef is none other than the Father Himself, the author and creator of all. Just as our Lord taught the Law with all its sternness and the Gospel with all its sweetness, so we too pass this same preaching on to our children, because in them, is life.
From Christ’s example we learn that primary task of the father and mother is the spiritual nurture of their children. The first priority of every one of us and especially the spiritual father of the household is the proper nourishment of the soul. We rightfully critique everything that our children eat in order that their faith my be strengthened and not weakened. We desire first for their salvation, then for their well-being of body.
Not every gift is good. The 4000 would not have been properly fed if our Lord had given them a hors d’oeuvres of sardines on saltines. Instead they needed a full meal of fish and chips. But even more so He first fed them with the pure Word of His Law and Gospel. Without this gift which grants faith, we would not recognize Him as the giver of all things on earth.
Let us not worry about the things of this earth but let our Lord provide them to us as he sees fit. Better to be a beggar in heaven than well-fed and in hell. Let us keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Let us who feed those who are in need of hope, life, and salvation the pure Word of God, without alternation and modification to fit the whims and fancies of sinful man. Let us not preach the artificial sweetener of works-righteousness but rather the pure sweetness of our Lord’s body and blood, given and shed for all of you for the forgiveness of sins.
“The greatest, most God-pleasing work of faith a person can do, is to follow the example of Christ by helping people’s souls, so they don’t end up going to the devil.” (M. Luther) “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” (Matthew 6:25,34 ESV)
Instead, let us be anxious for our salvation and for those who have not received our Lord’s abundant blessing, especially as be breaks bread at altars of Christendom for the forgiveness of sins. Let us pray that those who need his Spiritual food would come to recognize that He comes to them here, at this altar, and that would would receive His good gift with thanksgiving.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church