May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, in whose name this message is given.
Our dear Lord Jesus knew what loss was. In the beginning of our Gospel reading for today, we are shown a portrait of Jesus in mourning and loss. Jesus had just heard of the violent death of John the Baptist and Forerunner of Christ: the man who had been sent to prepare the way for the Christ, the man who had leapt in his mother’s womb in the presence of the unborn Lord and His mother. The man who baptized Jesus himself. John was most likely a friend of the Lord and undoubtedly an assistant to His ministry.
Jesus just wanted to be alone. He wanted to sort out His grief and mourn for His loyal messenger who had just died such a gruesome death. So He got into a boat by Himself and went to a solitary place. It was certainly an understandable response to the loss of a loved one. But such an important man as Jesus could not find a solitary place.
Matthew tells us, “when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.” What was it that the crowds heard? Was it that Jesus was near? If that was the case, then their following was not very considerate. Maybe they were coming to console Him. Maybe they too had heard about the death of John and wanted to mourn with Jesus. The death of John was also a loss for them. John was a well-known teacher and had quite a following. Maybe these multitudes wanted to mourn with the man they perceived as John’s successor. Certainly Jesus would know what to do. Surely He would have some words of encouragement or at least their sorrow would have company with His.
Whatever their motivation, the crowd did not perceive that Jesus was so much more than John, or any other teacher or prophet they had encountered before. “When he [Jesus] went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” When Jesus has compassion He gives more than comforting words or a pat on the back, He works miracles. He shows the love and power of God.
Our Gospel lesson for today says He had compassion on these people. Jesus’ earthly ministry was all about compassion. In Matthew 9:36 we are shown a motivation for His compassion that likely applies to this situation too. “He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The crowd that met Jesus on the shore was without doubt “harassed and helpless.” John, the Messenger of Christ and their teacher and Baptizer, was gone. They were sick in body and soul and couldn’t heal themselves. So Jesus, who was their shepherd and who is our shepherd, healed them with His great love and power.
Our Lord’s own emotional needs to mourn the death of His faithful messenger were cast aside. He, like the Good Shepherd that He is, put all of His own feelings and needs aside so He could tend His flock. Jesus had compassion on them and healed them. He showed them His love and power. Matthew doesn’t say how many He healed, or from what afflictions, or how He did it. Matthew doesn’t even spend much time on this miracle. The disciples had been with Jesus long enough to know that He could do such things. It was becoming a “normal” thing. To be with Jesus was to see extraordinary things. Jesus had a special understanding and mastery of human ailments and disorders. It was no big deal that He should heal these people.
There were a lot of people in that crowd that needed to be healed, well over 5,000. It was getting late. The disciples knew Jesus would stay all night and heal His beloved flock, but they, and the crowd, were getting tired and hungry. The crowds had come out from the town on foot and were grimy with dust and sweat. There were no provisions for these people, it was a desolate place. There was no plumbing, no drinking water, no food, no comfort and no rest.
The disciples saw that it was getting late and felt they needed to do something. They could see their dear Master was exhausted from His grief and healing the crowd. So they took matters into their own hands. Can’t you hear the concern in their words? “Jesus, don’t you worry, we know these people need to get going, we’re out in the middle of nowhere and it’ll take awhile to get back to town. We know you’re tired and maybe not thinking clearly with all the commotion. So we’re telling you it’s ‘ok’ to send these people to the town to get some food and go on home.” Sounds perfectly reasonable to me! The disciples were tired, some of them were sick of the smelly crowd; many of them were concerned for Jesus’ well-being. He was their Master, but they knew that He would just get too caught up in helping the people. They knew better than He did and were just trying to help. For the sake of their Master’s health and His ministry they had to take matters into their own hands.
Jesus was the Master, though, and He had one more miracle to show them before the day was over. To make it stick in their minds even better He presented the disciples with the impossibility of what He was about to do. “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Outrageous! They only had five loaves and two fish, barely enough for them, let alone all these people. Jesus must have been really tired and hurting from the news about John. Poor Jesus. If He only understood how little they had and how many people there were He would understand. But of course, the disciples knew better and would just chalk this crazy talk up to grief and exhaustion.
Jesus had no interest in what the disciples could offer or what they could do for the crowd. He knew they could do nothing. Jesus was interested in what He could offer and do for the crowd. With the five loaves, two fish and a blessing, Jesus showed His love and power. Despite the disciples disbelief Christ showed forth His awesome power. Jesus fed the people, every last one of them, until they were so full they were throwing bits and pieces that wouldn’t fit into their full stomachs on the ground. With meager rations that would not have even satisfied the disciples for a meal, Jesus satisfied over 5,000 people. He filled their cup to overflowing. This crowd came to Him with nothing, “without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1) and He filled them with twelve basketfuls left over, one for each of the disbelieving disciples.
“And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.” Jesus worked a great and astonishing miracle that day. He did it because He loved the people and wanted to fill their needs. Jesus would continue to show His love and power to people throughout His ministry. Despite abuses and humiliation, Jesus gave all people, without money and without price, without any works of their own, the food they so desperately needed to be satisfied.
After dying on the cross for the sins of all, He rose in glory and victory! He showed His love and power for you, and you, and you and me and all sinful people. His death paid the penalty of all sins, from the very first bite of that fruit in the garden to the very last evil thing that will ever be done before His glorious return. Again, He invites all to come to Him, without money and without price, and be filled in body and soul.
Dear friends, Christ’s work did not end at His death and resurrection. This work of Jesus feeding a crowd and satisfying their needs was not the only time He would show concern for the physical needs of people. He continues to satisfy us to this day. Despite our sin and forgetfulness of His great sacrifice, He continues to show us His love and power. He provides us with homes, food, relative prosperity and safety. He also provides us with all our soul’s needs as well: total and free forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. Jesus satisfies our physical needs and He fills our soul’s needs by providing us with His atoning death on the cross and the means of His grace in Word and Sacrament.
We are often like the disciples. We don’t want to bother Jesus. We think we can just do it on our own. But, despite our best efforts to make it on our own, Christ still works for us and in us. In the Gospel Christ worked for the people by showing His love and power in a miracle. But Christ did not want them to simply see a miracle; He wanted them to see the complete fulfillment and satisfaction He offers. He doesn’t want us to only see a miracle. He wants to show us, His dear flock, His complete love and power that was shown perfectly on the cross and at His resurrection.
He continues to show His love and power in the waters of baptism. By the washing of the water along with the Word, which is Christ, we are made new. He shows His love and power by the preaching of His Word. By hearing His life-giving Word we have the sure knowledge that we cannot obtain salvation on our own but that He has won it for us and has forgiven all our sins. He shows us His power and love when we come to the altar to be fed by His very body and blood. Jesus is in the midst of this crowd feeding us without money and without price. We need not leave this place empty, for Christ has filled us to overflowing with His love and power!
Let us pray:
Dear Lord and giver of life, You have shown Your immeasurable love for us in the Person and Work of Jesus. We come to you in need and you have compassion on us. Feed us, oh Life giver, that we may be ever satisfied. Now, oh Holy Father may your peace, which surpasses all human understanding guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.