March 14, 2021
Lent 4, Laetare
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, Your mercies are new every morning; and though we deserve only punishment, You receive us as Your children and provide for all our needs of body and soul. Grant that we may heartily acknowledge Your merciful goodness, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (TPaP, L26)
God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Dear fellow redeemed:
Satis est. It is enough. Our word “satisfied” comes from this idea. A similar word and attitude that gets lost and forgotten is contentment. It’s like an alien language when St. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:6, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” No, the gospel of our age says that getting what you want is great gain. Filling your belly is great gain. This makes a sometimes-deadly assumption: that what you or your belly wants is what’s best for you.
Is what you want best for you? Maybe sometimes, by coincidence. But God knows what serves you best, whether you know it or not. He can satisfy your belly, but He can also satisfy your more important spiritual needs. With Him, there is always enough.
Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.
5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
This is the word of God. Heavenly Father, sanctify us through the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.
One of Jesus’ most famous miracles. But it wasn’t called a miracle here. The language used in Scripture for His miracles is usually something like signs or wonders. A miracle is something that violates or sets aside the laws of nature. But a wonder makes you… wonder what it means. A sign signifies something. Jesus performed miracles like this with a purpose beyond the act itself.
Sometimes St. Matthew likes to tell us that the things Jesus did were a fulfillment of OT prophecy. That includes His miracles, because they were expected from genuine prophets as signs of authenticity.
But Jesus’ miracles also reinforced and illustrated His teaching. For example, He taught much about the Kingdom of God. One of the aspects of God’s kingdom is that He provides for His people.
So when Jesus went to a desolate place and drew a huge crowd of people after Him, He continued to teach them by what He did. He was teaching about His Father and about Himself. He teaches us, too.
John tells us that the Passover was near. The Passover is the Pascha, when the very next year Jesus would celebrate the Passover feast with His disciples, then be arrested and convicted as the Son of God. He would be sentenced to die and then on the third day rise again. That season in Jewish minds is the Passover, and that’s when Jesus was teaching this lesson, so it carries overtones of the Passover.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and distributed it to His disciples. There’s no doubt that they could remember Him doing the same thing when He fed the 5,000, just one year before. In our Gospel, He gave the food to His disciples so that they could further distribute to the people sitting on the grass. The supply seemed limitless. Food was being taken to groups of fifty and one hundred by these disciples again and again. They were like human conveyor belts, but all twelve were receiving food from the same place: from Jesus, right at the center, dividing and handing it out.
Some people have wondered how Jesus could have meant that people all over the world would be receiving the same food in Holy Communion. It turns out He answered that question in today’s gospel.
He was teaching more than that. With Jesus at the center, it doesn’t matter how many people you have. It could be 12 disciples. It could be three, as on the Mount of Transfiguration. It could be thousands. The important thing is Jesus at the center. That’s what makes a church real. That’s what makes it worthwhile.
Later, the disciples will argue about something Jesus said. They wonder if He’s talking about bringing enough bread. His answer: “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?”
They didn’t need to worry about how much bread they had, as long as they had Him. In fact, if you have Him, you don’t need to worry about anything.
Worry and anxiety happen. It’s beyond our control, like the way we despise preaching and His Word, despise parents and authority, hurt other people without thinking, get our minds stuck in the gutter, and take the advantage in buying things even when it hurts the other guy.
These things happen because we are wretched sinners in need of a Savior. We can fight it, but we can’t help it. So we look at the numbers and worry. We look at tomorrow and we get anxious. That’s a sin of idolatry, because we’re expecting something from ourselves or some earthly thing that only God can provide.
And He can provide. That’s what Jesus was teaching His disciples here. He does provide what we need for this temporary life in a fallen world. He has provided what was needed to make us His children who were once His enemies. He will provide our transition in Jesus through the portal of death into a better life, and He will provide a true home with many mansions and no more anxiety.
The first Sundays of Lent feature the demonic forces that oppose Jesus. The thing that opposes Jesus in this Gospel is not demonic, but worldly. It’s a feature of this world that it will always have: scarcity.
We worry about scarcity. Sometimes people die without enough heat, shelter, food, water, or companionship. That’s the effect of scarcity. On the other hand, scarcity is the basis for free economics. People trade and prices are set based partly on scarcity. The buying and selling makes people happier than they were. So on one hand, people worry about it, and on the other hand, people actually put their faith in it as a power to deal with the problems of life.
Sounds like it could easily be a false god.
Why don’t we let God handle scarcity, while we do the work He’s given, hear His Word, pray, and show love to one another? If I starve because I shared my last morsel with someone else, so be it. If I have to go without because I made a generous offering at church, that’s okay.
Now, planning is different from anxiety. Putting gas in your car is a good idea, even when you don’t know where you’ll be driving it. You can fill your freezer or your pantry, keep a few extras of this and that — not out of fear for the future, but in order to show God’s love to others in a time of need. There’s more than one way to be the disciple who brings bread from Jesus to the hundreds and fifties.
God’s earthly blessings (including our work and planning) will be enough for what He has planned for us. But more important than food and clothing are His spiritual blessings.
If anxiety about material things is a problem, the importance of spiritual blessings will run straight against the grain. Please try not to get mad at me.
There is nothing more important in our earthly lives than the Lord’s Supper, the holy Eucharist. Not our food, shelter, or clothing. Certainly not our savings, investments, retirements. Not even our “me time” and relaxation. Not even our family, children, or parents. Nothing is more important.
Why not? Because in the Lord’s Supper, Jesus Himself is coming to us, serving us with the bread from heaven. Soon after this Gospel, He taught, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” And again, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
This was a deep mystery. His hearers couldn’t understand how He could give them His body to eat. Some of them were intensely repulsed by the thought. But He went further. “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” And in case anyone might think He meant some figure of speech, He continued, “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
Again, a great mystery for His hearers one year before the night He was betrayed. But His disciples no doubt remembered it in the upper room, when He said the equally shocking thing, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the New Testament, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Yet the events of John 6 had prepared them, and this meal with Jesus at the center became the hallmark for every assembly of the faithful disciples.
Jesus’ miracle of food for 5,000 continues to teach us to entrust ourselves to Him. Unfortunately, that point was missed by many in that crowd. They decided they wanted an earthly king who would provide bread as if by magic. He could do in an hour what took farmers, millers, and bakers a full season. He was their guarantee of an easy life from then on.
But He wasn’t. The true Way leads to the cross, and so He did. He did not come to be a bread king for them, nor for you. He’s our Savior. He gives eternal life through Word and Sacrament. He unites us with Himself forever.
Satis est. It is enough. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!