August 3, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The text tells us that the crowd had remained with Jesus three days. Three days! What could keep a crowd twice the size of the town of New Haven out in the wilderness for three days on end? This particular account doesn’t say explicitly what was going on for those three days leading up to the mass feeding, but if we look just a couple chapters earlier, we see a similar situation with 5,000 men, plus women and children.
In the account of the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus withdraws from the crowds for a time of devotion and prayer, but the crowds follow Him regardless. When He sees the crowds, St. Mark writes, “He saw the great crowds and He had compassion on them, because they were as sheep who did not have a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things” (Mk 6:34).
The people wandered from their homes, from their businesses, from their leisure, to hear Jesus preach. They were like sheep without a shepherd, the text says. They wandered out into the wilderness, compelled by the Shepherd’s voice. So it is in today’s Gospel. Although St. Mark doesn’t record the sermons from the three days, He implies that the people were following Jesus to hear His preaching.
What a thing it would be if the entire town of New Haven and the surrounding region would shut down on Sunday morning. What a thing it would be if every home from the Missouri River to Highway 100 was empty today. What a thing it would be to see this room busting at the seams, folding chairs filling the narthex, people standing at the windows drawn to the voice of the Good Shepherd. What a thing it would be.
But it’s not. Only a scant few cross the threshold of this congregation each week; even fewer will take an extra hour to study the Scriptures an hour before the service. People are not naturally drawn to preaching and the Gospel. If they were, there would be no need for a Third Commandment. But we despise preaching and God’s Word. We may carve out a little time for church, or for personal devotions, but seldom do we do it gladly. We treat the Gospel as if it’s just one more item on our to-do list for the week, another duty to be fulfilled to maintain our status as good, Christian people.
And that makes the fact that 4,000 people follow Jesus for three days to listen to His preaching the unsung miracle of this Gospel. While the multiplying bread grabs the headlines, the fact that 4,000 people stayed to get that hungry in the wilderness is an act of divine intervention.
You recognize your bodily hunger when your belly starts to growl, or your mouth begins to salivate, or your head starts to get a little fuzzy. But there are no bodily indications of spiritual hunger. It’s a hunger that must be believed.
The 4,000 who followed Jesus into the wilderness stayed to hear His preaching not of their own power, but by the working of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the one who reveals the spiritual famine which has existed since the fall of man. He is the One who drove the 4,000 into the wilderness and He is the One who drives hearers to this congregation. If you are disappointed with the turnout, then you are also disappointed with the work of the Spirit.
Since spiritual hunger is only recognized by faith, it can also only be satisfied by faith. So Jesus gives faith something to take a bite out of. He satisfies your spiritual hunger and nourishes your soul with His Word. His Word is the object of faith. His Promise is the feast for the famished soul. Even in the wilderness He spreads this feast before those starved for forgiveness, for reconciliation. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they will be satisfied (Mt 5:6).
However, the ministry of Jesus isn’t just a spiritual ministry. He teaches His disciples that life is more than food and that the body is more than clothing, but He is not unconcerned about the body. When He feeds the 5,000, He has compassion on them at the very beginning and He teaches them. The 4,000 have already been with Him for three days and then He has compassion on them. In those days, when there was again a great crowd and they did not have a thing they could eat, He called the disciples to Himself and said to them, “I am having compassion on the crowd, because they remain with Me now for three days and they do not have a thing to eat (vv 1-2).
The word that I’m translating as “compassion” is one of those theologically rich words that doesn’t have an exact counterpart in English. Originally, the root of the word referred to the guts of an animal sacrifice, but then, as time went on, it came to be used to identify an emotion. The reaction that Jesus has over both the 5,000 and the 4,000 is a gut-wrenching reaction at the state He observes. The 4,000 are without food, and may become faint. But this compassion isn’t just an emotion. It’s an emotion that leads to action. He must feed this hungry crowd.
There is a particular ceremony to Jesus’ miraculous and providential feeding. And the ceremony teaches us a couple of things. First, it’s not Jesus who serves the people, but He is the source of the bread. And the disciples answered Him, “From where will someone be able to satisfy these people with bread here in this wilderness?” And He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven.” And He instructed the crowd to recline upon the ground. And after taking the seven loaves and giving thanks, He broke them and began to give to His disciples, so that they might serve. And they served the crowd (vv 4-6).
The disciples want to know the source of bread for so many, especially in the wilderness. Bread comes from flour, flour comes from grains, grains come from fields, and fields come from hard work. From where will someone—anyone—be able to satisfy people with bread? How quickly they forget. Jesus’ miraculous feeding is first to teach the disciples and us—yet again—that Christ is the source of daily bread. He is the One who provides seed to the sower and bread to the eater, as the Prophet Isaiah writes. That is why smack in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer, He prays, Give us this day our daily bread. Daily bread is not only a result of farming and baking, but it is also the result of prayer, though God does indeed give us daily bread without our prayers, even all evil people.
Although Jesus is Himself the source of this daily bread, He leaves it to the disciples to distribute. This teaches us that daily bread doesn’t come down from heaven like it did for the Israelites in the wilderness. Daily bread is given to us in the usual way through vocation. Christ our Lord calls Christians—He calls you—to particular stations in life in order to be His instruments in providing daily bread. And since daily bread is more than just bread, but includes everything to support this body and life, consider how you provide for the needs of others. In addition to food and drink, think of how God provides you with clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors. Think of how you help to provide these things to others. Those are your vocations. Those are where your Lord Jesus Christ works through you to provide daily bread for His creation. And He likewise provides it for you by sending disciples to be of service to you.
There is a second aspect to the ceremony by which Jesus provides daily bread, and it’s this ceremony that links this daily bread to the spiritual bread that precedes it. He took the loaves, gave thanks, He broke them, and He gave them. Sound familiar? While some liturgical scholars get hung up on this four-fold action, and ascribe some sort of mystical significance, we ought not think that this was anything more than a satisfying meal of bread and fish. But the way that St. Mark presents it to us—the way the Holy Spirit presents it to us—should scream out to us the one place where our Lord joins the eating of daily bread with eating of spiritual bread: the Lord’s Supper.
In the Holy Sacrament, our Lord Jesus Christ takes bread, blesses, breaks, and distributes—though the vocation of your pastor—and with it includes His own true body and blood. This is daily bread raised to a new level—bread that hosts His flesh (that’s why it’s called a host), wine that hosts the blood that He shed for your forgiveness. Into your mouth goes not only bread and wine, but His true body and blood, sacramentally hidden under daily bread. That is the first kind of eating.
But at the same time is also a spiritual eating by faith. When you believe that His body and blood are truly present under the bread and wine, when you believe that these are given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins, then you also are nourished with the spiritual bread of life and salvation. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there also is life and salvation.
In this way, in this Sacrament, our Lord Jesus shows that the body was made for the soul and the soul for the body. His ministry isn’t just a ministry of the spirit to keep you going until you’re one day freed from the prison of your body. His ministry for you is for body and soul. His ministry is to make you whole again. And so,
He Who Nourishes Your Soul with His Word Will also Satisfy Your Body with Daily Bread
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard