Feed Me Till I Want No More
Proverbs uses imagery of food as wisdom. Ps. 23 speaks of an overflowing cup and a prepared table. Is. 55 uses the figures of “wine and milk without money and without cost.” Then of course Jesus’ banquet parables, the Lord’s Supper, and finally the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in heaven. Every church I’ve served as well as several of the non-Lutheran churches I’ve visited say something like this: “Our church is all about food.” “You won’t leave here hungry.” The person saying this, thinks they’re saying something novel. That’s no more unique then each state I’ve lived in has the saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes and it will change.” But it’s true; the Church has always been about food. Elijha is fed by ravens and feeds a starving widow on meal and oil that doesn’t run out (1 Kin 17:4-14). Elisha feeds 100 men on 20 loaves and some grain (2 Kin 4:43). Moses gets water, mana, and quail for millions. And finally it starts in Eden with trees you can eat from and one you can’t. The Church has always been about food. Her constant prayer is, “Feed me till I want no more.”
Our text is the familiar feeding of the 5,000. The only miracle, aside from Jesus’ resurrection, that is found in all 4 Gospels. That says, “Pay attention.” This text reminds me of the 2009 movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. I don’t remember if I saw it with my kids or not. The title is great. It portends the happening of something unexpected. Something looming over a bad, difficult, tense situation.The disciples spell the situation out for Jesus. Using the same word from a couple of weeks ago, the disciples come up close and personal to Jesus and state the obvious. “This is a remote place; it’s already getting late; they need food. Send the crowds away.” Read the other accounts to find out how they bounced around the idea that 6 months wages couldn’t buy enough to feed them. Besides there was no place to buy anything. John tells you that Jesus initially raises the question of where to buy food with Philip. And adds, “Jesus said this said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.”
Is this how it is for us? Look around you; no rain; excessive heat day after day after day. Prices going up and up and up. A woke world with real wars and at war with reality. And what do we have? Sprinklers, coupons, and common sense. When they counted resources they say, “We have here only 5 loaves and 2 fish.” And before them in the wilderness were upwards of 20,000 hungry people. But it’s cloudy with a chance of meatballs because Jesus is on the scene there as He is here. He puts the problems, both yours, mine, and ours before our eyes, into our faces even, to test us “for Jesus Himself knows what He will do.” I think I just felt a drop of spaghetti sauce.
Something big is on the way. I’m thinking Harry Chapin’s 1974 song 30,000 Pounds of Bananas. But I should go back and make sure you know why all this is so intense for disciple and Master, for apostles and Jesus. Our text opens with, “When Jesus heard what had happened, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” What happened so that Jesus wanted to depart, wanted to avoid others? John the Baptist had been beheaded by King Herod at the request of a dancing girl. This is a horrible death. This is shocking. This is the burden Teacher and disciples come out into the wilderness carrying. We have weights; we have cares; we can be stunned so as to just want to be alone. But give the song 30,000 Pounds of Bananas a listen. A formidable load of food is coming your way.
But Jesus first turns the disciples inward saying, “These thousands of people don’t need to go away. You give them something to eat.” He doesn’t point to 30,000 pounds of anything. He points them to themselves. And how do they react? “We have here only 5 loaves and 2 fish.” And John adds, “But what are they among so many?”
A teen has gotten himself into a mess. He finally comes to his father to tell him. The father asks, “Have you considered all your options?” He says he has. And the father responds, “No you haven’t. You didn’t come to me for help.” This illustrates being “cumbered with a load of care. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” That hymn is understood wrongly if we think because we didn’t pray God dumped on us. But whatever we’re faced with: family, work, kids, spouse, neighbors, government, we’re wrong if we don’t go to our Lord for help. The fact we don’t think to exposes we’re no more believing than the apostles that Jesus has 30,000 pounds of anything at His beck and call. This is similar to Jesus being arrested and the disciples wanting to defend Him. He asks the apostles in Gethsemane, “Don’t you realize I have 72,000 angels at My disposal?” They didn’t. Do you?
Note well. This text proves faith doesn’t cause miracles because no one believes that 20,000 people can be fed with 5 fish and 2 loaves. But that doesn’t stop Jesus from saying, “Bring them to Me.” That means they had enough faith to bring the problem to Jesus. In that sense, unbelief can stop a miracle. Mt. 13:58 says, “Jesus did not do many miracles in Nazareth because of their unbelief.” If Jesus says, “Rise take up you bed and walk,” and you don’t stand up, you’ll remain crippled. If an Apostle refused to give the bread and fish to Jesus or take them from His hand, not believing He could do anything, he could’ve fed no one. However, the real barrier to going to Jesus for help; to expecting that He wants to and will help, is God’s law. God says those with clean hands and heart can come to Him. We look down and in and see nothing but dirt. It’s Pigpen dirt too. Wherever we go, there’s a cloud of dirt about us like fog.
We’ve never been told to go to God in our name, but Jesus’. The laws we can’t keep, excuse, or get round, Jesus did for us and our salvation. Whatever pain, problem, cumbered-care sits on you, there is no law of God forbidding you in Christ to approach His Mercy seat. But fear sits on my chest because I know what I deserve from God for the broken laws at my feet, in my heart and life. Yes, there is hell to pay in eternity and punishment in this temporal realm. But Jesus paid all that. Paying every last bit. In a video game, you’ve got to get the last man, the last tank, the last helicopter. You don’t even know where that might be, but when you get him, the game goes to slow motion, enemy banners are struck, and calm upbeat music plays. At the cross is where the last measure was paid and in your Baptism God Almighty declares for your side. Baptized into Jesus, you’ve won the battle against sin, death, and the Devil. Go ahead; see the enemy’s banner’s struck and a truck heading your way with 30,000 pounds of bananas.
Really what we have here is Cheeseburger in Paradise. That’s a 1978 song by Jimmy Buffet. I dare you to listen to that song and feel as bad as you did at the start. The song illustrates that Jesus answered their need with more than 30,000 pound of bananas. You can only eat so many bananas, but a cheeseburger? That can seem like down-right paradise. Jesus leaves clues that’s He’s going to something special. Matthew writes, “He directed the people to sit down on the grass.” That’s how all English translations have it, but that’s not a proper translation of anaklin? . Luther better translated that Jesus commanded them “to lie down” on the grass. This is the word for reclining at a feast, a marriage banquet, a special dinner.
They are in desolate place. We know they’re on a mountain side (Jn.6:3). It’s late March, early April, and John tells us there is much grass (6:10). Jesus commanding them to recline as if they are at a special feast let’s them know something extraordinary is about to happen. And we know it did because “they all ate and were satisfied.” The Greek word used is used of animals gorging themselves. It’s a strong graphic word meaning, “totally satisfied.” A Cheeseburger in Paradise will do that to you.
Jesus did in the words of St. Paul “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). Their unbelief, their misbelief, their lack of trust, their doubting, didn’t get in Jesus’ way. And Jesus doesn’t get lemons and make lemonade. Nope, He plants a lemon tree that grows to maturity, fruits, and ripens in a moment. The Cheeseburger in Paradise here is not only that all were totally satisfied, but the apostles took up 12 baskets of leftovers. This is what is behind the theology of not wasting food in your home. And 12 baskets, one for each Apostle, reminded them of Jesus’ power and their unwillingness to live life with that in mind. The 12 baskets also show that while they didn’t trust Jesus’ for food in the beginning, in the end, He entrusts His feeding to them.
We all have issues, problems, pains, not to mention Sin, Death, and the Devil stalking us day and night seeking to devour us. You would think that after seeing Jesus do more than they ask or think, provide cheeseburgers in a wilderness, they would go away singing, “I am trusting Thee Lord Jesus trusting only Thee.” Nope read Mark’s account in his 6th chapter. Jesus sends them away from this festal feeding to cross the Sea of Galilee at night. They are hit by a wind against them. Jesus comes walking to them on water. Great. They’re saved. Because they’ve just seem what their Jesus can do. Nope, It says “they were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves, their hearts were hardened.”
Harden not your heart to God’s power and might in Jesus’ Person and Work. He and what He does is all for you. Harden not your heart in the face of sins, sinfulness, suffering, sickness, crying or dying. Harden not your heart to His forgiving, comforting, presence at this Banquet of His Body and Blood here. Like St. Chrysostom exhorted, “Let us then return from that table like lions breathing fire, having become terrible to the devil;” (NPNF 14:166). And even if you can’t commune here, give heed to what the Pax Domini says. Take the Peace of the Lord that comes from the Body and Blood of Jesus on this altar and be fed by it always till you want no more. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, (20230813); Matthew 14:13-21