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Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 14:13-21

Listen here — 46 Sermon for Pent 7.mp3

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

We should note a couple of things as we get started this morning.  First of all, some context.  The first line in the Gospel reading says, “when Jesus heard this…”  Matthew is talking about when Jesus heard the news that John the Baptist had been executed by Herod.  That’s how chapter 14 starts by telling the story of Salome dancing and Herodias conspiring with her daughter to ask for John the Baptist’s head on a platter.  Remember John the Baptist was not just a religious figure, he was Jesus’ cousin and it grieved Jesus deeply when this happened.

When Jesus heard about this, then, he withdrew from the area where he had been teaching by boat in order to be by himself.  Basically, he cut the corner across the top of the lake to a place over on the northeast shore.  But the crowds followed him.

The next verse, verse 14 is really the key to understanding this whole passage.  “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”  “He had compassion” on the crowd.  This word translated here as compassion, in other translations, pity, this is a big word, an important word, a Gospel word, a kingdom of heaven kind of word.  The Greek word here is splanknidzomai.  It means Jesus was moved in his splankna, his guts.  We might say something like, “his heart went out to them.”  But it’s really more earthly than that, Jesus was moved in his guts, by the sight of the crowd.  This is not just pity, but divine pity.  Jesus saw the state of the people in the crowds that followed them.  He saw that they were sick and needing healing.  Maybe he was even reflecting on the nature of the leaders and governmental rulers they had like Herod who would rule in such arbitrary and capricious ways without regard for the people God had put in their care.  Maybe he could see how they hungered and thirsted for righteousness and desired for the kingdom of heaven to come completely and fully even already.  The Gospel writers don’t often give us a glimpse into the inner workings of Jesus but in this instance they do.

And Jesus was moved to compassion for the crowds and so he stopped mourning over the loss of his cousin and went to work.  It’s not wrong to mourn, I’m not saying that.  In fact, we should take great comfort in this picture of Jesus mourning the death of John the Baptist.  Jesus does not expect us to walk around all happy faced all the time despite what you see from TV preachers and what you might read in the “so called” Christian bookstores.  Jesus doesn’t put a burden on us to be happy in the face of sadness but merely to remember that he carries our burdens and mourns with us.  I think we often run the risk of over-spiritualizing.  We over-spiritualize the faith, Jesus, church, life.  We Lutherans have two tendencies, we can get all caught up in our heads about the faith but we also have a great corrective to this, the church supper.  The church supper can be a great corrective to over-spiritualizing.  Because I think we tend to get caught up in thinking about how Jesus is concerned with the state of our souls and sin and how much we pray and that kind of thing and we run the risk of thinking that Jesus isn’t too worried about our physical needs.  Notice that when Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion on them, he didn’t start teaching.  Now I’m not saying that would have been inappropriate, it certainly would have.  But Jesus is concerned with the people’s physical bodies and not just illness but a day’s hunger.  We are too often guilty of dividing up soul from body and thinking Jesus cares only for the soul.  All of this talk you sometimes hear from Christians about the body just being a shell.  You know the kind of talk I’m talking about.  We hear it at funerals a lot.  That’s not Christian talk.  That’s something else.  Actually that’s an ancient Greek religion that piggybacked on Christianity for a while called Gnosticism.  It’s a corruption of Christian teaching about the body.  Jesus cared about the physical needs of people.  He healed.  He fed.

And so moved to great compassion for the crowds, Jesus begins to heal them.  This is the setup for the great miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.  I’m already at page three and I haven’t even really talked about the miracle.  I guess it’s because I’m not hung up about whether Jesus can do miracles or not.  Jesus is true God and true man.  He has divine power to feed not just five thousand, but seven billion and more.  So I think it best to read the miracle as having happened just as Matthew records it.  Five small barley loaves and two small fish, a pretty good supper for a couple of folks that turned into a pretty good supper for five thousand men plus women and children.

They’re up in the Galilean wilderness along the lakeshore.  People did not pack a bag lunch to follow Jesus.  Ever notice how if you take someone to the hospital you forget to eat?  Same deal here.  And it came supper time and there was no cafeteria open.

The disciples notice the predicament they’re in and ask Jesus to send the crowd away.  And the next line is difficult to make sense of because we certainly don’t expect it.  Unexpectedly and forcefully, Jesus challenged the disciples to provide food for this vast crowd.  I think, the only way to understand this verse is to see in it the failure of the disciples to look to Jesus to provide.  I’ll admit, it’s a difficult verse.  The disciples don’t have anything to feed the crowds with but they do have the Messiah of God with them, he who fed Israel in the wilderness, and he who promised Israel to come and eat as we read today in Isaiah.  What is the takeaway?  Jesus is compassionate and powerful.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  Whenever you have doubts about God’s power to supply your needs, whether physical or spiritual, recall this miracle. Jesus is compassionate.  He knows your weakness and he provides not just for your spiritual needs but for your bodily needs as well.  We need but to ask him.

But there is one other major theme in this passage that I cannot pass up mentioning.  Matthew describes Jesus actions here, “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.”  Jesus took, gave thanks, broke and gave.  Those verbs should be quite familiar to you.  They are the same verbs used to describe how Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples.  Now I am not saying that Jesus is celebrating the Eucharist in the wilderness here.  However, I am saying that Jesus feeding the five thousand is connected to the Eucharist, and in that way all our eating at our own tables is really an extension of the Lord’s table.  This is why it is so important for Christians to give thanks at the table even if that table be in a restaurant.  What a bold confession of faith that this food which we are about to eat has come from God’s divine provision.  I have been thumping on about how God provides for our earthly needs.  He does this not just when we turn to him in prayer but each day at each meal as he gives us our daily bread.  Amen.

Heavenly Father, thank You for abundantly answering my prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Amen.

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