“On the mountain, Jesus has gathered His church” Laetare 2022

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27. March 2022
John 6:1-15

Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.

In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.

Jesus’ question of Philip is completely reasonable. It’s a simple matter of economics. We have hungry people. They need to be fed. How can we take care of that bodily need so that they can continue to follow, listen, and receive the bread from heaven that their souls may be filled? Hunger + bread = satisfaction. 

Mathematics belongs to the law, in this case, the law of supply and demand. Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.” Philip recognizes that the supply chain has been interrupted, the means of production have been shut down, and inflation has made the demand too challenging to fulfill. By the laws of macroeconomics, there’s no way to satisfy the need, and they’re looking at mass starvation for those 5,000 men. Their hunger will trickle down and affect their wives and children, and the consequences will be felt for days, weeks, or years.

There is another option, of course. In St. Mark’s Gospel, it says: When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late. Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.” (Mk 6:35-36)

Philip’s initial response makes more sense and shows excellent wisdom. He understands the economics of the situation. First, there are five thousand men, apart from women and children. Also, the night was approaching, and they were in a desolate place, with no cities or villages, no fire or water, no barns or bakers. One rabbi, twelve disciples, five loaves, and two fish won’t do the job. Even nine months of day laborer’s wages wouldn’t be enough, even if they could buy bread. Each is responsible for taking care of his own.

No doubt that Philip also remembered the stories he had learned from childhood. Remember Moses in the wilderness, when Israel had nothing to eat or drink? Not only did they whine and complain, but on more than one occasion, the hungry Hebrews come near stoning Moses. Philip’s solution is wise. Close up shop. Shut down the Messiah’s rally. Send the people home. The economics of the situation demand it. 

“Yes, Jesus, you are concerned for these people to feed their soul with your Word. But don’t you know what will happen if their belly isn’t full? And what good is it if the soul is fed, but the body starves to death? Do you think the people will stay with you for much longer here in the wilderness without some real food? Here’s our advice: Send them away to buy things to eat. If what you say and give is special, they’ll come back after their appetite is appeased.”

At first, Philip seems wise and prudent, but he’s as foolish and unbelieving on second thought. Thus, [Jesus] answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat.” (Mk 6:37) Jesus rebukes Philip and the disciples for their unbelief, even mocking them. In other words, Jesus said, “You see that I am tired and worn out from preaching and healing all day. I’ve already done my part, and now it’s time for you to step up. Look, there’s one of me and twelve of you! It’s quitting time for me and time for you all to do your fair share. How can I do everything by myself?”

So, one of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” That’s another wise answer, following the laws of economics. Andrew with Philip admits that they should help out. In other words, he says, “We want to provide the people with food. But with what, dear Lord? We don’t have enough. There are too many. And even if we could buy, we don’t have enough. Even then, we could only give them a little.”

This seems to be great wisdom from Philip and Andrew. But it’s not Jesus who is like Moses, but it’s disciples! Jesus is God incarnate who feeds His people with everything needed for body and life. The disciples are Israel, who doubts, and Moses, who echoes those doubts to God. The disciples’ responses to Jesus’ questions expose and accuse, as the Law always does. Their unbelief is brought to light as those words from their unbelieving hearts. They’re caught up in the economics of the situation and have lost sight of the one who is standing right before them. They think of Jesus as an inconsiderate man who has no regard for the poor and hungry. Jesus doesn’t seem to be paying attention and must be reminded to take care of growling tummies. 

On the mountain, on the other side of the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus has gathered His church. She follows Him where ever He goes. She trusts in Him for everything she needs. Her priority is to receive God’s forgiving Word in Jesus. Her primary care and nurture, handing over the love, mercy, compassion, and long-suffering of Jesus. All who are gathered to Jesus nurse from the Church’s consoling breast. She and her children go with her bridegroom where He leads, knowing He will provide for her.

Within the Church, men have the vocational responsibility to provide for the physical well-being of those gathered. They provide her family a place to gather, maintain those facilities, give her instruction, establish institutions for her well-being, and provide the called and ordained servants needed to keep her household with Jesus in the one true faith. These men labor as they’ve been given, living in the generosity and charity that is the fruit of their trust in Jesus. 

The Law does not govern the institution of the church. Wisdom and prudence have their place, used by God the Holy Spirit to expose your sin and lack of trust. You think of your Jesus too little when you whine and complain about economics like those five thousand men. You don’t need Jesus to remind you to stop being wasteful, be more frugal, or pay attention to what needs to be done. That belongs in meetings and assemblies. Jesus rebuked Martha for busying herself over matters that don’t matter. Jesus reminds you to consider how the birds and the lilies are taken care of without asking. Forget about your bellies.

The people on the mountain came in the way of Moses and the Law. They even said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” But after Jesus died and rose for them, He gathers them again by the thousand. This time not 5 x 1000 but 3 x 1000. The congregation is gathered to receive the gift of the Father, worked by the Son, and delivered by the Spirit. They are brought into assembly by the sound of a mighty rushing wind, the Spirit. They are brought to repentance for crucifying their savior Jesus and hear in their native tongues and the good news of His blood-bought forgiveness, life, and salvation. They are joined to their Savior Jesus through water and baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. 

And after that, they adhered firmly and attended daily with one accord to the Apostles’ doctrine, the churchly fellowship of the saints, the Lord’s Supper, and the life of prayer in Scripture, liturgy, psalmody, and hymnody that was handed over to them. As God the Spirit gathers congregations by the Gospel of Jesus, they are given to flourish and grow. “The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” The whole life of the church is following Jesus, where He leads, and she receives the gifts He gives. As Dr. Luther remarks in the Smalcald Articles, one of our Confessions: “Thank God, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely, holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd.” (Smalcald Articles III, XII:2)

This world is a wilderness of despair, hopelessness, and need. It is governed by power and greed, poverty and want. This world is governed by laws of economics, like supply and demand. But the communion of the saints of God, His holy church has no scarcity, but She lives in the abundance of the Gospel. You have been gathered today to God’s holy mountain Zion. Here you are given to sit down in green pastures. You are fed with bread from heaven, God’s Word, and feast at the Holy Supper of the Lamb. So great a number surrounds you, an assembly of God’s holy people too great to even number. Not even 12 x 12 x 1000 is enough to describe the saints and angels with you this day. And you are filled with good things, Christ’s forgiveness, and drink from a well that springs to eternal life. There’s always enough and even more. 

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin