You're Not Going to Believe This!
After Sunday school, a mom asks her 10-year-old about the class. He said it was about Moses crossing the Red Sea. His mother asks him to tell her the story. He says, "Well Moses got this pump that drained the water and a bulldozer to clear the way and..." His mother interrupted. "Is that what really happened?" "No," he replied, "but if I told you what really happened, you'd never believe it." It's true; adults outgrow some things they shouldn't
You're not going to believe that God almighty withdraws. That word for withdraw' can refer to just going back, leaving one place for another. But it can mean to retire, take refuge. That's the meaning here. The text says after Jesus heard something He withdrew. What did He hear? That John the Baptist, in prison for preaching that King Herod was guilty of sexual immortality, had been beheaded. The king's stepdaughter had beguiled him and his birthday party guests with a dance and was told she could ask for anything she wanted. She asked for John's head on a platter. She got it.
Need I go into detail here? It is disconcerting to be reminded of people you have known, perhaps loved ones, who have died violently. You can't make sense of it. You are unnerved by it. You feel vulnerable to the devil and betrayed by God. You want to withdraw to someplace safe. The text doesn't say what Jesus was feeling only that He took refuge.
The text also doesn't tell you what Mark does. The apostles had just returned from their first missionary journey. They regale Jesus with all they had done and taught. Then Jesus says, "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while." And Mark tells you why He said it: "For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat."
Out text leaves us with the bear fact that God almighty withdraws. He from whom the mountains skip and jump, the heavens flee, and before whom every knee will bow, withdraws.' One thing you learn from reading first person battle accounts is that one man fleeing can turn many more and a commanding officer so unnerved can take everyone with him. I'm not saying Jesus is a coward. I'm saying He withdraw and took virtually the whole church with Him. But there is comfort here because while fleeing in battle usually means a loss of guts' what Jesus does here takes guts.'
Oops. Didn't finish the story. When Jesus gets to the lonely place He wishes to withdraw to for rest, He finds a crowd waiting for Him. And the text says, "And He had compassion on them." That's the word used only of Jesus in the New Testament and it means to be moved in one's bowels. You know this gut feeling'; you see something that hits you like a punch in the gut; you have butterflies. God Almighty has guts; He's moved in a physical way just like you are. Though tired, bedraggled, and mourning, He is moved to deep compassion for sinners such as you.
Can you believe that? I don't think the disciples did based on what happens next. And therefore, I can't believe how this ends. Instead of filling the disciples' coffins with their bodies as their unbelief deserved, God Almighty fills them with bread. I'm playing off the Greek word translated by the insert as "basketfuls." It's better translated baskets' and it's the Greek word kophinos from which our word coffin' comes from. Now don't think I think these baskets were coffins. They weren't. They were wicker baskets of various sizes. They were considered typical of Jews and were used for carrying Levitically clean food. But they should have been coffins for the 12. Follow the text.
First, they acted like Jesus didn't know where He is. They come to Jesus and say, "This is a remote place." Jesus is the one who had said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a remote place." It's the same Greek word, but they act like Jesus doesn't know this is a remote place with no food for the thousands of who have followed Him here. I don't know how you react when a child tells you something you obviously know as if you don't know it. I don't react well.
Second, they acted like Jesus was keeping the crowds against their will. "Send the crowds away" is how the insert translates but the first meaning of this word is "set free." Then "release" as in a captive. Our text says Jesus was healing their sick. Mark says He was teaching them. Luke says He was speaking to them of the kingdom of God and curing them. Do you think these who Mark says Jesus had a gut feeling for because they were like sheep without a shepherd were being held against their will by the Good Shepherd? There is about 20,000 people here. Do you think those waiting to be healed, to be cured wanted to be dismissed? Yet that's precisely what the 12 commanded Jesus to do. They command Jesus, "You must release the crowd."
Again, I don't know how you react when a child commands you to do something, I don't take it well. Not only don't I do what they command me to, I do what they don't expect. Punish or reprimand them. They sure don't get a basket full of bread and fish for themselves.
You can't believe the chosen 12 apostles could talk this way to Jesus, to Almighty God in flesh and blood. You can't believe the wrath of God doesn't instantly break out against them. So, you're sure not going to believe how the 12 got to such a disbelieving place. That have come back from a missionary journey where they cast out demons and healed people by the command and power of Jesus, but now they are so unbelieving? Wow, that sounds like me.
The 12 were so focused on where here' was that they forgot who was here' with them. The word here' is used twice. Once by the 12 and once by Jesus. When they confront Jesus with the problem of feeding the thousands, Jesus says. "You feed them." They reply. "We have here only 5 loaves and 2 fish." Jesus replies, "Bring them here to Me." In the hands of the Bread of Life, there was more than enough here to feed the whole world. But they had forgot that. They forgot who bought them here to this lonely place. Who stayed with them here. And what the Almighty could do here, there, and everywhere. Are you believing this?
Often, I've referred to a sign in the 70s off the Kansas Turnpike in a huge wheat field. In big letters, it proclaimed: "This Kansas Farmer feeds 150 people.and YOU!" The God-Man feeds 10,000 adults and 10,000 kids which would take about 8,000 pounds of bread and fish in a wilderness, and you can't believe He can, does, or will feed you with grocery stores mere blocks apart?
Yes, God Almighty works through means. Grocery stores are means. Your job is a means. The rain cycle, seed cycle, harvest cycle are all means. But God Almighty isn't limited to what man or nature can do. He created to begin with out of nothing, He needs nothing from you or nature to continue to feed you.
You can believe that the wrath of God doesn't break out against the disciples in the face of their treating Jesus like He doesn't know where He is and commanding Him what to do, but you can't believe it in your case. You can't believe He answers Habakkuk's prayer: "In wrath remember mercy." You can't believe that all of God's wrath against your sins, the disciples' sins, all sins, was taken out on God the Son crucified on the cross. You can believe what John points out that Jesus is the Lamb of God that carried away the sins of the world, but not your sins. Your sins are still with you up close and personal. Because you can't forget them, God must remember them even though God flatly says, "I remember their sins no more." "I've thrown them behind My back." "I don't count iniquities." "I don't reward them according to their sins."
I am not giving you an excuse to sin as the 12 did against God Almighty. I'm telling you a greater sin is not to believe your sins were on the crucified Christ; were covered by the blood He shed there; were declared atoned for by God's resurrection of Jesus. A greater sin is not to believe your sins are washed away in Baptism; sent away in Absolution; and consumed by the Body and Blood of Jesus you consume.
You've heard of Jesus Feeding the 5,000 since you were just a kid, but did the wonder of it burn out long ago? Was this part of the childish things that you put away? It's not supposed to be. What you believed as a child, you are to believe today. O you believe that as the text says God Almighty in the Person of Christ has a gut feeling for these shepherdless sheep, but what you have grown out of wrongly put away as a childish thing is that He has a such a deep, gut-level, compassion for you that He provides a shepherd in flesh and blood for you.
You're not going to believe this, but He provides for you despite your sins and even when you don't believe He can. That's what you see in the text. It wasn't recorded by the Holy Spirit for them but for us who would come later. So, you are to believe that for Jesus' sake God is giving you food and drink, house and home, spouse, land, animals, and all you have. You are to believe that all this He does only out of Fatherly divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in you.
You are to believe what it impossible for anyone on their own to believe that God for Jesus' sake answers every prayer for daily bread: He gives you money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, good government, good weather, peace, health, and self-control. You are to believe this because Jesus bought and paid for all of this by every painful tear drop, by every miserable drop of sweat, and by every drop of blood He bled.
But something happens as we grow. While we are to grow out of some things, we're not to outgrow Jesus, His Word, Sacraments, promises, compassion, and power. Kids can go through a phase of the monster under the bed. We want them to outgrow believing that, but we never want them or us to grow out of seeing the angels around our bed, the Lord having compassion on us, and providing for us even in life's lonely places. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (20170820); Matthew 14: 13-21