9 Pentecost Proper A13
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 14:13-21 Sermon
August 6, 2017
Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & The Ambassador Hymnal):
TLH 39 "Praise To The Lord"
TLH 473 "The Church's One Foundation"
TLH 54 "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah"
AH 251 "God Be With You 'Till We Meet Again"
A SPIRITUAL FEAST
TEXT (vs. 15-16): “As evening approached, the disciples came to [Jesus] and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’ Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’"
If you talk to anybody who has known me for any length of time at all, they’ll probably tell you that I have an interest in food. And even if somebody has met me for the first time and takes a look at my size, they would probably figure that out on their own. And I agree, it doesn’t look like I’ve missed too many meals in my time.
I’m pretty good natured about it too. I’ll say things like, “I need to watch my weight, so I have it right out here in front where I can keep a good eye on it.” Or, “Don’t think this happened overnight; it took a lot of hard work.” Or one of my favorites, “I’ve been battling anorexia all my life, and it’s the only thing I’m really, really good at doing.”
Yes, I do have an appreciation for food. I enjoy cooking it; in fact I have engaged in many cooking-type conversations with different people. I have quite a recipe book collection on the shelves above the stove in my kitchen. I have a lot of old family recipes too; in fact I believe that I brought my grandmother’s recipe box to church and used it as an illustration not that long ago. I also enjoy watching the various cooks and chefs on the Food Network.
But of course all of the recipes and food preparation aren’t any good if the food isn’t any good, or it is otherwise not eaten. So I enjoy the eating as much as anything.
I know I’m not alone here either. In fact, eating together is a time-honored Lutheran tradition—just ask Garrison Keillor. He frequently speaks about thoseLutheranChurchmeals in his monologues about the fictitious town ofLake Wobegon,Minnesota.
I know that in our small congregation, we all seem to enjoy eating together. We have pot-luck dinners and barbecues. Or sometimes we order in pizzas to eat. There’s a special kind of fun and fellowship whenever we break bread together.
Eating food is, of course, one of the basic human needs. It’s something we share with every other human being on this earth. We need to eat to survive. When we feel hungry, our bodies are telling us that we need to take some sort of nourishment. But God has also made this function of our lives pleasurable as well. Things taste good, things smell good, and are otherwise enjoyable.
When we want to celebrate some special occasion, a meal is often connected with it. We might have a special birthday dinner with some of our favorite foods or at a special restaurant. Wedding anniversaries frequently involve a meal at a fancy restaurant. And if we invite company to our home, we will often have a nice meal right at our own dining room table.
From an economical perspective, the food industry is a huge part of our economy. There’s farming, ranching, packing, processing, preparing, serving and delivering aspects. Foods are imported and exported. And a big part of world relief efforts are focused upon providing food to those who have little or none.
This whole business of food is a topic that is addressed in a whole variety of different ways in the Bible as well. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, food is talked about in both a real and a metaphorical sense. And in both cases, it is the answer to a basic human requirement. In a real sense, it is nourishment for our physical bodies. And in a metaphorical sense, it is used to describe the food God provides for our souls.
Our text for this morning deals with food and feeding people. And it's here that I'm going to make a statement that might shock you at first: Jesus didn't feed the five thousand. Just in case you were wondering if you heard me correctly, I'll tell you again: Jesus didn't feed the five thousand men, or the women, or the children, or anybody else gathered there for that matter. I want you to remember that statement for a little while as we dig into our text for this morning.
This is one of the more popular miracles of Jesus; and the reason I say this is because it is something that all four of the Gospel writers describe. So let’s do a brief overview of what was happening. Jesus had just received word that his good friend and cousin, John the Baptist had been killed. And like so many of us when something of major significance happens in our lives, Jesus wanted to get away for awhile by himself. When Jesus did this, it was a time of prayer and meditation for him.
But things didn’t go quite as he had planned. Crowds of people followed him. From all indications, there were probably at least 15,000 people there, and most likely more. They had heard great things about him, and they were in need of his ministry.
Our text for today says that Jesus had compassion on them. Jesus’ love for the people took precedence over his own private time, and so he healed their sick and ministered to them.
But the hour was getting late. The people who had followed him hadn’t planned ahead; most likely because it was one of those “spur-of-the-moment” type things. They were feeling physical hunger, and needed something to eat.
A young boy in the crowd happened to have his lunch with him. He had five small loaves of his mother’s home-made bread and two cooked fish in his bag, and he offers them to Jesus. And it’s from this small gift that Jesus worked the miracle recorded in the Bible.
But wait! Just a few minutes ago, I said that Jesus DIDN'T feed the people! That's right, he didn't! If we look at verse 16 of our Gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus tells his disciples, “...They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” And then in verse 19 we read, "...Then [Jesus] broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds."
Now do you see what I was talking about? Jesus did the miracle. He looked to heaven, gave thanks, and then multiplied the loaves and the fishes. Of course Jesus did the miracle! In a manner of speaking, he was the one who prepared the food. But it was the disciples that actually distributed the food to the people. They were responsible for the actual feeding the people. And that's one aspect of this story that is often overlooked. The disciples fed everybody as much as they wanted from what Jesus had prepared using; and when all was said and done, there were twelve baskets of left-overs. Quite a miracle indeed!
If we look now at John 6 where we find the parallel account of our Gospel lesson for today, verses 14 and15 tell us what transpired after the miracle: “After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”
The people in the crowd saw something in Jesus that they wanted. They knew that if he was their earthly king, they would never go hungry. Anybody who could prepare a meal for this many people out of such a small amount of food would certainly be popular! So they schemed amongst themselves to make Jesus their earthly king by force, even if he didn’t want that position.
So Jesus escapes the crowd and goes off by himself. Now if we go back to the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel, we pick up on some of the dialogue. Reading now verses 24-27: “Once the crowd realised that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’”
Certainly Jesus provided these people with real food. It’s what they needed at the time. They had been out at that lake with Jesus. They were hungry, and they didn’t have any food. And since Jesus was compassionate, he saw to it that they were able to eat their fill, as much as they wanted.
But now we move from the reality of the miracle itself into the metaphorical realm, in which Jesus describes himself as the food that endures to eternal life. Jesus puts this in perspective as we read again from John 6, verse 40: “For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” And then we continue with verses 47-51: “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
When a person eats a meal, that person will be hungry again. It’s like when we go to Golden Corral (a favorite place of mine). I don’t care how many trips we make through the buffet line and how much food we stuff into ourselves, at some point in time we will be hungry again. That’s the way it is with our physical hunger.
However our spiritual hunger can only be satisfied through faith in Christ. Feasting on the bread of life is a metaphor for having faith in Christ as our Saviour. And when we come to him in faith, we know that our sins are forgiven and that we will inherit eternal life just as he has promised. Jesus is indeed that food which lasts into eternity.
We know that we live in an imperfect world, and that can be seen by some of the eating disorders so prevalent today. Obesity has become one of the hot topics of today. But even worse are those who have anorexia or bulimia. People have somehow gotten the idea that food is a bad, evil, wicked thing. They starve themselves or purge themselves in order to maintain some sort of delusional standard of beauty.
All one needs to do is to look at the sickly emaciated bodies of these people to see how tragic the results are. I’ve seen pictures of people that are so bad that they look like skin draped over a skeleton. Such people do some severe damage to themselves which is often fatal.
But people do this to themselves spiritually too. If you can imagine what a sickly emaciated body looks like without food, then carry that over into the spiritual realm. Those who continue to reject and refuse Jesus, the very Bread of Life have souls that are just as sickly and emaciated. Without Jesus, without being fed on that Bread of Life, that soul will die and experience eternal death.
But Jesus came to give life. He came to give us healthy and well-fed souls. He came to give us that spiritual food that carries us into eternity.
If we go back to the people being fed on the hillside that day, Jesus and his disciples worked together. Jesus worked the miracle and multiplied the loaves and fishes, and the disciples distributed it to the hungry crowd.
So what would have happened if the disciples hadn't given it to the people? They would have gone hungry. As sinners, we are spiritually starving. We have gone against God many times, and our souls have experienced malnutrition. Even though God provides us with a heavenly smorgasbord, Satan wants us to walk away without a bite.
And so we come searching and yearning for spiritual nourishment. We gather here in God’s house to feast upon what he has given us. We eat our fill of Jesus, our very Bread of Life, and experience what it’s like to have souls that are happy and well fed.
When we talk about food, the Bible is full of references. God gave Adam and Eve food that was good to eat in the Garden of Eden. He gave the Israelites manna to eat in the wilderness. And in today’s Gospel, Jesus feeds the five thousand with five small loaves of bread and two fish.
We all need food. We need it to stay alive. Personally, I enjoy food. I enjoy smelling it, making it, and eating it. Even though our tastes and appetites differ, and we have different culinary skills, we all enjoy food. God gives us the blessing to enjoy that which we require to nourish our bodies.
As we gather here week after week to feast on Jesus the Bread of Life, we know we need him to maintain our spiritual health. As a congregation of God’s saints, we enjoy the time we spend together in his Name. Through Word and Sacrament, we can be assured that God will continue to provide us with the nourishment we need for our souls, which will endure to eternal life.