The disciples needed a break. The verses that precede today’s Gospel tell us about the death of John the Baptist. The preceding verses also tell us that Jesus and His disciples had been insanely busy for quite some time. They were all tired. It made sense to get away in the wilderness on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They needed to grieve for John and they needed to take a breather from their heavy work load. Now-a-days, we might say they needed to get away and recharge their batteries.
The crowds had other ideas. As they watched Jesus and His disciples pull away from the shore it didn’t take them long to figure out their destination. They did a quick march around the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. When Jesus arrived at the other shore, the crowds were already starting to arrive. They wanted more teaching from Jesus. Matthew described the situation as Jesus stepped out of the boat in this way: “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:14) As Jesus came ashore, we see the kingdom of Heaven at work as God reigns through Jesus to heal the sick … to reverse the corruption that sin brought into this world.
As Jesus filled the spiritual emptiness of the crowd, the day wore on. Soon, the disciples began to think about the physical emptiness of the crowd. They came to Jesus and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” (Matthew 14:15) This request indicates that the disciples didn’t expect Jesus Himself to do anything for the crowds.
Of course, Jesus knew there was no need to send the people away and He said so: “They need not go away; …” (Matthew 14:16) But then Jesus said, “… you give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14:16) What did Jesus mean when He said, “… you give them something to eat?” The disciples responded as though Jesus expected them to feed the crowds from their own resources. They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” (Matthew 14:17) They did not yet understand that when Jesus asks for the impossible, He has a plan to show that nothing will be impossible with God. (Luke 1:37)
Jesus instructed the people to arrange themselves in an orderly fashion. The text tells us there were 5,000 men plus women and children. The people would naturally arrange themselves in families. Then, as though they were all part of His family, God the Son gave thanks to God the Father. He then gave the food to His disciples. His disciples gave the food to the fathers. The fathers gave the food to their families. All ate and all were satisfied. Jesus had instructed His disciples to feed the people and then He provided the food so that the people could eat their fill.
The events in today’s Gospel give us another example of Jesus caring for His people, but they are more than that. As we study the events of this miracle, we also see the model of how God serves His people. This model of God’s service to us is everywhere in our lives. It is so pervasive that we don’t even notice unless someone calls our attention to it.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus worked through His disciples to fill thousands of empty stomachs. Today, He feeds us through farmers, wholesalers, Grocers, and the people who transport our food from place to place. Jesus healed the people in the crowd. Today, Jesus gives the gift of healing to people who go to school and become doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and so forth. When we look for God at work in our lives, we find people in their vocations serving us as they bring God’s gifts into our lives.
Luther puts it even more strongly: Vocations are “masks of God.” On the surface, we see an ordinary human face … our mother, the doctor, the teacher, the waitress, our pastor … but, beneath the appearances, God is ministering to us through them. God is hidden in human vocations.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Martin Luther asked the question, “What is meant by daily bread?” He answered with these words: Everything that belongs to the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, field, cattle, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious servants, pious and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like. Jesus regularly works through people to bring us the things we need. All the people who bring God’s daily bread to us are God’s answer to this petition.
Just as Jesus delivers daily bread through people, He also delivers His salvation through people.
Jesus earned our salvation by bearing the punishment of our sin when He hung on the cross. As He hung on the cross, He took away our sin and gave us His righteousness. He has promised to give us eternal life with Him and His resurrection from the dead is the sign that He keeps all His promises. The only problem is that He hung on that cross and rose from the dead outside of Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago. How does He get His forgiveness and the promise of eternal life from first century Jerusalem to twenty-first century Manito?
Jesus gave His eternal gifts to His servants, the Apostles. The Apostles gave the gifts to us in their writings … the book that we know as the Bible. The church has passed this down from generation to generation. People have died so that we can have the writings of the prophets and apostles and it is through those writings that Jesus Christ passes His gifts on to us … the gifts that He earned for us on the cross … the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
When fathers teach their children to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” they are taking the very forgiveness that Jesus earned for them on the cross and giving it to their children. When pastors pour water on us according to Christ’s command, they are giving Jesus Himself along with the water. When pastors bless the bread and wine according to Christ’s command, they are giving us the very body and blood of Jesus Himself along with those elements. God reigns through these simple actions and because God reigns, His kingdom is here. As Jesus Himself often preached, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
When the disciples reminded Jesus that the people had been with them for a long time and might be hungry, Jesus said, “… you give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14:16) Jesus asked the disciples to do something that they could not do. Never the less, nothing will be impossible with God. (Luke 1:37) Jesus performed the miracle that they needed to fulfill His instructions. Then, as they fulfilled His instructions by distributing the food, He gave them the privilege of participating in the miracle. As we hear the account of this miracle, we not only hear one more proof that Jesus is indeed true God, but we also hear about the model of God serving His people.
The next time you are stuck in traffic behind a slow-moving piece of farm equipment, remember that that is God at work making sure that you are getting the food you need to sustain your life. In fact, there are farmers right now raising the wheat that will be ground into flour that will be used to make those bland little wafers that the pastor blesses … those bland little wafers that transport the risen Christ into your mouth. God has a habit of working through the ordinary in order to give us His extraordinary gifts. Amen
Veith, Gene Edward: Masks of God, Reprinted with permission from the August, 2001 issue of The Lutheran Witness
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