Pentecost 0920 (PR13)- “The Lord Provides!” – Matthew 14:13-21
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
The text for our sermon meditation is the Gospel account of St Matthew, the 14th Chapter.
13Now when Jesus heard [about the death of John], he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.
14When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him 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.” 16But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
So far the reading.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ;
These past few months have put a strain on many peoples’ lives. There are many trials and unexpected results that have followed the outbreak of the current pandemic. One such unexpected result has been the shelves in store that no longer are filled to overflowing with needed good. Early on in this pandemic, panic ensued over toilet paper, sanitizing supplies and other products that one time were readily available. Now we are moving into a lack of ability to process animals for food. Meat packing houses have had to cope with the large number of workers who contracted the virus which continues to plague this world.
This is a far different picture than the one painted for us by the Prophet Isaiah and our Lord feeding the five thousand men plus women and children. There seems to be abundance from the hand of God equally spread among all people. There is no want because all needs are met from the storehouse of God’s bounty.
At times we may wonder at God’s provision. We may question whether God has our best interests in his heart and mind. Consider the verses prior to the Gospel reading. John the Baptizer, Jesus’ cousin and forerunner has been executed. How many Christians today will face this same threat? Does God not intervene to defend His people? Does God not hear their cries? Does God not desire mercy? Does God not show mercy?
We hear that God does show mercy, even to those who would reject Him? What daily food does the Lord give to us, and even to all the evil? What rain does God sent to us, and even to all the evil? What sun light does God shine on us, and even upon all the evil? What life does God give to us, and even to all the evil? What blessing do you and all the evil have that did not come from the hand of God? Do we not sing in one of our hymns “From Him my life and all things came?”
Adversity is, and always will be a part of life upon this earth. What we do when adversity comes to our doorstep is important. The disciples have received the knock of adversity on their doorstep. Jesus took them away to a solitary place to teach them, and discuss with them the events leading up to the death of John the baptizer. He spoke to the disciples about the ministry which both He and John were carrying out. Jesus is interrupted in this discussion by the crowds who followed him to what was once a solitary place. Now the mountainside is bursting at the seams with people – men, women, and children.
Looking out upon these crowds, Jesus was touched to his innermost being. The word translated as “compassion” is a word only attributed to God in Scripture. The idea is that God alone can feel what we feel. He sees the dire straits of those who are sick, ill, injured, worried, concerned, or troubled.
When someone tells you they can feel your pain, you will look at them from the corner of your eye and skeptically say, “Um hmm, right.” You know what their telling is not true. If you hit your thumb with a hammer, it is your thumb not anyone else’s thumb. When you have stomach flu it is your stomach that is sick. When you are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, it is your life. No one except God understands or feels your pain.
God looks into the recesses of your life and sees what is troubling you. He experiences your suffering? He feels your sorrow, rejection, depression, guilt, even your joys when life is better for you. In other places, Jesus looked out over the crowds and saw their spiritual struggles as well. One place tells us Jesus saw the people harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. They had no one to minister to their spiritual needs. They were wandering aimlessly in their spiritual vacuum. They hungered for the spiritual food of God’s mercy and grace.
Jesus brings this mercy and grace to bear in their physical lives. Jesus heals the sick in fulfillment of the promise given by God through the prophets. (Is. 35)
“Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”
Again in fulfillment of the prophets, Jesus feeds them an evening meal. This is a test of faith for the disciples. Jesus sets them up to encourage their trust in his word and work. The disciples approach Jesus with a quite reasonable request. The people have been with Jesus for most of the day. Looking at their meager supplies, the disciples realize they do not have enough food for the crowd to eat – two loaves of bread and five small fish.
They expect Jesus to agree with them in this impossible task to provide food for so many. However, Jesus commands his disciples to feed the crowd. Jesus said, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat.” What is Jesus telling his disciples? What have they just witnessed this day? What have just seen and heard? Whose hands have they watched touching and healing the sick, lame, blind, deaf and mute?
Are the hands of God limited in their strength and ability? Is God too little to do more than make men’s bodies whole? Does God heal sick and diseased bodies and not provide sustenance for those bodies? Jesus would have his disciples realize the power and mercy of God who sees to even the seemingly smallest of needs for the greatest number of people? 10000-15000 people will eat from the very hand of God that day. Jesus multiplies the meagerness of the disciples and turns it into an abundance of satisfying food.
Those same hands of God were destined to take the abundance of man’s sin and make it empty of its power to accuse and condemn sinners. Those same hands would multiply the grace of God by being nailed to the cross of suffering and death. Jesus would feel in his body and in his soul the full weight of God’s wrath and punishment for your sin. He did this so that you would not feel it. We who are washed in the blood of the Lamb of God will never know how Jesus felt under that heavy burden, but we will know the joy of salvation and release from guilt and sin.
There is abundance of grace for all, superabundance of grace as shown in the abundance Jesus pours out in that divine feeding. How much was left over? There was enough left over to sustain the disciples of Jesus. Matthew accounts for twelve baskets full of food. Jesus would have seen to it that no matter how many disciples were with him, all would be fed and nourished.
So it is for us today. There is always more grace than we can imagine. There is always more forgiveness than we can imagine. There is always more divine love than we can imagine. There is more divine strength than we can imagine. Think of St Paul who called himself the chief of sinners. What did Paul say of God’s grace and mercy? (1 Timothy 1)
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”
Those hands that feed the fifteen thousand and were nailed to the tree are still with us today in Word and Sacrament. They reach to us from the water of baptism to touch our lives with God’s gift of salvation and faith. God touches us with His healing to give us ears to hear His Gospel, eyes to see His miraculous salvation, hands and feet to serve His will.
When we gather before the Altar of the Lord he multiplies to us the bread of life and the overflowing forgiveness in the Cup of His New Covenant. As Jesus satisfied the crowds physical needs with bread and fish, He satisfies our hunger and thirst for righteousness in giving us His body and blood.
We need to hear this today as we seek relief from the trials of pandemic, politics and social upheaval. People are hungering for things that will bring neither peace nor promise. They put their trust in the princes of this world who seek their own well-being above the needs of those they are sworn to serve. Truly we need a shepherd who will provide for the sheep and feed the sheep. This we have in Jesus Christ. He alone will, out of the abundance of His mercy, relieve and rescue and restore His called people. This is given as we gather at His feet here in God’s house. This awaits us at the foot of God’s throne in eternity. May we always seek such grace of God.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen