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Not Simply a Miracle
Seventh Sunday after Trinity
Commemoration of Robert Barnes, Confessor and Martyr
July 30, 2017
The first thing to consider in the Feeding of the Four Thousand is that it happens not too long after the Feeding of the Five Thousand. There is a real question here about what we understand about how God works in our lives. This passage before us today comes in a section of Mark’s Gospel account in which Jesus marvels at the lack of understanding on the part of His disciples about who He is and what He has come to do.
That Mark was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write an account of the Feeding of the Four Thousand shortly after giving an account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand begs the question, Do we understand who Jesus is and what He is about?
An honest look at this passage should move us to say that we’re probably a lot more like the disciples than we would like to admit—even though we have a lot more knowledge available to us, being as we have the entire New Testament at hand! We know how the story ends! We know that Jesus dies and rises for salvation.
But what is your first reaction when you come to the Feeding of the Four Thousand? Oh, that’s just like the Feeding of the Five Thousand. And it is. But it’s also there, and so we shouldn’t just see it as a similar story, another miraculous action of Jesus in feeding thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and a few fish.
Looking at how Mark has given us the accounts of these two miraculous actions of Jesus, the question is not, Jesus has done that for them, what has He done for me lately? We ought to see instead that as the disciples were guilty of being clueless about Jesus, we are found just as clueless about Him.
The question is, How does this miraculous action by Jesus show us who He is and how He works in our lives as our God and Lord? That is the right question. That is the question that points us to Christ and gets us off of ourselves, as our own questions often point us to ourselves and what we think we ought to take from the written Word of God.
So what is Jesus doing here which shows us who He is and how He works in our lives? What Jesus did for the crowd that was listening to Him teach was a blessing that is clear. They were hungry. There wasn’t enough food there in the desolate place where they found themselves. Jesus’ heart went out to them. His compassion poured out on them, He could understand that they needed food. If He were to send them on home some of them would have a hard time making it home because of weakness in going without food. Some of them had come from a long way away.
His compassion for them was matched with action for them. He didn’t just sympathize with their plight, He provided for them what they needed. And that was food, plain and simple. This could have been a great opportunity for Jesus to send them away with words of wisdom that man does not live by bread alone but by the very Word of God. But as He said, had He done that some of them would have fainted along the way. So having given them the very Word of God He now gave them the very bread that they would find on their table every night. Yes, man does not live by bread alone, but he does live by bread. And Jesus provides that for them.
He does it in a miraculous way, as He did in feeding the Five Thousand. He takes a small amount of bread and a small amount of fish and blesses them and gives them to the disciples to start dishing them out to everybody. And everybody is the recipient of the dishing out. So much so that they were all filled abundantly and there was an abundance left over. No one was going away hungry unless they chose to. Jesus provided for them what they needed, and that was food.
We’re all guilty, even though from good intentions, to focus on the spiritual blessings God gives to us. Yes, we need bread, but how much more the Word of God! And it’s true. But it’s true also that we need the bread. At the center of the Lord’s Prayer, which is chock full of requests to the Father for spiritual blessings, stands the Fourth Petition—Give us this day our daily bread.
It almost seems out of place. It almost seems so mundane, so ordinary, so not worthy of praying for that we too often miss the amazing petition that it really is. When we pray that our Father’s name be hallowed, that His Kingdom come, that His will be done, that He forgive our sins, that He guard us in the time of temptation, that He deliver us from evil, it seems so… so trivial to pray for daily bread; for the food we need in this life; for regular old stuff. How does this fit in to the spiritual and eternal blessings our Father loves to grant to us and has shown us in the Lord’s Prayer?
It fits in in the same way Jesus miraculously provided food, regular old food, to thousands of people who were simply hungry. There was no questioning on the part of Jesus as to the spiritual condition of each person there. He didn’t attempt to ensure that they were all focusing first and foremost on the spiritual blessings of God before He gave them the physical, temporal blessing of food. His heart simply went out to them. He saw their need and He acted in compassion. He fed them, giving them what they needed.
So if we are to learn as the disciples eventually did, who God is and how He acts in our lives, then we should take note that who He is is the Father who has given us His Son. How He acts is in His Son. What does He do for us? He blesses us eternally. He gives to us full and free forgiveness in His Son. Jesus feeding Five Thousand and Jesus Feeding Four Thousand is too much for some to believe. It’s just made-up stories. Believe what they will, you and I ought to look at those events as true and miraculous. But most importantly, events that point to the ultimate and greatest miracle of all—the Father giving His Son over on the cross for the sin of the world. Jesus feeding thousands of people is nothing compared to the Father giving to the world the Bread of Life, His own Son, offered to the world to partake of the rich feast of forgiveness, life, and salvation in His suffering, death, and resurrection.
You know the whole story. You know how God works in your life. How He gives you a mind to learn a craft and have a job to make money and provide for your needs and the needs of your family. He gives you many people in your life who provide you with the help you need, whether it be medical care, protection by law enforcement, a stable society from our elected officials, people who have built our homes, our roads, our buildings, friends and family who support us and love us and encourage us and stand beside us when we’re unable to stand on our own. Give us this day our daily bread is a prayer rich in blessings from our gracious and bountiful God.
And if this is true—and it is—then how much more will He give us all things in His Son?
King David ruled God’s people for forty years. We should not understate the power he had. God had raised him up to replace the powerful king Saul. One of Saul’s sons, Jonathan, was the closest of friends to David. When Saul had died and Jonathan had died and the kingdom was firmly established for David, those remaining in the household of Saul were rightly fearful of what king David might do to them.
But instead, David’s heart went out to the household of Saul. Is there anyone in Saul’s household I may show kindness to?, he asked. When it was told him that Jonathan had had a son who had been crippled in both feet early on in life, David sent for him. His name was Mephibosheth and when he came before the king he trembled as he bowed and said, “I am your servant.” But David’s heart went out to him. He said, “Do not fear. You shall eat at my table every day.”
This is how you know who God is and what He does for you. Mephibosheth feasting at the king’s table every day was pure gift, pure grace. You and I feasting on the Gospel that is set before us in the proclamation of the Word is pure blessing. You and I feasting at the Table of the Lord is pure gift, just as our Lord gave His body over on the cross for our sins, so He gives His body to us to eat for the forgiveness of our sins and just as He shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins, so He gives His blood to us to drink for the forgiveness of our sins.
When you begin to see it this way you begin to see that God in giving us His Son is not just giving us things, He is giving us Himself. Amen.
Rev. Paul L. Willweber
Lutheran Service Book Lectionary: One-Year, Gospel
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, San Diego, California