Like I'd Do Better
When reading of the failings of God’s people do you wonder, “How could they?” The OT church is delivered by means of 10 miraculous plagues from slavery and they complain that Moses has brought them out so they could die in the wilderness. Jesus feeds 5,000 then 4,000 out of more or less thin air and still the disciples think their forgetting to take food is a problem for Jesus (Mt. 16:6-7). I’d do better. No I wouldn’t.
When confronted with a problem I tend to look at everyone and everything else but me. It takes Jesus to get me to look at self. How so? Look at the text. Jesus presented His disciples a problem to show them the limits of their thinking. The text even says He did it to test Philip and presumably the others too. Jesus says, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” We know from the other accounts, there were upwards of 15,000 people here. We know that they are in a lonely place but there were villages “round about” from which they could buy food. Where shall we buy bread assumes there is somewhere to buy it from, but the “where” is not the point Philip takes Jesus up on.
That’s a moot point to Philip. They don’t have enough money to buy enough for everyone to have even a bite. They have no resources to get the job done. Andrew confirms Philip’s assessment: all they have is a boy’s lunch containing 2 fish, and they’re small, and 5 small loaves of the low class barely bread. Again how far could such a pittance go among so many? Andrew and Philip believe they are doing the best they can. They don’t think they’re being unfaithful, unbelieving, let alone wrong. But they are. And whatever problems you’re confronted with, you’re doing the same. You live, move, and exist in the world evolution has given you. A closed system. With nothing true, real, or available that is not provable or evident to your 5 senses.
Whatever problem, issue, challenge, question, decision you’re confronted with, you take stock like Andrew and Philip did of everything but Jesus, with all that is at your disposal, as if there is no Jesus who promised, “Whatsoever you ask in My name My Father shall give it to you.” As if there is no such thing as superhuman angels let alone a guardian one. As if from a child you didn’t pray, “let your holy angel be with me that evil foe may have no power over me.” As if since you have no resources, God doesn’t either. As if since you don’t know how this or that problem can be solved, God must be at His wits end. I could go on like this to prove that while I think I’d do better than these 2 disciples did, I wouldn’t.
Like them, I obey God in the extremities, not the limbs of my body, but when I’m desperate. John doesn’t tell you how Jesus drove the disciples to their extreme. He did it by commanding them, “You give them something to eat.” That command was probably right before, Philip said, “But, but 8 months of wages wouldn’t be enough.” And Andrew stammered, “Well, you know, eh, er, there’s this kid here with a lunch, but I guess it would be stupid to think that can help at all.”
Okay, the problem hasn’t changed. There are tens of thousands of people in a lonely place, the sun is going down, and in the disciples’ closed universe, they got nothing. Then Jesus doesn’t say, “Have the people sit down” as the insert translates but, “Have the people recline.” The Jews normally set cross legged at a low table. For feasts, they reclined on chaise lounge like couches. There’s no food to speak of; the disciples are out of ideas and hopeless. And Jesus says, “Have the people recline for a feast”. And in their extremity, the disciples obeyed! They also obeyed Jesus’ command to pick up the leftovers. They only test they didn’t fail was the commands to recline the people and to pick up leftovers.
In my extremities I too am driven to obey the commands my Lord has left me. He left me no command to make the sign of the cross, though I do. He left me no command to bow my head in adoration of His Body and Blood on the altar, though I do. He left me no command to kneel in confessing my sins, though I do. But none of these things are my direct link to what Jesus did for us and our salvation, none of them are my direct link to the holy life Jesus lived in my place and to His bloody, brutal death at Calvary for me. The 3 holies are: Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Communion. Here is Water that, as Noah’s Ark was lifted off the earth being destroyed, lifts me above the realm of Sin, Death, and the Devil. And Absolution is the Savior’s Word that drives out the devil’s guilt and shame. And here is Body-Bread and Wine-Blood that vaccinates me for immortal life. That’s why the early church and Luther called Holy Communion the Medicine of Immortality.
Face it. I rely on my bank account more than I do my Baptism. I turn to what I think about my sins rather than what absolution says. And I turn to medicine far more frequently than I do to the Medicine of Immortality. I do no better than Andrew and Philip. I don’t consider Jesus and His power, promises, grace, or mercy when confronting my day to day life. I only consider the closed little universe of me. Luther tried to rescue us from such narrowmindedness by the way he set up the Catechism. The Medieval catechism consisted of the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. Luther changed the order making the Lord’s Prayer last and then added Baptism, Confession and the Sacrament of the Altar. Do you see? First we learn how we’re to pray and then we cover the 3 ways every prayer we ask is answered: Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Communion. Whether your praying for money or love or it’s the mouth you must feed, “You’ve been baptized into Christ is an answer.” “I forgive you in Jesus’ name” is an answer. And, “Take eat; take drink; this is My Body, this is My Blood” is an answer.
But I remember my Baptism; I use the Absolution, and I find forgiveness, life, and salvation in Communion in my extremities. I obey no differently than Philip and Andrew did. But do I do any better than the people did once they saw the miraculous sign of Jesus feeding thousands with no more than a little boy’s lunch? They do pretty good when they start off, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” This was a title of the Messiah from the OT. So far, so good. Then we read that Jesus knew they intended to come and violently take Him away to be their king. The miracle was a sign pointing to Jesus as the Bread King not Jesus as the Bread of Life.
Signs can do two things. They can point to somewhere else. A sign to church does that, right? You don’t stop at the sign thinking you’re there. No, it’s ‘over there’ says the sign. But a sign can also indicate something much bigger than what is visible to the naked eye is present. A U.S. flag in a foreign country over a building indicates that the full power of the U.S. government is present there. Jesus feeding upwards of 15,000 with bread and wine showed that He is the Lord praised in Ps. 104: “You cause… plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man” (:14-15). But the people get no further than an earthly king who can fill their bellies. This becomes ever more obvious the farther we get into John 6. In verse 26 Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for Me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”
Well, that’s not me. O yeah? When I find more comfort in a hot shower than I do my baptismal waters, what am I saying? When I put more stock in what a politician says about my taxes than what a pastor says about my sins, what am I saying? When physical hunger presses me more often and intensely than spiritual hunger for the Body and Blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, how I am any different than the profane Esau? I’m not. When it comes to the temporal and the eternal, I put more stock and emphasis in the first than the second.
Did you catch the interplay of these two in the Collect? It dates to the 500’s. Millions upon millions of Christians faced with war, pestilence, famine, marriage, family problems, work problems, life and death problems have prayed it. All have asked God the Protector to be their Ruler and Guide that “we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not the things eternal.” We live in time but we’re bound for eternity, and the temporal things can seem so much more important, powerful, and real that we forget the invisible eternal things. This despite Paul telling us in 2 Cor. 4:18, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Would that I do that, but I don’t. At least not with consistency. In my extremity, when the temporal is caving in, “When every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my Hope and Stay.” The Gospel here is twofold. Even though the disciples fail their test and the crowds theirs, Jesus still feeds them with temporal and eternal bread. It’s true while all ate the temporal, most turned away from the eternal. But Jesus didn’t turn away from them, and He won’t from you. He doesn’t say, “Until you get it through your head that the eternal is more important and real than the temporal, don’t come crying to Me.” Secondly, you can live in the reality of the eternal. You can see in an increasingly hostile world your Baptism splitting heaven open, the Holy Ghost descending, and the Father declaring that He is well-pleased with you. You can hear in an increasingly accusing world, Jesus saying, “I’ve put away your sins; you’re not going to die.” In a world starving for things eternal, you can eat and drink in time of the Body and Blood of the eternal God.
Nope, I do no better than the people in the Bible. But Jesus did perfectly and He did it for me and what He did eternally He gives here in time to me. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (20210801); John 6:1-15