In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As long as men walk upon this earth, in their sinful, dying bodies, they are to eat their bread in the sweat of their brow and bear the heat and misery of the day.
Yet four thousand near the Decapolis forgot that reality one weekend. They followed Jesus without plan or supplies for three days. Then they found themselves suddenly awakened from their spiritual revelry, hungry, and having gone too far to turn back, with no place to buy or steal food. What would they do? Man eats his bread by the sweat of His brow. God provides through means.
The disciples ask, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”
There might be a little contempt in the question. What do the disciples mean by “these” people? The Lord once, for forty years, provided bread from heaven and quail in a desolate place for His people. The Lord once, only weeks before, multiplied loaves and fish for five thousand men plus women and children and these very disciples were the stewards who set the bread and fish before them and gathered up the leftovers in baskets. Have they forgotten? That is hard to swallow. Could it be then that there in this Gentile place, outside the confines of Israel, that “these” people are not “our” people? Could it be that the problem the disciples see is that the Lord does not provide, or should not provide, in their minds, for Gentiles?
It could be that is why the numbers are also different. It is factual but not just facts. It is not only in and out of the geography, but of the Jews it is five thousand men, echoing the five books of Moses, and here it is four thousand, echoing, perhaps the four corners of the earth, from which come all the Gentiles. There it was twelve baskets left over, one for each tribe. But here it is seven, perhaps for the seven Gentile nations that surrounded Israel. Our Lord does, Himself, emphasis these numbers.
We read a little later in Mark 8:
14 The disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat. 15 Then He charged them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” 16 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have no bread.” 17 But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? 18 “Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 “When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.” 20 “Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?” And they said, “Seven.” 21 So He said to them, “How is it you do not understand?”
The numbers matter. They are not accidental. The leaven of the Pharisees has nothing to do with bread but everything to do with the contagion of self-righteousness and mistakenly thinking that you can earn your way into heaven by an outward keeping of the Law. that was a particular vice of the Jews. Likewise there is a leaven of Herod that has nothing to do with bread. It is the contagion of worldliness,.that thinks there is no God, no Law, and lives only for itself and for pleasure. It is the particular vice of the Gentiles. “Beware those two things,” says Our Lord, and when they are confused He rebukes them and asks about how many leftovers He had at the feeding of the five thousand? Twelve. And how many had He at the feeding of the four thousands? Seven.
His point is this: I take care of both: pharisees and Herods. My grace is more than enough for either, for all, and provides in the same way, with that which they could never earn or expect, which they do not deserve, and always in desolate places for since the Fall the earth is all desolate, infected with thorns and thistles yet My mercy endures forever.
So how can the Lord provide for “these” people in a desolate place, a wasteland? By making them His people and giving them the bread of Life, by being the Lord whose mercy endures forever, the Lord who reconciles men to Himself in the death and resurrection of the Son, the living Redeemer who has come to snatch the prize away from Hell and stand in the gap Himself for us, the Lord who sheds His Blood to cut a new Covenant and gives that Blood as food and drink for men..
Moses did not give them bread from heaven It is Our Father who gave it and who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. God comes down from heaven in the Flesh of man conceived in St. Mary’s womb and hidden in bread for men to eat and be free of hunger and of death.
Here is bread that comes not by the sweat of the brow and toil, but by grace, for free, without effort: Jesus Christ. He provides in the desolate place, in the tempting place, the dying place. He feeds and nourishes and ends the curse, and our cups overflow, the baskets are full of leftovers, an abundance. What is there left for us to do but to sing His praise and thanks and bask in the glory of God’s perfect, feeding, redeeming love? Even if we die, we live. For we are Gentiles, sinners, no more, but the forgiven people of God on our way our of the desolate place headed to the promised land.
In +Jesus’ Name.
Pastor David Petersen