O God, whose never-failing providence orders all things both in heaven and earth, we humbly implore You to put away from us all hurtful things and give to us those things that be profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen. [Gelasian Sacramentary]
God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
God the Son fed thousands, more than once. During His life on Earth, Jesus fed five thousand with five loaves, and in today’s Gospel, He fed four thousand with seven loaves. But in 1 Corinthians 10, St. Paul writes that the millions of Israelites with Moses in the wilderness were also fed by Christ. The food was different then, but similar.
The Son of God was also there in today’s OT, as John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word. … All things were made through Him, … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This OT lesson describes the time before sin entered the world, in the garden of paradise. Instead of thousands, it was only two people with an abundance of food and delights all around them. We might say this abundance was natural. But they were enjoying the gifts of God, and the same Son of God who fed 4,000 also provided all that Adam and Eve required.
Our epistle also teaches about fruit, but neither grain nor apples. This is the fruit that grows from the way a person lives. There is a fruit of sin and a different fruit of righteousness. They both promise joy, but only one kind satisfies: the kind of fruit that comes from God.
In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, 2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3 And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” 4 And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” 5 And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. 7 And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. 8 And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.
This is God’s Word. Sanctify us through the truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth. Amen.
Dear fellow redeemed,
The food supply chains are not functioning as well as they have. People are experiencing empty shelves and higher prices. Food has been left to rot in the fields, or taken to the dump. It’s reminiscent of pictures from the old Soviet Union. There are shortages in other areas too, though demand is high and Washington D.C. is doing its best to give everyone spending money. Part of the problem is an economy still reeling from shutdown and pandemic. The question of the disciples makes more sense now than two years ago. “How can one feed people with bread here in this desolate place?”
The world we live in is not generally a desolate place. The sea, the land, and the air all teem with life. God provides. What we do with His gifts is another matter. And then there’s the curse of Adam, which falls on us all. “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life.” In a sense, this world can seem like a desolate place.
The Israelites fed by God with manna were in a desert that could not sustain them with food. After His baptism, Jesus was led into the desert to be tempted. God uses desolate places to test and shape us. But we see that He does not leave us there alone. His presence is there, too. And with Jesus’ temptation, we also see that God Himself came to suffer the very privations that we may experience. Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights. Even He knew hunger, because God does not leave us alone in the desolate places. We must keep that in mind when our physical or spiritual journeys take us through deserts of one kind or another.
When the disciples and a crowd of 4,000 hungry people had Jesus in their midst, they saw something like the Israelites in the desert. They saw God’s providence from an angle that we don’t usually see it. Make no mistake: we do see God’s providence, every day. Whether it be a crust of bread or filet mignon, we ought to begin by thanking God for His blessing. Whether it be paid with a credit card or grown in the back garden, the truth is we wouldn’t have it without God’s blessing. But from the angle we see God’s providence, God himself often remains hidden. He hides behind farmers, agricultural biologists, and mechanics. He hides behind shippers, processors, storage facilities, and marketers. God’s face as your provider may have the look of a cashier, and the silhouette of an over-the-road truck driver. Many of them are not even Christians, yet they are God’s face, arms, and fingers as He provides bread and meat for you.
In a similar way, you serve your neighbors with God in every earthly relationship where He has established you. As a Christian you can appreciate God’s presence in your vocation, where He continues to serve the Creation He made in the Beginning. It’s a good arrangement, and God deserves a lot of credit that He doesn’t get.
The crowd of 4,000 who experienced this miracle were seeing the same divine providence that we experience, but God had lifted the mask a bit. They could see that it was Jesus. So the most important lesson in this miracle is that Jesus told the truth about Himself when He said things like, “I and the Father are one.” He is our Creator and Provider, come in the flesh.
But Jesus didn’t work entirely alone even performing this miracle, did He? He began by setting up a lesson for His disciples. He had compassion on the multitude. He was showing them the heart of God toward His creatures. The reason God takes care of us is not because we’re such great people, but because of His great compassion.
Then Jesus asked how many loaves they had brought. Seven should be enough to feed twelve disciples. But Jesus gave them the bread to give to the people. In this way He taught them not only why God takes care of us (His compassion), but also how. He uses the resources available and employs the people whom He called for this purpose.
Soon after this He died, rose again, and ascended into heaven. His disciples became apostles: witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection sent to bear good news into the wide world. They had the task of feeding the people of the world with a new message. In terms of faith in the true God, the world is a desert. But in His compassion for the lost, God has sent the Church with food for life.
We may wonder how it might be possible to feed so many with the pure message of salvation in such a place as this. But Jesus uses the resources available and the people whom He has called for this purpose. And most importantly: He’s still with us.
The wilderness became like a little slice of Eden in the presence of Jesus. In Eden, God provided for both body and soul. Rich fruits to nourish the body, and a special tree as a church where Adam and Eve could honor and worship God. In the desolate place with 4,000 people, Jesus provided bread for everyone and the powerful teaching of God’s spiritual blessings for sinners: forgiveness and righteousness leading to eternal life.
This fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy about the desert, (35:8 ESV), “And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way.” That highway of life is found in the compassionate presence of Jesus.
By faith in Jesus, we belong to that Way, that Christian Church that flows with the pure fountain of Israel and delivers its refreshment and cleansing into the world. Ezekiel also saw this prophesied in the stream originating from the heavenly Temple, and deepening into a mighty river that flows throughout the world. (Ezekiel 47:8–9 ESV) “When the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes.“
Jesus told His disciples they would be fishers of men, and Ezekiel’s vision is fulfilled when the cleansing and life-giving water of the Gospel enters a parched world. Just as Jesus provided food enough to satisfy thousands in the wilderness, so now His Church brings the message of sin and grace so that many may be washed and possess eternal life.
You may not feel up to this task. But God uses the resources that He has made available. A few loaves and fish did not seem like enough for so many. Your resources may seem too little for the work of the Church. But through the prophet Micah, God invites us to test Him in this. (Malachi 3:10 ESV) “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”
It seems foolish and irresponsible. Like asking 4,000 people to sit down while we prepare seven loaves for them. The difference is between faith and doubt, trust and unbelief. Our Epistle today sees this as two different ways to live. Oddly, both ways are described as slavery: one to impurity and lawlessness and the other to righteousness. We will serve one or the other. We can be free of righteousness or free of sin, but we will serve the other. Each way has its fruit. Slaves of sin must receive its fruit: death. Slaves of righteousness must receive its fruit: sanctification and life. The decision is not yours to be liberated from sin and death. We rely on God’s free gift. But those who receive it must cooperate with our sanctification. We must use the resources that God has given.
Why does God give such gifts? Not because we’re such great people, but because of His great compassion. How does He give them? By using common resources like words, water, bread and wine. And by employing the people whom He has called for this purpose. When you hear me speak according to my vocation, you are hearing what God speaks for you.
Your many sins are forgiven. This is the food that gives eternal life.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria