Trinity 7 – Mark 8:1-9 – July 26th, 2009
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Three days. For three days, you’ve been listening to the teachings of Christ – it has been three days since you left what you were doing and followed after Him, merely to hear, to delight in His Word. And now, you are faint, you are tired. While the preaching has been wonderful, the food has run out. Your belly is empty – not just a rumble, not just what happens when you skip a meal, but empty. Your strength is flagging – and here you are, out in a desolate place, far from home.
You see up front. There is movement by Christ. You catch a glimpse of a bit of bread – it turns out to be 7 loaves – 7 large rolls. The ache in your belly tells you that you might be able to eat them all yourself. And then a few, small fish, you catch a glimpse of those as well. A meal fit for 2, maybe three. And Jesus prays, and then, the disciples begin to pass out food, to pass out loaves and fish – and you eat, and the food still keeps coming. And you eat and are satisfied. Then the disciples come around with baskets – with big bushels, and they ask for the leftovers – and you look down, and you see that there is more there, more than you could eat – and so you place your leftovers in the basket – and there they are, hundreds and hundreds of pounds of leftovers, gathered together. And as you wonder at this, as you hear the murmurs of the people next to you, Jesus and His disciples get up and into a boat and head across the sea. It becomes time for you to head home, but now you have the strength to do so. And so you do.
This is what happens in our Gospel text, in the feeding of the 4000 thousand – actually, it was probably higher than that, it was 4000 men, we don’t know how many women and children are included. We are familiar with this – there is barely any food, and then our Lord intervenes, and then there is an abundance of food, 7 baskets left over. This event, this feeding, teaches us about our Lord, how He works, what He gives and why – and the impact it has upon our lives.
As our Lord gazed out upon the crowd, upon those who sought to hear His teaching – our Lord notes their condition. He sees that they are weak and weary. Likewise, dear friends, I would remind you that the Lord sees your condition, knows your pains and sorrows. He knows when your body aches and is weak. He knows when events in your life beat you down. He knows even the things that you are fearful of, worried about, things that you wouldn’t breath a breath of to anyone else. He sees this – and not with shock, not with horror, not with revulsion. Rather this – I have compassion upon the crowd, because they have been with me three days and have nothing to eat. We have had a recent president who was somewhat famous for saying, “I feel your pain”. Christ our Lord did on that day in Dalmanutha – literally. While they have been listening for 3 days, He had been teaching three days – He was in the same boat as them. He felt compassion – He felt what they were feeling – and so He is moved to act. He takes a few loaves and a few fish, and giving thanks to God He distributes and satisfies the physical hunger of all who are there at that place – Himself included.
Likewise, do not think for a moment that our Lord lacks compassion when it comes to you. The Lord who knows your hurts and wounds, who knows your needs is the same Lord who provides for you. God Almighty has given you many blessings of body – your eyes and ears and all your members, clothing, food and drink, house and home, friends and neighbors. Even as He provided bread for those people, He gives to you your daily bread. He gives to you shelter and care. He gives you the friends who support and sustain you, who stand by you even when they don’t know all that is wrong. All these blessings in this life, Christ Jesus gives to you.
And it is good to think about why Christ gives. When our Lord feeds in the parable, He doesn’t feed merely the strong. He doesn’t look out over the crowd and say, “Alright, who is the strongest, who paid the best attention, who is the most worthy of my love, my blessing?” He doesn’t look for strength. Rather, our Lord sees weakness, sees that the people are on the verge of fainting, and so then He is moved to compassion and acts. Likewise, when God provides for you, it is not because you are strong, it isn’t because you are a good Christian. It is because you are weak, it is because you are in need, it is because you are frail, but He is strong and loving. Those weaknesses which you fear, which you are ashamed of, God is not ashamed of them. Rather, He sees your suffering and loves you all the more, and gives you strength to endure, works healing and comfort, builds your strength again. You need not try to earn your blessings from Him – Christians need not behave like greedy children who kiss up to their parents so they can have a bigger chunk of the will. Rather God provides, especially to the weak, especially to those who depend on Him.
But when we speak of God providing, we shouldn’t think merely of the physical, merely of food and drink or house and home. Rather this – our God is the God who gives out blessings of both Body and Soul. There indeed are many times when your life, your body is weak – and God provides for you in those times. But are there not times when your spirit is weak? Are there not times when your life, your deeds, your actions, your goodness – is weak, is failing, is lacking? Are there not times when you yourself fall into sin – be it the quick temper, the careless word, the shrugging off of a duty because you simply don’t want to? Are there not times when you lack compassion, when your responsibility of showing love to God and Neighbor is left undone? Are there not times when your spirit is weak?
Are there not times when you try to hide this fact – when you try to pretend that you haven’t done wrong, when you hide your sin from others, when you even hide your sin from yourself? Your Lord is not so easily deluded. He sees your sin, He sees your weakness, He sees that of you yourself there is no good in you. He even speaks His Word of law to you, so that you can’t deny your own sin, so that you can’t pretend that you are perfectly fine. And this is not because He’s mean, not because He wants to pick on you – but rather, simply because He sees that you are weak, and He does not want you to hurt yourself, indeed, does not want you to kill your faith in your own weakness. Rather, He calls you to repentance by His Word, and then, when you see your sin, He lifts your eyes and shows you something else.
Your Lord has compassion upon you. He lifts up your eyes, lifts up your hearts as the communion liturgy would put it – and what do you see? You see Christ with you. Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God, the One who knew no sin – you see Him standing there among the sinners, come down from heaven into this sinful fallen world. You see Him having taken on a body, a body like yours, and though He has done no wrong, no ill, you see Him suffer all the trials and tribulations of this world. You see Him hunger, you see Him tired, you see Him battered and bruised. All the ravages of sin in this world, you see Him patiently bear. You see Him walk into the river Jordan to be baptized, just as He has brought you to His own font to baptize you, and you see Him take upon Himself your sin. The sin which you are ashamed of He is bold to take up upon Himself – to lay it upon His own shoulders. And He carries it to the Cross, and He looks upon you from that Cross with utter love and compassion, cries out for forgiveness for you, and pours His life upon you – the water of Holy Baptism and the Blood of His Supper pour from His side towards you, so that you might live, that you might be provided for. Christ Jesus cares not just for your body in this fallen world, but He provides for your Body and Soul, provides for you rich forgiveness, so that you are cleansed.
And then, after three days, He rises. He strides forth from the tomb alive, and you see that His care for you is not just about this body, this body where sin ravages, but His care for you extends beyond this life into all eternity, where His compassion and love for you will call you forth from the tomb, and you shall have a new and perfected body. When you see Christ our Lord risen, you see your future, you see the future He has won and assured for you by His own death and resurrection, by His own victory over death and the grave. It is done – it is finished, you have forgiveness, you have life. This is accomplished – your name is written in the book of life and heaven is yours, eternal life is yours.
But Christ still has compassion upon you. He sees and understands that in your life in this world, Satan will continually attack you. Sin and a sinful world will take their toil upon your body – and He yet sustains you. Sin will batter your Spirit, and so He still has His Word proclaimed, still points you to your Baptism so that you might at all times remember you are already united to Him, still gives you His Body and Blood in a feeding much more miraculous and wondrous that mere bread and fish in the desert, so that you might receive and know your forgiveness, that you might be given strength to go through those doors and return to your homes, your lives, the struggles that await you out there and not only endure them, but let Christ’s own life which He has given you shine forth in the midst of them.
And all of this, all of this is free. It does not depend upon on how good you are, how wonderful. Indeed, Christ gives it to you because He has had compassion upon you, because He loves you, because He knows your weaknesses are too much to bear. This is who your God is – the God who has compassion upon the weak, who cares for you both physically and spiritually, both in this life and in the life to come. All thanks and praise be unto Christ Jesus our Lord, who does not abandon us in this desert of life, but provides over abundant love and compassion for us.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +