You Don't Need to Go Away
This text is about staying away from Church. The disciples conclude that the answer to the problem presented in the text was to go away from Christ. The Church is the Body of Christ, so this text is about staying away from Church. People often conclude the answer to their problem is to go away or stay away from Church. "I haven't been in Church lately because I've been having some health problems." "I didn't feel like coming to Church because God seems distant." Right at the point where faith struggles with despair is where true Christian service takes place, so say our Lutheran Confessions. Jesus, of course, steps in on the side of faith and says to us as we are about to go away in despair, "You don't need to go away."
"You don't need to go away," Jesus says to those of you who are just sure no one understands, can relate, will relate, or cares to relate to your situation. Why don't you have to go away? Because Jesus has compassion. The word compassion is the Greek word for spleen. Splanchnology is the study of the spleen. The Greek word here is splaxhnomai. So what's the relationship between compassion and the spleen? The Greeks considered the spleen to be one of the nobler internal organs. To have compassion literally meant to be moved in the noble organs. You know how that feels: Your heart "goes out" to someone. You have a "gut" feeling. You have "butterflies in your stomach." You're "heart broken."
So we all know what it means to be moved in our internal organs, but in the New Testament this word for compassion is a Jesus word. It's only used of Jesus or of figures in parables that represent Jesus. The waiting father has compassion for the prodigal son who wronged him. The forgiving king has compassion for the slave who owed him millions. Jesus has compassion for the 2 blind beggars whom everyone else told to shut-up. Compassion is what Jesus had for the crowd in our text and what Jesus has for you.
But don't make Jesus in your image. We tend to have compassion for those who deserve it, or more accurately don't deserve the hardship they are bearing. If a person deserves what's coming to them, we think it ought to come down on them hard. And compassion is something we have to be in the mood for. If I am stressed or strained, you won't likely find much compassion in me. We think Jesus is as we are, and so we don't see the depths of Jesus' compassion for sinners, for sinners like us who are the cause of their misery. So, we think we need to go away from Jesus. But you don't need to go away. Jesus has compassion.
Look at the text. It opens with, "When Jesus heard what had happened He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place." What Jesus had heard was that His cousin, forerunner, and partner in the ministry had been beheaded at the request of a dancing girl. Jesus, a human being just like you, is hit hard by this and wants to get away for awhile with His friends. Jesus is in need of pity, of understanding, of compassion, yet when He sees the large crowd He has compassion on them and their needs.
Now that Jesus rules over all things, now that He has finished living under the heavy weight of the law in your place and suffering and dying for your sins in your place, do you think He has less compassion for sinners? Do you think He could ever be too busy, too tired, too overwhelmed by His problems to help with yours? If at one of the worst moments of His life on earth, Jesus had compassion for sinners, there is no moment in your life on earth that Jesus is not overflowing with compassion for you.
But what if I deserve what is coming upon me? I've made my bed won't the Lord just let me lie in it? I've not sown all that wisely; why should the Lord have compassion on my reaping? I should just go away from Him. You don't have to go away; Jesus has compassion even for sinners who can only blame themselves.
Look at the text. The crowd follows Jesus uninvited to a barren place. They take no provisions, and they stay too late. What poor planning! What irresponsible decision making! They deserve to spend a hungry night in that remote place. That's what the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh cry. The compassion of Jesus is only for people who deserve it. The compassion of Jesus is only for those who try their hardest but fail. The compassion of Jesus is only for those who plan and calculate the best they know how but fall short anyway.
Well, then I guess Paul is wrong in the Epistle reading when he says that nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ. A few things can: our failure to plan properly, our irresponsible decision making, our sins. Wouldn't that be funny? Jesus came into the world to place Himself under the heavy burden of the Law for us, but turns away from us because we aren't perfect. Jesus came into the world to suffer unspeakable things to pay for our sins, but turns away from us because we're sinners. One of God's glories is to have compassion on whomever He will have compassion on. When we picture God as only being able to have compassion on whom we think qualifies, we aren't picturing the true God.
You don't need to go away. Jesus has compassion on you, and He can meet your needs. You may be to a point where you're saying, "I don't know what I need." Or, it may be very clear to you what you need. Jesus can and will meet your needs. What's more; Jesus will supply what you really need.
In our text we find Jesus healing. The Greek doesn't say He healed the "sick," but literally "the powerless." Go ahead fill in whatever you want. Jesus healed those powerless against disease, crippling emotional pain, family problems, life problems, job problems. And then look what Jesus does. He addresses the every day ordinary thing of food. The text says Jesus fed 5,000 men besides women and children. If there was a woman for every man and only 2.5 children per couple, that's 12,500 people. It would take 10,000 pounds of fish and 2,031 pounds of bread to feed them. Jesus fed them with 5 pounds of bread and the 2 pounds of fish.
Now you think that's a miracle don't you? It is, but I'll show you a greater one than making a little bread a lot and a few fish a bunch. You know those troubles, problems, or situations that are painful to you and you have no idea how you can solve them? Jesus promises in the Epistle that He'll make you more than a conqueror IN them. He doesn't promise to make you more than a conqueror over them but miracle of miracles, wonder of wonders, in them. Many people, techniques, or programs might make you a conqueror over your problems, but only God in Christ can make you more than a conqueror in them!
You don't need to go away. Jesus is here and He has the compassion and the power to address your physical and your spiritual needs. And make no mistakes about it: your spiritual needs are paramount. Jesus addressed these people's physical needs in hopes of drawing them to Him as the answer to their spiritual needs. By means of physical bread He wanted to draw them to see He was the Bread of life. John 6 records that Jesus was unsuccessful. It says, "As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore." They rejected the idea that what they really needed for life was to eat Jesus, the Bread of life. There is irony here. Those on whom Jesus had compassion and had helped in their physical needs ultimately went away from Him because they couldn't see Him as the answer to their deepest, spiritual needs. How about you?
You don't need to go away. Right here in this Church is what you need to meet your spiritual needs. Here is forgiveness to address the sinfulness you can daily find in your flesh. Here is life to address the death that you can feel at work in your body. Here is the power to address that proud devil that struts around like he owns you body and soul.
Christ Jesus provides all these for you right here in Word and Sacraments. Early on bread and fish became a symbol for Communion. The early church saw that Jesus wished to address more than just physical needs in this miracle. He wished to address spiritual, eternal needs. Matthew's account of this particularly wishes to show the parallel between the feeding of the 5,000 and the Lord's Supper. You heard that when the text was read. You heard the same words used in the institution of the Lord's Supper in the same order. Jesus gave thanks, broke the loaves and gave them.
How can sinners enter holy heaven? How but by the holy Body and Blood of Jesus poured on them at Holy Baptism and puts in them in Holy Communion. How can sinners dying more each day live forever? How but by means of the holy Body and Blood of Jesus that reborns them in Holy Baptism and feeds them in Holy Communion. How can weak sinners defeat the super powerful devil? How but by the holy Body and Blood of Jesus clothing them in Holy Baptism and strengthening and preserving them in Holy Communion.
I've preached this text from the point of view of the crowd, but we ought to take a look at the disciples since we're disciples too. Everything Jesus says to the disciples in all 4 Gospel accounts is to test their faith that He is the Lord that will provide for them physically and spiritually. They fail every single test. The only thing the disciples do right is obey Jesus when He tells them to have the people sit down and to pass out the food. They fail, fail, fail, yet Jesus still feeds them and gives to them 12 basketfuls of leftovers, one for each of them.
So don't despair over how many times you've failed to see all that your Lord longs to do and can do for you physically and spiritually. He still wants to and He still will do them. You don't have to go away. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XI (7-31-05); Matthew 14: 13-21