In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
We are a forgetful people, especially when it comes to the kindness of the Lord. This isn’t just a twenty-first century problem. This has been going on since Satan first slithered onto the scene and led Adam and Eve into sin. The same loving care which we heard about in today’s Old Testament Reading, that God formed Adam with His own hands, that He gave him everything in Eden except for one tree’s fruit, and that he was given creation’s pristine beauty in which to live, would soon be forgotten and exchanged for a lie, the belief that somehow God was holding out on the crown of His creation. And this sinful ignorance—sometimes accidental, sometimes deliberate—has continued on with all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve until today, and will continue on until the Last Day. For this very reason, the Church in her wisdom, has given us a near repeat of Gospel Readings. Just a few short months ago in Lent we heard about the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Today it is repeated, only this time with four thousand. Why the repetition? We forget about Our Lord’s mercies! Though we may forget, He does not.
Even when we forget, God is merciful to forgive, and He keeps Himself from getting angry. The proof of this is Jesus’ interaction with the disciples. Just a few chapters prior Jesus fed the five thousand and showed the disciples that He is Lord over all creation and will not let His children suffer want. Now just a short time later, Jesus gathers His disciples after teaching and healing for three days and lays out a situation almost identical to last time. You can almost see the Sunday School painting in your head: Jesus sitting on a rock on a hill, His disciples around Him, His arm outstretched towards the crowds, eyebrows raised, saying “They have nothing to eat.” Instead of Peter making His good confession now—“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”—he, along with the rest of the disciples, asks Jesus “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?” This is the polite Biblical version of saying “What am I supposed to do? Wiggle my nose and make bread appear?!” As forgetful as they may have been, as aggravating as this would be to any of us, what does Jesus do? Does He put His head in His hands, muttering? Does He call them fools? Does He immediately ascend into heaven and tell the Father that these people are idiots? No! But He certainly had every right to have righteous anger towards them. Instead Jesus asks calmly “How many loaves do you have?” To which came the curt response, “Seven.” And Jesus commands the people to sit down and He feeds them just as He fed the five thousand, miraculously and in an abundance far greater than they needed.
The point of this repeated miracle is that the disciples forgot everything Jesus had been revealing to them in His ministry to that point. They had witnessed healings, miraculous multiplications of food and drink, heard His preaching, and had other revelations of His Divinity, yet they didn’t quite get it. If we would have kept reading in Mark 8 we would have found out what happened after today’s assigned Gospel: the disciples traveled with Jesus and while traveling Jesus warned them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod, that is, to be on guard against the love of power and wealth, the act of focusing only on the physical side of things and forgetting the spiritual. Then He applied this to the two feedings they had just witnessed. He repeats that He had just miraculously fed nine thousand people and had nineteen baskets of food leftover, but all they could get out of this teaching was “Is He mad because we forgot to bring bread on this trip?” Then Jesus heals a blind man, showing the disciples that He didn’t come to give physical things, but to open their eyes to the merciful abundance that Jesus came to bring by way of forgiveness of sins and opening the kingdom of heaven to all who would believe. Then Peter gets it, after that he confesses who Jesus is. After Jesus lays it all out, piece by piece, Peter understands that all things are in Jesus’ control. Yes, He can take care of physical needs, but His chief concern is our spiritual health and wellbeing, that He has come to die to cancel sin’s debt and to rise to give His life to all.
So, what about you? How is your life going? Any problems? Have you run short on bread? Money? Health? Patience? Hope? Have you fallen away from the Christian life of holiness and given yourself over to sins you know you shouldn’t? Are you feeling the despair of the wilderness? Have you looked at your life and felt like giving up? Into all of this, into your dark despair comes Jesus Christ saying, “I have compassion.” And unlike the shallow compassion of others, Jesus is the One who doesn’t just say it or help once and then assumes everything is good. He gives it, continually, as a free gift. Just as Jesus saw the need of the people in the wilderness and gave them His compassion, He does the same for you today. He sees your need and He has compassion. He will not abandon you, whom He has purchased with His most precious Blood. He will not send you away hungry. Physically hungry, perhaps, but spiritually, never. And His help comes, not when you would like it to, when things are starting to go wrong, but when all other helps are exhausted. He comes when it looks like there is no hope, no resources, no solution. Just like He came when people were about to starve and die in the wilderness, He comes to you with His mercy, His compassion that never ends. He does this to show that here on earth there is no true help. He does this, He allows crosses to come when the last thing you think you need is another cross, to keep your eyes focused on heaven. Just like we heard in the Gradual, from Psalm 34: “I sought the Lord and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried out and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles” (Ps. 34:4-6).
What Jesus did in feeding the four thousand He still does today. Then He acted visibly, today invisibly. Then He nourished the body, today He nourishes the soul. Then He gave perishable bred, today He gives Himself, the true living Bread that is Life and gives life. Each Sunday He sees this multitude gathered in this church and around the world. Now, as then, He preaches. He speaks to us in Absolution, in the Readings, in the chants. After that He says again, “I have compassion on the multitude.” He knows that the week is long, and if He sends you away fasting to your home you will faint on the streets of daily life. So He feeds you, not with ordinary bread, but with bread that carries with it His very Body, and wine that gives His very Blood, food and drink that revive your fainting soul, and strengthen it to journey through another week. He gives this compassion week in and week out, sustaining you day by day to keep you until days and weeks are no more, until there is only eternity with Him in the heaven He has opened to you.
When the troubles of life are too much to bear, when it seems as if God has forgotten or abandoned you, come to this place, come to the Altar, to the true Food that keeps your soul satisfied. Come here, not to hide your weakness, but to boast in it, because Jesus knows it and He looks on you with compassion. He will not send you away empty, but will give you precisely what you need, when you need it, taking your weakness into Himself and giving you His righteousness. So be glad, and take heart, for the Lord has compassion on you, and He will never send you away hungry.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).