What is the difference between the feeding of the 4,000 and the feeding of the 5,000? Read this week’s sermon to find out.
The Garden of Eden was ready. Even before God formed Adam from the dust of the ground, he provided food and water. Adam has done nothing at this point to deserve these things. He hasn’t even been made yet. God provides them out of his goodness and mercy. He lovingly creates Man and Woman, forming Adam from the dust of the ground, and Eve from Adam’s rib. And then He places them together in Eden, where they are to tend the garden.
When Adam and Eve sin, then thorns and thistles come up alongside grains and fruit. Instead of being a pleasant and joyous thing, work becomes a struggle to survive. By the sweat of your brow you will eat, until you return to the dust. Instead of fertile land that grows nutritious food to feed us, the land is filled with weeds, the rains stop, then when they come back the floods or the hail come with them. Rather than the ground being watered every day by a mist sent from God, there are weather problems of every sort. The ground is no longer as fertile, the weather no longer as good.
In the Gospel Reading, Jesus finds himself in the wilderness, where there is nothing to eat. Any food that the people brought with them – food earned by the sweat of their brow – is gone. They have been in the wilderness for three days. For the sake of those who have travelled from afar, Jesus plans to feed them, lest they faint on the way home. The raw materials? Seven loaves and a few small fish. Not enough to feed forty. There are a hundred times that.
Jesus does not seem at all concerned. After all, he is the one who was there at the beginning, when Eden was first planted, when the ground first brought forth fruit – good fruit, with no rot, no destruction by insects, or hail or flood or fire. Without Jesus nothing was made that has been made. And so, mankind itself, made in the image of God, has Jesus to thank for its existence. Multiplying loaves and fish? Nothing really. Jesus never even asks that it be done. He simply gives thanks and distributes.
The people are fed with food from God, as Adam and Eve were before them. As the children of Israel were in the desert. This was not their doing. Adam and Eve were given a fruitful garden. The children of Israel were given manna from heaven every morning, and now the people listening to Jesus are given bread and fish. This isn’t just Jesus making snacks for everyone. This is Jesus undoing the curse given in the garden. You will eat by the sweat of your brow, has now become bread and fish for all.
And yet the point of Jesus isn’t to give out bread that fills the belly for a day. The specific circumstances of this miracle are important – the people had come to hear him. It had been three days of teaching. There was no food nearby, and the disciples could not have paid for it if there had been. Comparisons are made to the Divine Service itself. We come to hear the word of Christ, and then at the end are fed. Of course, the food here from the table of the Lord is not merely bread. It is the very body of our Lord, the food that remains to eternal life.
There are two feeding miracles of Jesus. This is the second, the lesser feeding miracle. Seven loaves and a few fish for 4000. During Holy Lent we hear of five loaves and two fish for 5000. That’s the one that comes with the sermon about Jesus feeding with his own flesh. Today, in the middle of the summer, with the farmer’s crops in the ground, and prayers ascending that the harvest will be enough to support us another year, we are reminded that food or not food is all the same to Jesus. This miracle differs from the 5,000 because it does not focus on Jesus, who feeds us with his body and blood in the holy supper. It focuses on Jesus, who gives the sun and rain to make the food grow, who, in spite of thorns and thistles that we have earned by our sin, continues to take care of us, to provide for us, year after year.
Today we are reminded that, as part of God’s love and mercy, we are sustained in this life from day to day and year to year, not because of our merit or worthiness, but solely because of the loving mercy of our heavenly Father who provides for us. It may not always be as richly as we desire. There are times when we may not be as bountifully blessed as others. And there are times of sickness and times of sorrow. But our heavenly Father, in his mercy, sustains us. He takes care of us each day, foods, clothes, and shelters us.
And yes we live in a world of thorns and thistles, of death and decay, but that is our doing not his. There was never supposed to be death in the world. We brought that in. And now, we see the consequences of our actions around us. It does not matter how good we try to be, the sin remains, and will not go away in this world. The wages of sin is death. It is our Heavenly Father – the one who lovingly formed you in your mother’s womb, who continues to take care of you from day to day, this same heavenly Father, that sent his Son Jesus Christ to undo the curse of sin. And you can not earn this, any more than the people on that day earned bread from heaven. It was given by Jesus in love. And the bread and fish on that day to sustain them on their way home, was only prelude to the body and blood shed on the cross to give them eternal life. That is what Jesus came for. He teaches, bringing God’s Word to you, but most importantly he forgives your sin. He frees you from the curse of the law, from the wages of sin. Paul says, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”
Jesus continues to feed – not with food that spoils as he did that day, but with food that remains to eternal life. Jesus at one point says that if God takes care of the sparrows, which are sold for two a penny, how much more will he take care of you? If he takes care of the grass of the field, and clothes it so that it exceeds even Solomon’s splendor, will he not also take care of you?
And if your heavenly Father cared enough to send his only son to die in your place so that you would have forgiveness of sins, will he not certainly take care of you, not only in this world as it relates to the needs of the body, but also in eternal things: Forgiving, making holy by Jesus blood and righteousness, sustaining you in this faith as he feeds you with food that does not spoil, and finally, after you finally die for the last time to sin in this world, taking you to be with himself, where there are no more tears or crying or pain.
He has promised and he will do it. Do not be faithless, but believe. Thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.