Trinity 7 – August 7th, 2011 – Mark 8:1-9
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost +
When you think about it, it’s quite amazing how often food shows up in the bible. It’s right there from the beginning, from our Old Testament lesson. All the way through, we see food, we see feasts, we see celebration. And this makes perfect sense. To live, one needs to eat, and God, as the Creator who wishes to see His people live, has a vested interest in seeing that people eat. We see Jesus show this interest again today in our Gospel. There are thousands of folks – 4000 men, not counting the women and children, all there learning from Jesus. And the short of it is, He feeds them. But there is more to God’s care than simply feeding folks who happen to be hungry. Let us pay attention to our text, and see what we learn at the feet of Christ.
“In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, He [Jesus] called His disciples to Him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them came from far away.’” Now, when you think about it, this is really an interesting scene. Again a great crowd had gathered. Again. It’s happened before, the disciples should be getting kind of used to Jesus spending his days teaching rather large crowds, so not a problem. But then did you notice what else Jesus says about this crowd. That they have been with Him 3 days. That’s a long time. I mean, this isn’t like the feeding of the 5000 in John where we can say, “Those silly people, if they were going to listen to Jesus all day they should have brought food.” No, this is three days. It’s awfully hard to pack enough food for three days without ice chests and the like. And yet, there Jesus is, just keeping these people there and teaching away.
And Jesus tells the disciples that He has compassion upon the crowd. Doesn’t that seem a strange thing for Jesus to say? Here He gathers up the disciples, His top students, and says, “You know guys – I feel kinda bad for these folks cause they’ve been out here for 3 days and don’t have anything to eat. And if I send them home, they aren’t going to make it – they will faint and die on the side of the road.” And then He stops. Jesus doesn’t say anything else. There’s no question of “so what are we going to do?” There’s no “where are you disciples going to get food for them?” Right here Jesus simply states blunt facts, He lays out the situation. And that’s it. He doesn’t say anything else. But the disciples respond – “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”
Now, remember that these disciples are good little Jewish boys – they know the Old Testament really well. The first thing that should have popped into their mind would be, of course, Manna from heaven. God feeds His people in desolate places all the time. He did it for 40 years. That’s sort of God’s thing. But no, it slides by them for whatever reason. I don’t think we should be too harsh on them – they have been studying for three days, which can be a bit rough. But we here, with the benefit of time and distance, we easily know what is going to happen. Jesus is going to feed them. And He does. 7 loaves, a few fish – Jesus blesses them, and what happens? “And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, sever baskets full.” And of course, Jesus makes plenty. But did you note the interesting description? They were satisfied. It was a good meal. I’ve had plenty of times when I’ve been full after eating, but it’s another thing entirely to be satisfied. To have that simple contentment that comes not just from filling your belly but from having a good meal. Jesus does it well.
Thus we see Jesus in action, we see God at work doing what God always does. Care for and provide for His creation. This is fundamentally who God is, the One who creates, who preserves, who sustains life. And we know this, we confess this every time we pray “Give us this day our daily bread” in the Lord’s Prayer. We know that we receive all the blessings that we have from Jesus just as much as these 4000 did. Yet now, for us, in the fallen, sinful world, the physical care that we receive from God is not the most profound care that we receive from Him. Rather, the great care that God gives us is the care in response to sin. Since the fall the world has literally been wrecked and ruined. Strife and violence, hunger, random acts of terror appear. Satan attacks us from without. Hatred and anger boil up, jealousy and greed occupy our thoughts, lust and envy cloud our relationships. Satan attacks us from within. In addition to the simple care of the body – we know that our souls must be cared for as well. And I would put forth that Christ’s care for us Spiritually mirrors the care He shows for these 4000 in our Gospel lesson. Let us look at what Christ says again.
“I have compassion on the crowd. . . and if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way.” You realize that Christ Jesus has compassion on you, because Jesus sees and understands what’s going on in your life far better than you do. Your trials, your pains, your struggles – all the things that make you weary and weak – be they physical problems or emotional struggles, family issues, pet sins that we try to avoid but always seem to come back to – the things that we in our shame and pride work so hard to hide from the rest of the world, hide from the people sitting in the pew next to us – Jesus knows them. Jesus sees the burdens you carry – and He sees the struggles that they cause. He sees the danger in them – the burden they provide, sees that if nothing is done, they might be too much for you. Just like literal hunger will sap the body of strength, the trials of this life wear us down. And what happens when we get too worn out? Physically, we faint. Emotionally, we snap. We become short with people, or we become lethargic and don’t want to do anything. We can want to run and hide. Spiritually, we seek to flee God, to run away from Him and hide. Jesus sees this, and Jesus has compassion. Jesus cares, Jesus cares about your well being as much as He does for these people sitting and hearing His teaching there with their stomachs growling and gurgling. The situation we are in is pretty much the same as what we see in the Gospel. We are those who are in dire need of care, for we all suffer dreadfully from the problems sin, others and ours, thrust into our lives.
“How can one feed these people with bread in this desolate place?” How are you to be fed, to be cared for in your struggles? There are a lot of great and wonderful services that we have in the world – shelters, counselors and therapists, anger management groups and the like. And these are indeed great and wonderful blessings, they can help us handle things, help us cope. Friends and family can support and care for us. We can learn discipline and good habits, we can try to keep our uglier side in check. But when you get down to it, the world is still pretty desolate when it comes to true care, to true healing. The problem with the world is new things will always come up. We think we have licked one problem and another one suddenly appears. No matter what we do, sin and all its ill effects still reign on Earth. New sorrows come in, new aches and pains, and all the remedies that the world can give won’t stop that cycle. There’s no magic drug to stop the aches that will continue to come more and more with old age. No 5 simple rules to make sure that one’s relationships will never again go sour. New things always happen, new problems always occur, and we find new, spectacular ways to mess up. This is the way of the world, and it will always be this way as long as we live.
So, for there to be hope for us in this desolate wasteland of sin, God must act. God must provide. And thanks be to God, He does. And I’m not talking about faith-healings here, or Jesus letting you know the winning numbers for the lottery. I would like to point something out from Romans. “The end of those things is death. But now you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” Remember that when Paul talks about death here he’s not just talking about keeling over – but rather the context is Christ’s death and Baptism – the fact that we have been united to Christ in Baptism, that our life of sin has been crucified and that we have been given new life. That was the language in the Epistle last week. This week Paul uses the image of being set free from sin. Because Christ Jesus has come, has worked in us Salvation by His Word, by His Baptism – these trials of life that we suffer aren’t all that there is to our lives. Oh yes, these trials will still be there. Indeed, Satan will always throw new stuff at us. But why? Because Satan wants to turn our eyes away from the new life that Christ Jesus has given us. Satan stands there jumping up and down shouting “Look here, look at the wages of your life, see all the death in its many forms.” Christ Jesus says, “Look at the cross – my death conquers all – now you have My Life, which is eternal and far outlasts your present sufferings.”
“And they ate and were satisfied.” By faith, we hold onto God. By faith we cling to Christ Jesus and His Word. By faith we look beyond the struggles of the moment and are satisfied with the salvation that we have received. Again, Paul hits this on the head when he talks about the thorn in his flesh. 3 times I asked, take it away. Three times God says My grace is sufficient for you. In this life we struggle – we follow where our Captain, Christ Jesus trod. And that means we get our own crosses to bear. There will be rough things in our life every day of our life. But God turns our eyes to Christ Jesus our Lord – and from Him we receive the strength to endure. And if God grants that the particular suffering or trial we have passes away – all thanks be to God for His mercy. If God lets a particular suffering remain – all thanks be to God for helping us to endure. Because of Christ we are made to endure, brought through whatever happens, however long it lasts. We know that in the end we shall be satisfied for all eternity at the feast of Heaven. This is why God calls us to this place – so that we might be fed on His Word and satisfied – that our faith might be strengthened so that the trials of this life would not wear us down, but that in all things our trust would remain on God, that we would have the satisfaction of knowing our salvation. Indeed, in this desolate wasteland of sin and death, Christ Jesus our Lord supplies us always with His Word, with the Hope that is His of life everlasting.
Dear friends – We see and know that Christ Jesus is True God, that He has compassion, not only on people who lived thousands of years ago, but on us today. He sees our struggles against sin in this life – and by His death and resurrection He has freed us from that sin and won for us life eternal. He feeds and nourishes our faith, so that whatever trials the Devil throws our way we might keep our trust and faith in Him – that we might share and enjoy with Him the Eternal life He has won for us upon the Cross. Amen.