In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Lord’s compassion is not mushy. He doesn’t think they’re cute. He isn’t interested in them in the way in which we are interested in baby seals or dolphins. His compassion comes entirely from within Himself. There is no worthiness in us, no comeliness. Thus does He move to help them not just with immediate needs, bread for the day, but with eternal needs, Bread of Life.
They didn’t get there by accident. The Holy Spirit drove Him out into the desert, now He has drawn His people out, out of the city, away from their storage barns, out of their false sense of security. There is no turning back. They’ve come to far, been too short-sighted. They are helpless, right where they need to be, where He wants them. Luther’s dying words still ring true: “We are all beggars.”
Beggars are best off when they know they are beggars.
The Lord’s compassion isn’t simply to feed them when they are hungry. His compassion makes them hungry, makes them feel the pain, that they would learn from whence cometh their help. Their help cometh from the Lord.
So they sit down upon the barren earth. Its bounty will only come to them at His Word. Mother earth has no compassion. She doesn’t care if they starve. She doesn’t care if they become the prey for lions or ants or each other. It turns out the baby seals and dolphins don’t think we’re cute. It is a one way street. There are no vegetarian dolphins or seals. They feel no remorse for killing their prey. Nature has no compassion. Repent. We are all beggars. We have no rights. Mother earth will crush us or drown us or just forget us. What are we to her?
The Lord has compassion. At His Word, mother earth gives up her bounty, whether she wants to or not. The Lord has become a Man, thus Man finally has dominion over the earth as He was meant to have. At His bidding the dogs come to lick our sores, the dolphin pushes the child into shallow water, the earth produces fruit and God turns wheat, grapes, and milk into bread, wine, and milk. Even the honey bee works for us. Because the Lord has compassion.
The feeding of the five thousand emphasizes the apostolic character of Christ’s feeding. He feeds through the Apostles. Here, again, in the feeding of the four thousand, the holy apostles distribute the bread and fish, but the number seven comes into play instead of twelve. Seven is also a combination of three and four, the number of God and the number of creation. Twelve is the number of Israel, of the tribes, the patriarchs, and then the apostles. Seven is the number of the cosmos and indicates the operation of the Holy Spirit. Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit out upon the apostles on the eve of the Resurrection. In a barren place, the Lord feeds His people by the Spirit at the apostles’ hands.
These miraculous feedings were not simply one of the Lord’s miracles. First off, they were a reenactment of the feeding of Israel as she wandered in the desert indicating that Jesus is the prophet like Moses named after Joshua. But these miracles also hit a lot more people than any of his other miracles. What we call the “feeding of the five thousand” with women and children was probably somewhere near 15,000. He performed this miracle twice. The only other group miracle related to it is the turning of water into wine. All His other miracles are more of less one-on-one. He heals one leper, one blind man, one demon-possessed person at a time. But here He provides bread and fish for everyone. Thus these are the defining acts in His public life. This is what He is known f
or and are also the best indication that He was the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes, that is, that He is the Messiah.
These miracles, along with the wedding in Cana, foreshadow the mystery of the Lord’s Supper. This is where we find our identity, source, and mission. The multiplication of bread is most defining miracle of Our Lord’s public Ministry. It fulfills the feeding of Israel in the desert with Manna. And it informs the Sacrament of the Altar which defines us. The Sacrament of the Altar is the essence of the Church. It is not only why we gather, it is what gathers us. Here Our Lord promises to be present for us in His risen Body and Blood and to join us to Himself. Here we find refreshment and strength, acceptance and security. Here we find the fruits of the earth put to their most noble purpose and also come our own excellence.
We are all beggars and beggars fulfill their calling, are at their beggarly best, when they are being fed by charity.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.