Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
July 18, 2010
We come this morning to Mark’s account of the feeding of the 4,000. This is a much shorter episode than the feeding of the 5,000 that occurs earlier in Jesus’ ministry. There are differences between the two stories, most notably the fact that all four Gospel writers offer their version of the feeding of the 5,000, whereas this story is only found in Matthew and Mark. As we looked at the Gospels in our Adult Education classes last Advent, this is certainly one of those instances where Biblical scholars help solidify their argument that Mark was most likely the first written of the Gospels, and at least in this case, Matthew had a copy of Mark’s Gospel because his account of this miracle is very similar to the one we just heard. In any case, I believe it is quite clear that there were in fact two miraculous feedings, and our prayer this morning is that we may we be fed with these words, as those early followers of Jesus were literally fed with bread given to them by the Bread of Life.
As we have seen in so many other parts of the Gospels that whenever and wherever Jesus teaches, the crowds seem to flock to him. It says specifically, that the “multitude was very great.” It is must have been an amazing thing to behold, the words of God being spoken by the Word made flesh, and thousands come to hear. No doubt there were probably a sizeable number of the large crowd who were merely there to see if something miraculous might happen, or out of shear curiosity. After all, Jesus had just feed another large group of followers not too long ago.
Whether those in the crowd were true disciples, or curious by-standers, it says that Jesus looked on the crowds, and felt compassion for them because they had nothing to eat. The word that is used here to denote compassion is most peculiar, and in the New Testament, it is only used by Jesus to describe his own emotion, or in parable form to speak of Christ-like compassion, ie, the Samaritan, the Father of the Prodigal Son. The noun form of this word is even more intriguing in that it is the word to describe one’s inmost body parts, one’s bowels if you will. Today, we might translate this word as the pit of our stomach. Whenever we are moved with pity, emotion, grief, anger, we sense it in our innermost being. The ancient world would have seen this as the seat of one’s emotions of love, sympathy, and mercy. Jesus isn’t simply expressing a casual sense of empathy, he is feeling something much deeper, and at his very core. In that same manner, Jesus feels that same compassion for the crowds when he sees that they have been deceived and led astray by the rulers and teachers in the synagogues, when he compares them to sheep without a shepherd, and tells his disciples that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore to Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” I think we should note here that these words from Jesus are recorded in St. Matthew’s Gospel before either the feeding of the 5,000 or the 4,000. I find this fact interesting because of the state in which we find the disciples. Jesus has told them that there are souls out there that are longing to be fed, and he is feeding them, both with his words, his Living Bread, and when 5,000 were assembled, with literal bread as well.
Our text says that Jesus called his disciples unto him, and says to them, we have to feed all of these people, because if we do not, they will starve on their way home, they’ve been out here three days with me. I think Mark is ever so carefully weaving intricate threads together and helping put together some of the pieces of the puzzle as he records the words of the disciples, “From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness? There are places in Scripture that confirm for me the Divine Inspiration of Holy Writ, and this is one of those instances.
What is the link between the wilderness and bread?
We hear these words on the First Sunday in Lent as we prepare ourselves again for the annual pilgrimage toward Easter.
Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
The people had been feeding upon the words that had been proceeding from the mouth of God. Now it was time for them to receive physical nourishment as well. There are times when I read this story and it still amazes me that none of the disciples said to Jesus, Master, do you really need bread; can’t you just speak the word only and it will be done unto you? Or even more appropriately, Master, here are a few loaves, we saw what you did with them the last time, and we are certain you can do it again.
Why don’t they say that? They’d just witnessed it for themselves.
I think you probably know where I’m going here. I believe that none of them said any of those above statements because the disciples are just like us. We see those places where God has blessed us, nourished us, provided for us when we thought the situation was hopeless. We thank Him for what He has done, and yet when we confront the exact same situation again, we fall back into that dangerous game of self-reliance and think we can do it on our own.
Thanks be to God that the people in the Bible were never presented like supermen, who always seemed to have life licked, the wind was always at their back, the sun was always shining on their faces, and never seemed to have a care in the world. If they had been presented in that fashion, I don’t think I would have any hope because that certainly isn’t the world I experience.
No, the Bible presents Jesus’ followers as real human beings. People with problems, with issues, with struggles, with temptations, just like you and me. The part that is most comforting is the witness of the Apostles even after they gave up everything to follow Jesus. Their humanity didn’t cease. They didn’t miraculously stop sinning. They didn’t morph into something unrealistic.
They were simply transformed over the course of their lives into people who lived with a new purpose. As recorded in the Book of Acts, these simple folk were the ones who were turning the world upside down.
That is what we are called to do as well. We too are given the opportunity to follow in the first Apostles footsteps and turn the world upside down. The miraculous is all around us. When we prepare to come to this altar, we fully believe that another miracle is taking place in our midst. Jesus comes to be truly present, truly here in the breaking of His Body and Blood. As St. Paul declares, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.” That one verse is a miracle of its own right. Why do I say that? In one short line, all of time is encapsulated in one event. Every time we eat of Christ’s Body and Bread in the present, we represent his death in the past, looking forward to His coming in glory in the future. Past, Present, Future all intersect on our Lord’s Altar in the Person of His Son. “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” as proclaimed in the Letter to the Hebrews.
May we continue to receive the grace to boldly proclaim that message, and let us come to be fed by our Lord again this morning in both Word and Sacrament.