31. July 2022
“I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar.” Then His disciples answered Him, “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?”
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
The disciples ask a reasonable question. Where there are no springs, wells, lakes, or aquifers, there can be no grain. And without grain, there is no bread. The wilderness is usually abandoned for places that at least see the early and spring rains. “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?”
Their question might sound legitimate but it is the most profound statement of unbelief. Did God feed His people with manna for forty years in the wilderness? How could they forget? Did God provide for the flour and oil to never run out for Elijah, the widow, and the son at Zarephath during the famine? Or even just a little while ago, Jesus had miraculously fed five thousand in like manner? Their question is a confession of sinful doubt that God has promised and gives daily bread.
But more than that, who is Jesus? Who do you say that I am? Jesus is the goodness and mercy of God the Father revealed to starving people. Christ is the gracious, merciful giver who is eager to help and come alongside everyone. A multitude from the east and west, north and south, come out to Him. They are eager to go Him, follow Him, and listen and do what He says. Wherever Jesus was—up the mountain, into the wilderness, over the sea—they followed.
Unlike those disciples, they were not dissuaded when the path was rough, nor the climb difficult, nor the sea perilous. They are hungry for more than just physical bread and they believe only Jesus can give it. But they’re not worried about earthly bread either but are monomaniacally focused on the one thing needful, Jesus. On the other hand, the great, mighty, and rich have the luxury to stay home, stay safe, stay secure apart from Jesus and where He leads. They have no need of Jesus because all their creature comforts are met.
Brethren, the majority of those who consider themselves Christian and have associated with this congregation, also infrequently or never gather at the feet of Jesus in Divine Service—to hear Him, receive Him, and be forgiven in Him. Why? And are we any different? Because we are a soft, lazy, and extremely wealthy people. With the rare exception of our nonagenarians and a few others, none of us have known true poverty, loss of home, hunger and rationing, and great economic depression. We think of Jesus as little more than a bread king who fills our bellies with food or a therapist who fills our heads with nice thoughts.
We have made an idol of our comfortable life. We eat to excess and personal harm. We drug ourselves into apathy and neglect. We program our minds with falsehood using media. We give our children over to indoctrinating propaganda. We live as if we mattered most and faith toward God and love toward neighbor be damned. You are little different from the unwashed masses that have no care for Jesus. Given the means, motive, and opportunity, you are just as likely to absent yourselves from listening to Jesus and receiving His gifts. That’s the reality of life in the sinful flesh.
The fact that you showed up to Divine Service today is a miracle. Even if you follow the Lord’s command and by keeping the Sabbath holy, don’t underestimate the inclination of your heart. Even if you’re like those disciples whose vocation and discipline is to remain with Jesus (think: pastor or teacher), you’re just as unbelieving. Even His most loyal followers all abandoned Jesus when the path led to Golgotha and the cross.
Your unbelieving heart is evident by the fact that you’ve been with Him so long and yet you still don’t believe that He’s going to take care of you. And if you think it’s bad today, just wait until tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, or further out. Will you stay with Jesus through the next cultural revolution, pandemic, or economic collapse? How long do you think you will get to continue with your comfortable life of the American dream and still remain apathetic to Word, prayer, fellowship, liturgy, offerings, and charity?
Jesus has a way of toppling idols, casting out demons, and turning over money changing tables. He may lead you into a life only a few of us have ever known and experienced—a life of profound need, distress, want, and lack. Will you follow Him into the proverbial storm-tossed sea, wind-swept mountain, or wasted wilderness? And if you do stick with Him, will you remain attentive to His Word and live trusting in His promise of daily bread? Or will you complain and whine about how much better things were before or elsewhere than Jesus led you?
The good news is that Jesus will never stop putting up with you. He will keep calling you to join Him in the sea, mountain, or desert places. He will keep gathering you together with other poor sinners in need of mercy. He will keep speaking to you His Word that gives faith, life, salvation, and peace. And He will keep shepherding His flock, even those who wander and find themselves outside His fold.
And He never has and never will neglect to care for your body, too. “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat… He took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and they set them before the multitude. They also had a few small fish; and having blessed them, He said to set them also before them. So they ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets of leftover fragments.”
Jesus calls you today into His multitude. He has compassion on you and feeds you with Bread from Heaven. By His Word preached and through the Spirit given you in Baptism, He is changing your heart. You confession is not, “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?” Now you are given to say, “My God, I am your creature. You made me. Since that is true, I will simply work and attend to my vocations, and leave to You my worries. I will make use of all that you have given me and be faithful in what you have entrusted to me. I believe You will provide for my needs where and when it most pleases You and benefits me. In every circumstance, I will not cease to listen, pray, and gather to hear You even if I lose everything.”
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin