Today's Gospel tells us of a busy time in Jesus' ministry. Jesus had sent out the disciples two-by-two to bring the good news of the Kingdom of God to the countryside of Galilee. Now they were returning with their stories. As today's Gospel says: The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. They had been busy and many crowds followed them back to Jesus. Our Gospel tells us that many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. That is pretty busy.
Jesus realized that His disciples would soon burn out if they kept up this pace. So He arranged a retreat for them - a time for rest and recovery and a time to receive the gifts that only Jesus can give. They took a bit of a cruise on the Sea of Galilee and then disembarked at an isolated place along the opposite shore and took a bit of a break.
The break didn't last long. The crowds of people quickly figured out what Jesus was up to and anticipated His actions. They walked around the Sea of Galilee on foot. Jesus and the disciples were once again surrounded by people. Only now they were out in the middle of nowhere.
Today's Gospel tells us: When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. The Greek uses a special word here that means that Jesus had a deep, powerful compassion for these people - a compassion that came from the depths of His inner being. As the Good Shepherd, He saw them as sheep without a shepherd - helpless and lost. He began to care for their souls with His teachings. The crowds were so intent on Jesus' teaching that they forgot that they were out in the middle of nowhere without food. Their desire to be with Jesus and receive His gifts had caused them to forget about planning for their physical hunger.
The disciples, on the other hand, were very aware of the resources they needed to feed these people. Because they were out in the middle of nowhere, such a crowd of people would overwhelm any local resources such as the nearby farms and villages. Think about the effort it takes to feed a chicken noodle supper to six hundred people. Then multiply that number by about ten. Then remember that the disciples are walking and the only things they have for carrying food are things baskets about the size of an average picnic basket. So even if they had enough money to buy supplies, it would still be a logistical nightmare to bring all those supplies back to the crowd. This is an impossible situation.
Jesus then tested His disciples: "You give them something to eat." Now remember that these same disciples had just returned from a mission where they cured the sick and exorcized demons. The right answer would have been something along the lines of, "OK Jesus, what did You have in mind?" Instead, the disciples began explaining why feeding all these people was impossible.
Jesus then went ahead and showed that nothing will be impossible with God. He fed those crowds using five dinner rolls and a couple of sardines. When the meal was over, the leftovers alone were more than the original amount of food that they had to begin with.
This miracle does more than show us the power of God. It also gives us a picture of the Holy Christian Church. Jesus did not walk up to every person and hand them their fish sandwich one at a time. Instead, He gave the food to His disciples to give to the people. This is the way the Lord does things. He does the miracle and then distributes His gifts through His disciples. The feeding of the 5,000, and later on the feeding of the 4,000, provides a picture of Jesus' church in which His miraculous gifts are given by His pastors to us.
Jesus accomplished the miracle of our salvation by dying for our sins and rising again. His apostles are sent into the world to preach that Good News. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, miraculously taking upon Himself our sins and their guilt. His preachers baptize to deliver that righteousness to us. Jesus miraculously faced a "guilty" verdict for our sins. His ministers deliver that "not guilty" verdict to you. Jesus offered Himself on the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. His pastors distribute that same flesh and blood of the Lamb of God for us to eat and drink. Jesus does the work. His disciples distribute the gifts to His people.
Many people forget that. Many people forget the true reason for going to church - to meet Christ and receive His gifts. Instead, they go to church for entertainment - to keep Mom and Dad happy - because it is an old habit or some sort of duty. From time to time, we all forget that we are here as God's guests and He deeply desires to serve us from the deep inner core of His being. We sometimes forget that it is called Divine Service because it is God's service to us.
It might be helpful in this regard to remember that Judas was still among the disciples. He along with the rest of the twelve delivered the meal to the crowd. Do you suppose that the fish and bread that Judas distributed was less wholesome than that distributed by the other disciples? Of course not! The fish and the bread were God's gift to the people in that place. Judas was just a waiter as were the other disciples. The food came from Jesus.
During the reformation in Martin Luther's day, some of the laity found out that their old priests had been corrupt. They were worried that everything that a corrupt priest did was invalid. Martin Luther said, [Large Catechism: Of the Sacrament of the Altar, par. 15] "It is easy to reply to all kinds of questions about which people are troubled at the present time, such as this one: "Can even a wicked priest serve at and administer the Sacrament?" And whatever other questions like this there may be. For here we conclude and say, "Even though an imposter takes or distributes the Sacrament, a person still receives the true Sacrament, that is, Christ's true body and blood, just as truly as a person who ‹receives or› administers it in the most worthy way." For the Sacrament is not founded upon people's holiness, but upon God's Word. Just as no saint on earth, indeed, no angel in heaven can make bread and wine be Christ's body and blood, so also no one can change or alter it, even though it is misused. The Word by which it became a Sacrament and was instituted does not become false because of the person or his unbelief. For Christ does not say, "If you believe or are worthy, you receive My body and blood." No, He says, "Take, eat and drink; this is My body and blood." … That is like saying, "No matter whether you are worthy or unworthy, you have here His body and blood by virtue of these words that are added to the bread and wine."
The pastor is just the waiter. It is Jesus who prepares the meal. It is Jesus who was baptized in the Jordan and made water holy when it is administered with His word according to His command. It is Jesus who earned forgiveness for us and gives the words of forgiveness to the pastor to give to you. It is Jesus who gave His teachings to the prophets and apostles so that the pastor can give them to you. It is Jesus who gave up His body on the cross for you and administers that same body to you by mouth as the pastor gives you the bread of the sacrament. It is Jesus who shed His blood on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins and administers that same blood to you by mouth as the pastor gives you the wine of the sacrament. Think about it: God, in the flesh, His baptism on your skin, His absolution and preaching in your ears, and His true body and blood in your mouth - His gifts for you.
The ruler of this and every other universe loves you and wants to give His Divine Service to you. He wants to give you the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation that He earned for you on the cross. He has opened up heaven for you with His resurrection. He promised his presence to you with His ascension. He gives all these things to us just as He gave bread and fish to the crowds out in the middle of nowhere. He sends His servants to bring His service to you. Amen
Please quote from my sermons freely. I expect people to copy my sermons or I wouldn't put them on a site like this. I only ask that you quote accurately if you attribute anything to me.
Should you decide to contact me, I would be very interested in knowing where you are. Please include the name of your city, state or province, and country when contacting me.
Send James T. Batchelor an email.