"Our Lord Feeds Us Greatly"
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
St. Mark 6:30-44
July 23, 2006
IN NOMINE JESU
The disciples were coming. The crowds were coming, too. The disciples had just returned from their field experiences—a mini-vicarage of sorts. They reported to the Lord what they had done and what they had taught, for a student is to share all good things with his master. No doubt they were exhausted after such an intense period of preaching and teaching. The Lord invited them to come to Him and rest, to get away from it all for a spell. What the disciples did not know was that they would be spelling short words, for the crowds were in hot pursuit of the Lord and His disciples. The Lord and the Twelve got to their place of rest in a boat, but the crowds would arrive there before them. There was no rest for the weary, at least not for the Twelve. Surely the crowds were growing weary from running after the Lord from all the cities. The crowds were a synagogue in the sense that the word synagogue means "a gathering together." There they were, gathered together before the Lord as lives with no purpose and as sheep with no shepherd…until now. They would soon have a shepherd, for the Lord, the Good Shepherd, would tend to these sheep. In this impromptu synagogue there would be a liturgy; there would be an order in how the Lord would come to His people and take care of them. This passage is a prime example of Gottesdienst, God serving His people. The people were gathered, and the Lord taught them many things, and then He fed them. The disciples were not ready physically or emotionally for this mass feeding, for it was late, and they themselves were tired from their own journeys. It was as if they wanted this ad hoc "Mass of the Catechumens" or Service of the Word to be the end and that the Lord would bless the multitudes and send them home, or at least back into town to get something to eat.
But the Lord had other plans. He knew what He was about to do. He was already moved with compassion, for His heart went out to them. He determined to feed them on the hillside. He told His disciples to give them something to eat. Panic likely set in for the disciples, for all they had were five loaves of bread and two fish. That was the perfect amount for the Lord to use. Every person there had plenty to eat. The blessed evangelist St. Mark notes that 5,000 men were there; with women and children there could easily have been 15,000 people there, a crowd that would have Assembly Hall in Bloomington bursting at the seams. This was quite a crowd for a simple exercise in liturgy: first came the teaching, then came the meal, a liturgical tradition we are blessed in holding to today. At this meal the Lord served as Liturgist and Host. He took the bread, gave thanks, and gave it to the disciples to distribute to the people. Likewise the Lord divided the fish among them all. The disciples were His assisting ministers—His deacons, liturgically speaking, for they were assisting the Host in carrying out His office of feeding the people and picking up the pieces. Lest we get carried away and think that this was some sort of sacramental act the Lord was doing, we need to remember that the only gift given in this meal was nourishment for their bodies. Sometimes a meal is just a meal, and that's what this meal was…simply a meal. To the crowds, this meal would remind them of life in their own homes when they entertained guests or if they visited someone else, for there would be a time of conversing, followed by a time of eating. But this time it was a meal loaded with liturgical overtones: first the Lord taught them, then He fed them. This hillside meal would serve as an example of what would come, as the lesser leads to the greater, the institution of His holy Supper, which we celebrate this Lord's Day.
We are gathered together before Him and in His Name, having come from various walks of life, but all with the same lack of aim. We have all wandered as sheep without a shepherd. As the prophet Isaiah said concerning the Suffering Servant, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way" (Is. 53:6a). The way we have gone, no matter which way that is, takes us farther away from our Lord and His gifts, those gifts that He alone gives exclusively in His Word and Sacraments. When we do come to Him, we come seeking what He has not promised to give, for we seek not what He wills but what we will. As this narrative, beginning with our text, continues over the next few weeks, we will see that the crowds had no concern for their salvation, only that their bellies would be filled. Likewise, we care more about what we want than what we need. Better said, we're only concerned with what we think we need, as opposed to what we really need. While we seek healing for our bodies, a worthwhile prayer request, we do so at the expense of healing for our souls, for we regard our physical health higher than we do our spiritual health. Our Lord says to us, "…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows" (Mt. 10:28-31).
Yes, you are of more value than many sparrows, which have only a body, for God has given you body and soul, eyes, ears, and all your members, your reason and all your senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives you clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all you have. He richly and daily provides you with all that you need to support this body and life. He defends you against all danger and guards and protects you from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you [First Article]. He did this for the 5,000 just as He does for those of you here today. Why does He do this? Why does He take such good care of you? He does so because He loves you. God is love. Our Triune God is also the God of all grace and mercy. Grace, mercy, peace, and love are among His many divine attributes; it's who He is. He wants to give you these things because He loves you.
Not only does God give you all that you need to support your bodies and lives, but He also gives you all that you need to support your souls. To this end God has given you the greatest Gift of all—His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In this gift is the greatest liturgical act of all. In this centuries-long liturgy God has come to us, speaking by the prophets, whose words were fulfilled in Christ, who gave His body and shed His blood on the cross, winning for us the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation that He gives in His holy Supper here today as we eat His body and drink His blood, even as His disciples ate and drank of Him in the Upper Room that Maundy Thursday evening. First came the Word, then comes the Meal, and we are blessed to receive this great liturgical sequence today, receiving the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. In the reading and preaching of the Word and the distribution of the Sacrament, we behold that our Lord has compassion on us, and we are sheep with a Shepherd. May the words of the Psalmist serve as our Lord's invitation to His Table: "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him. The young lions lack and suffer hunger; but those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing" (Ps. 34:8-10).
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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