March 30, 2014 A+D
St. John 6:1-15
“Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.” (Isaiah 49:13)
Behold the Lord’s compassion: He feeds an ungrateful and unprepared people in the wilderness. Behold, how love proceeds: He has the people sit down. Behold, how He condescends: He waits upon them as though they were lords. Behold, what generosity: the people eat as much as they want, and, though it were worth more than 200 denarii, they eat it for free.
The Passover was at hand. Most of those 5000 men, plus women and children, who had skipped out into the desert seeking a miracle working distraction were probably pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. Tensions were high that Spring. John had just been murdered by Herod. The Sanhedrin was actively plotting against the Lord. And Rumors of war, of Elijah’s return, and of the end times were abundant. Jesus was accumulating a reputation for trouble and excitement. He was the obvious center of the storm.
Those 5000 men, plus women and children, were not His disciples. It is unlikely that many of them, if any of them, had been baptized by John. It is equally unlikely that many of them understood either that He was the Messiah or what the Messiah was promised to be and to do. Their wandering out into the desert beyond their provisions, so far that they might perish on the way home, was not to their credit. It demonstrated that they were flighty and feckless. They were like sheep without a shepherd and did not know what they sought or what they needed.
Behold the Lord’s compassion: He feeds an ungrateful and unprepared people in the wilderness. And if they were unworthy of the miracle before it happened, if they did not deserve the bread and fish that He gave, they are worse after it is over. They declare Him to be the Prophet like Moses come into the world, the fulfillment of the Passover, yet, at the same time, they seek to seize Him by force. To them He is the goose that lays golden eggs and nothing more.
The Passover was at hand – more than they knew. Its blood and terror, its promise and rescue, and its ultimate deliverance from both slavery and death were all at hand in the One who gave them bread and fish to sustain them on their way to Jerusalem. He is the Prophet to Come who defeats and crushes the serpent Pharaoh’s head, who baptizes us not in an Egyptian river but in water and blood from His side, whose death sets His people free. He is King Messiah come in peace for mercy’s sake.
As it was for those 5000, plus women and children, so it is for us. The Lord has compassion on His afflicted. Our faith has not been pure. Our hope has been sputtering. Our love has been missing. We have sought to seize the Lord by force and squeeze out a few golden eggs. We are victims of our sins and of the sins of others. We have hurt ourselves and those we loved and also have been hurt. Wars and rumors of wars, the loss of religious liberty, and the threat of oppressive taxes and other injustices are all around us.
The Lord has compassion. He would have us sit down and stop fussing. He would have us rest and receive from Him double mercy for each punishment we deserve and for each hardship we’ve endured.
Trusting in this goodness and great mercy, in His holy promises, dependent upon His compassion, let us come to the Sacrament of Holy Communion as the sick to their Healer, as those hungry and thirsty and in danger of fainting on the way home to their Fountain of life, and as beggars declared to be the desired and immaculate Bride by the King of heaven. Let us marvel that while we have great need, and are in many troubles, so also, by His grace and Spirit, we have great desire for what He gives. He preaches the Law in mercy. He exposes our sins to awaken us from slumber. He makes us hungry in the desert of this world so that we would seek satisfaction in His love. It is not we who go to Him, but it is He who comes to us in this Sacrament where He bridges heaven and earth.
Who are we that He should offer Himself to us? To Him we are beloved sheep. We are in need of a Shepherd. We are pilgrims on our way to the new Jerusalem. We are solitary, orphans, who desperately need a Father. And the Lord has compassion on His afflicted.
Let us confess then not only our unworthiness, but also His goodness. Let us praise His mercy and give thanks for His immense love. Rejoice! Sing His praise! What He has done, He has done in compassion, for pity’s sake, without any merit in us. And thus His mercy and His grace are all the more amplified.
The love of Christ never grows less. The wealth of His mercy is never exhausted. Rejoice for He has turned His face upon you with compassion. As He feeds you today, let it be as great, as new, as sweet to you as if it were the day that Christ became man in the womb of the Virgin, or the very moment when He hanged on the Cross and said, “It is finished,” or the very day in which He rose and spoke peace anew to the Twelve. You, His afflicted, behold His compassion.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Some material borrowed from Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1996), 236–239.