The miraculous feeding of the 4000 is before us today. Joined with the Old Testament reading of the creation of the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve, it is a good reminder that our Lord provides for us. At this time of year, the crops are either moving toward a good harvest, or we look out and see a wasted year. If it’s a good year, we need to be reminded that God is the giver, not our own hard work and genius. If it’s a bad year, it’s a good time to remember that God provides for us, even and especially in our need.
The feeding of the 4000 instructs us. We are not instructed directly: the sermons of Jesus in the wilderness are not recorded for us. As with the calling of Peter James and John a couple weeks back, we don’t have the Sermon recorded. If only we did! But even the miraculous works of our Lord are instructive to us as we consider how we are to live out our new life in this world.
Paul admonishes us – don’t live according to the old way, the world’s way. You remember what that was like, and now you are ashamed of what you used to do. Instead, live according to the Spirit. And Jesus gives us an example of how to do that in the Gospel. So let’s consider the word and work of Jesus today.
As Jesus feeds the 4000 we learn a lot about how God would have us manage our lives in this world. Firstly, we need not worry. As we heard back in Lent: Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. The fear of the Lord is beginning of wisdom. If we would be truly fed, it is not with bread for our mouths. Bread feeds our bodies in this world. But our bodies in this world – and the bread that feeds it – will all be brought to an end. The things we earn in this world will not matter when our Lord returns. On that day we will not be asked “How great was the bank account. How large were the fields” but “How did you attend to the word of the Lord.” To spend your life chasing after worldly things is to waste your time. To spend your time hearing and learning the Word of the Lord is to build an eternal treasure. Where is your heart, where is your treasure? It is in something that will pass away, or is it in eternal things? The best thing we can do with our time in this world is spend it on God’s Word – the promise of forgiveness life and eternal salvation given by Jesus through his suffering and death to all those who believe in his name. This will endure.
We do not let our bodies rule us, instead focusing on the Word and promise of God. But neither are we spirit-bodies. God gave us real flesh and blood bodies in this world. They are a gift from him. We do not despise them. They do need sustenance if we are to survive. This is why we pray in the Lord’s prayer “Give us this day our daily bread.” But notice – we pray God would give it to us. Daily bread is a gift of God. No rain, no grain, no bread. We think we have solved for God because we can ship grain around the world. Hunger is now more likely the result of political instability than famine. And yet, God can judge the nations by giving political instability to nations that forget him and despise his word. Wealth does not always stay. Technology is often forgotten. And if God wills it, we could be left scratching in the dust looking for food, and driven to pray once again “Give us this day our daily bread.” That is why, even in our great wealth, we must remember and acknowledge and thank God for his gift of daily bread. Without him giving it, it will not be there. And all the wealth we think we may have, all the security, can be taken in a moment. So our minds should always be directed toward God for our daily bread, and our thanks should always flow toward him.
And yet, while we should be in constant prayer, that does not mean that we do not also work and labor for our bread. Daily bread is consecrated through the Word of God and prayer. But Prayer does not make work unnecessary. True, with just a little bread and fish Jesus feeds the multitude. They don’t work for it. But he is feeding them because they have run out of food for the sake of hearing the Word of God. They were not concerned with earthly things when they went to hear him, as we so often are and are kept away from the Word of God and prayer.
They freely went to hear him, and stayed beyond all reasonableness to hear him speak. And so he miraculously feeds them, before sending them back on their way. God could have fed them with manna falling from heaven, as he did with ancient Israel. He could have changed stones to bread. But he takes from what was there – what little remains that was brought according to the regular pattern of life. That’s the food he multiplies.
The Old Testament reading is the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were placed there to work and tend it, and so be fed by their labors. Their labors were light, their burden easy and delightful. It is only with sin that thorns, thistles, and heavy burdens come into the world. Now, our daily bread must be earned by the sweat of our brow. Weeds threaten the crop, weather threatens it, many thorns arise to make the work unpleasant. For farmers it is literal thorns. For others, difficult work, problems of every sort, conflicts and so on. All those things are a judgment against sin. And we must endure it if we will earn our daily bread. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still given by God in his mercy to us.
We are blessed to hear and be instructed in the truth: God the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, has given us body and soul, eyes ears, and all our members, he also gives us clothing and shoes, meat and rink, house and home, all that we need to support this body and life.
God created a wonderful order where we are fed by the work of our hands, and so learn and grow to depend on God even through our work and our labor, knowing that he gives the increase.
We are to trust in the Lord in every need. The world tells us we are foolish to do so. That we should abandon the Lord, not take time to worship. And yet we look at scripture and see that it does not lie to us. The Lord does provide for us. In the Law of Moses the people had to trust the Lord to provide. Last week we heard the third commandment, “Remember the sabbath Day to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor and work. The seventh is a sabbath – a rest.” In Exodus, it specifically mentions that this rule also and especially applies during harvest. Work six days, rest the seventh. And God did not mean one short hour to hear the Word and then return to what they were doing. He meant all 24 hours as a rest. It was a show of faith that God would take care of them. You can almost see the people watching the horizon anxiously on the sabbath day during harvest, praying that the weather holds so they can finish the seven days of work in six days, and the weather would not destroy their crop while they were idle. Today, our burden is lessened – we need not sit idle for an entire day. That command applied only in the Old Testament. And yet we struggle even to trust God enough to take time for worship.
There is a great lesson for us in this. God gives times and places to hear and learn his word, and we should attend it. Luther says in the Large Catechism, “We must know that God insists upon a strict observance of this commandment, and will punish all who despise His Word and are not willing to hear and learn it, especially at the time appointed for the purpose.” The church gathers to receive the blessings of the Lord. But those who will not come because of the blessing offered here: Forgiveness, life, salvation, place themselves under the judgment of God. We must not despise his word, but gladly hear and learn it. That is the blessed path of Life that Paul talks about in the Epistle. To neglect the Word of God and the time of worship in favor of worldly pursuits – no matter how important – is dangerous and builds a foundation of sand. What we do will not prosper, even if we seem to have worldly success. It will not last. It will fade away. Our time is much better spent on the Lord’s day first and foremost in prayer and worship, gladly hearing and learning God’s Word and being instructed in the way we should go, humbly receiving the gift of salvation as we bow before the throne of the Lamb, as we approach the table of the Lord to receive his good gifts.
A few final notes. Jesus has the people sit down in groups. They are hungry, but he doesn’t have them rushing up like pigs at the trough. Instead, everything is done decently and in good order. Paul admonishes the Corinthians to behave that way in their church services. Beyond that, Paul encourages us to pray for kings and all in authority – all those to whom we owe obedience and respect in this world – so that as he says, “We may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” This is why Luther structures the day of the Christian to begin with prayer “I thank you my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ my dear Lord, that you have kept me this night from all harm and danger…” and so on. We go to our work meditating on our duties in the Ten Commandments, we stop at meal time to give thanks to God for the food and drink, and when the day is over, we pray again, asking forgiveness for those areas where we sinned, and commending our lives to him as we rest. The next day, we get up and do it again. We live disciplined lives according to Christ, basking in the knowledge of salvation and the gift of forgiveness which we are given by the death of our Lord Jesus.
And we also see here Jesus concern for the hungry. We’ve talked a lot this Trinity season about caring for those in need, because scripture talks a lot about it. We do not live for ourselves and our own enrichment. Rather, we use the blessings we are given in this world as an opportunity to show love to our neighbor, and to tell him about the love of Jesus, who died for us so that we would have life. This is the Christian life in a nutshell: Trusting God for every good thing, placing our confidence in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and serving our neighbor according to our calling and vocation. And in this we rest.
May the Lord grant us wisdom to see this each day, grateful hearts to give thanks to him, and may he grant us the grace to abound in good works toward our neighbor according to his love and mercy. Amen.