August 3, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA
“Jesus broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied.”
It’s early evening out in the Galilean countryside and one of the disciples notices the sun beginning its path toward setting. Perhaps it was his own rumbling belly that led him to point out the time to the others. The rest of the Twelve take notice of their own hunger and look at the thousands gathered in Christ’s presence. The healing and teaching which came after the voyage across the
So the Twelve come to Jesus. They get His attention and lay out the situation. Christ’s disciples tell Him: “This is a desolate place, and the day is almost over; send the crowds away to go into the villages to buy food for themselves.” Another hour or less and more than just the children in the crowd will be whining to the parents: “I’m hungry.”
The disciples’ plan seems sound. It meets the upcoming demand for food and shifts the burden of crowd control to someone else’s shoulders. The thoughts of the Twelve are clear: “They’ll listen to you, Jesus. Send them on their way. After all, wasn’t this whole trip out to the country meant to provide some solitude, to get away from all these people?” Recall what St. Matthew wrote: “When Jesus heard about [the death of John the Baptizer], He withdrew from there in a boat by Himself.” The crowds had wandered out into the wilderness only “because they heard that Jesus had gone.”
But the reaction of Jesus to His disciples’ suggestion wasn’t to agree with their assessment. Rather than giving the command for the crowds to disperse, Jesus says to the Twelve: “The crowds have no need to go away; you give them something to eat.” Christ wants to do the opposite of what His disciples suggest. He wants the crowds to be fed, to have their needs met right then and there. And it doesn’t take long for the Twelve to note their inability to do so: “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” They might be able to feed two, maybe three people, but what about all the thousands who will be skipped?
There is the quandary. The Twelve have been given an order by Jesus; they must obey it. But how can the Twelve meet the needs of the crowds? How can they fulfill the directive: “You give them something to eat.”? It is an impossibility. And Christ wants His disciples to realize that. But there is something else that Jesus wants them to understand: He has already met the crowds’ need, and only He can do so. Because what is happening in that Galilean countryside is a fulfillment of what the prophet Isaiah described.
Recall what you heard in the Old Testament Reading for today: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear and come to Me; hear that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, My steadfast sure love for David.” The prophet declares what the Lord God desires: that His people come to Him and receive what they desperately want and need.
And that is what was happening in the Galilean countryside. “The crowds followed Jesus on foot,” because they recognized that He was the One who would deliver to them what they needed. Their recognition of His abilities which surpassed all other religious leaders’ drove them to follow Jesus wherever He went. They came to be healed in body and soul, to receive the compassion and pity that Jesus had for them, to be given what no ordinary man could ever provide. What Jesus does by telling the Twelve to feed the crowd shows that what Isaiah prophesied was taking place.
Jesus tells the Twelve: “The crowds have no need to go away; you give them something to eat.” But what the Twelve can give will not meet the needs of the crowds. They will waste “their labor for that which does not satisfy.” Five loaves and two fish cannot feed the thousands. But even if the disciples had the entire warehouse of Wonder Bread and Starkist at their disposal, the crowds wouldn’t be satisfied, either. Only Christ can give what will truly meet the needs and desires of the people.
What Jesus tells the Twelve is actually what they should have spoken to Him: “The crowds have no need to go away; You, Jesus, give them something to eat.” Christ wants His disciples, including you, to make that statement: You, Lord, will satisfy us. You, Lord, will deliver to us the “rich food” that Isaiah describes. You, Lord, will give to us what will make “our souls live.” You, Lord, will take the meager things of creation—words, water, bread and wine—and bring us the salvation of body and soul.
That is what this Feeding of the Five Thousand shows. The power to meet needs is seen in Christ’s work. He “has compassion on the crowds” and heals their illnesses. He “has compassion on the crowds” and ends their hunger. He “has compassion on the crowds” and brings them the teaching that makes them wise to salvation. This is the providential God at work, the One who supplies earthly things for your lives, but who also gives life everlasting.
And how does He do so? He takes earthly things and blesses them and distributes them to His people. The Lord God takes your ordinary lives and blesses them and says: “This is how I will supply what My people need for their earthly lives; through their actions, I will give food, drink, house, home, and everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body.” The Lord God takes our earthly elements and blesses them and says: “This is how I will work forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and give eternal life to all who believe.”
Could you do so? Certainly not. The needs of your lives would face you like that setting sun which the Twelve noticed. Left to your own devices and abilities, there would be the same panic, the same feeling of helplessness that overcame the disciples. Your efforts alone could do nothing to meet your need for the things of the body, let alone your need for divine righteousness and pardon. It is an impossibility.
But you have a Lord who Himself took up the things of the world and was incarnate. That Lord tells you to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.” And more importantly, that same Lord says to you: “Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear and come to Me; hear that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, My steadfast, sure love for David.” This is the invitation He extends to you again on this day.
You have heard that Jesus is here with His gifts, and so you have followed Him to this place. He can heal your illnesses of spirit and even cause you to live forever. He has compassion on you, His people. And whether the days of your lives are at sunrise or well spent, Christ your Lord does not send you away to forage for what you need. No, He says: “You have no need to go away, for I will give you the food that fills and satisfies not just for today, but for eternity.”
“Jesus took the loaves, blessed them, and broke them and gave them to the disciples. And they gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied.” So Jesus gives you the Bread of Life to eat this day. He gives you the food that both your body and soul needs. Your illness of sin has been healed, and you shall live eternally. And there is enough left over that you can come back again and again to eat and be satisfied whenever that hunger for forgiveness, life, and salvation arises.
So it is for you and for me, because Christ is our Lord. And He is just as the Collect for the Day said: “always more ready to hear than we are to pray and always ready to give more than we either desire or deserve.” And that same Lord says to us: “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!” He freely gives to us what He has paid for and provided for every man, woman, and child. The “rich food” that makes “our souls live” is here for you and me. And we have no need to go away, because Christ fills and satisfies us again and again.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.