What We Have Here
Diagnosing the problem is half the problem. It's a skill worthy of pursuit to be able to assess, quantify, describe just exactly what you have in front of you. The disciples did this in our text in a way. In these days of recession, inflation, and other obscenities, we too have to come to terms with what we have here.
In the text, the disciples are good at calculating. They know the time, the place and the need. They come to Jesus telling Him what these calculations meant. The time was late. It was evening and dark was approaching. The place is remote. There was no place to buy food. Therefore, Jesus must send the crowds away so they could buy food for themselves. Mark tells us that the disciples had even calculated how much money would be needed to buy the crowd food.
Actually, the disciples had calculated how much money wouldn't buy. They had calculated that 200 denarii, that's 200 day's wages, wouldn't buy enough to feed everyone. Let's do some calculating of our own. We know there was 5,000 men there beside women and children. So, 1 woman for every man makes 10,000 and if there was only 2 kids for each couple that 10,000 for a total of 20,000 mouths. Figuring 3 oz of fish per person that 3,750 pounds of fish; figuring a like amount of bread means 3,750 loaves. The cheapest I can ever buy fish is 1.99 a pound that's 7,462.50. The cheapest bread is .79 a loaf, so that's 2,962.50 for bread and a total of 10,425 for food. The federal minimum wage just went up to 6.55 an hour; 200 days wages would be 10,480, so allowing for plus or minor errors, the disciples were right; 200 days wages wouldn't buy enough food.
They were good at calculating, and so are we. Long before economist told me we were in a time of inflation I knew the times because eggs went up to almost 2.00 and milk to almost 4.00. And I don't need nightly news reminders that 70% of the world's oil reserves are somewhere other than here. I knew this place is relatively barren of oil. And I can calculate the need as quickly as the apostles. I know how many dozen eggs my family eats; how many gallon of milk they drink. I know exactly how much it costs me to drive a mile.
And just where does all this calculating leave me? Where did it leave the disciples? In a time called Despair, in place called Hopeless. "We have here only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish," the calculators grimly concluded. Do your calculations come out any better? Go on; put pencil to paper about your future. Factor in all your numbers: income, age, blood pressure, good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, oil prices, interest rates, indebtedness, and stock prices, and what do you get? "We get nothing out of our careful figuring and calculating except sorrow and loss of spirit," said Luther.
Hopefully that will be the case. It would be worse to be the man who calculated his income and savings and concluded that because he had much money to live on he had much time to live. That very night death came for that fool. Far better for your calculations to lead you to despair than arrogance. The apostles needed to be led to despair of self. Their confidence in their ability to calculate food needs and prices left them blind to the Bread of Life who stood before them.
How do you get someone to despair of self? Throw them back on themselves. The calculating apostles come to Jesus with their results: The time is late; the place is barren; you must send them away to buy food. That's right; they commanded Jesus, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, so confident they were of their calculations. And what does Jesus do? He throws them back on themselves. "You give them something to eat."
Think you know the time and place you're in? Think you're right to despair because your calculations tell you that you must. "Fine," says Jesus. "Then you solve your own economic woes; you deal with your own future; you deal with your own sins. Take your calculations; take your despair and have at it."
Jesus throwing them back on their own resources led them to the proper conclusion: a godly despair of self and what they have and can do. "We have here only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. But what are these among so many," John tells us they said. What do we really have here? At the end of the day, at the end of our calculations which is to say at the end of our rope, what we have here is worry and fear about our limited resources in this place, about a future time we can know nothing of. The thing we have for certain here and now are sin, death, and the Devil. All the milk, eggs, oil and gas in the world doesn't do anything to solve them. Not only can't 200 days wages touch them, my repenting, my trying, or my positive thinking can't even slow them down.
The answer to our calculations; the answer to what we really have here which is sin, death and the Devil is Jesus' words, "Bring them here to Me." We do this each Sunday. We bring to Jesus what loaves and fishes we have in the offering plate. Some congregations stand as the ushers come forward with the offering to indicate that what they are bringing to Jesus isn't just the loaves and fishes they put in that plate but everything. What's in those plates is only a pledge, a token of their all.
Before we bring what we have, we bring what we are. Confession precedes the offering. Jesus says, "Bring them here to Me," and we bring all our sins, all our death, and all the devils that beguile us. Reason calculates that we could do this or that to lessen our sins; we could do this or that to lower our risk of death; we could try this or that to drive our devils away, but we're not calculating. We're confessing that our resources are insufficient to deal with sin, death, and devils, so we bring them all to Jesus.
Jesus came into the world, the sinless Son of God to bear your griefs and carry your sorrows. He came to live the life free from sin that you can't live. He came to die your death to pay for your sins. He came to defeat your devils by keeping the Law and forgiving your sins. Jesus did this willingly, lovingly, compassionately. He came to rescue you in this world where sin, death, and the Devil apparently reign. He succeeded. Now if He took care of your sins, your death, and your devils, do you think He left you at the mercy of your needs? Do you think He left you to calculate and figure and fret how your limited loaves and fishes are going feed so many?
See what we have here? Needs and sins that are much too big for us, and a Savior full of compassion for us with power to meet our needs and save us from our sins. See even more. See beyond the loaves and fishes. See to the One who held them even before you gave them to Him. God the Son makes visible the invisible miracle God the Father does everyday. God opens His hands and satisfies the desires of every living thing, says the Psalmist. He multiplies fish in the sea and the grains to make bread. It has never been good economic times, low oil prices, or wise investing that has put bread on people's table. It has always been the One who hears the ravens when they call for food and feeds the young lions.
See beyond the loaves and fishes; see that God is making visible for our benefit, for our comfort, the invisible miracle He performs every day. See that all the loaves and all the fishes in the whole world have always been in His hands, and that those hands have nail holes. Without any merit or worthiness in the world, for Jesus' sake, God has sent His sun to shine and His rain to fall on the unjust, on the wicked, on people who believe in Mother Nature not God the Father, on people who believe they were evolved not created. That's how powerful the blood that fell from those nail pierced hands is. It blotted out the sins even of people who don't know they have them or care they have them. That thick, rich blood of God the Son enabled God the Father to continue to care for all His creation even all evil people. How much more than will He care for brothers and sisters of His dear Son.
One final thing to see here. We need to see from daily bread all the way to Bread for Tomorrow, from the bread for our bodies to the Bread for our souls. Matthew wants us to see this. His account of the Feeding of the 5,000 is precisely in the same order as Jesus instituting the Lord's Supper. And although we know that Jesus distributed both the bread and the fish, in the Greek Matthew only mentions the Bread being given. Still, bread and fish together are very early symbols of Communion. They appear in the ancient catacombs and early Christian art that way.
Seeing the Lord's Supper here is important because when it comes down to it in this fallen world you can find yourself without much to eat. You can find yourself with many mouths and not enough food. You can find yourself surrounded by sin, death, and devils that seem to you and all the world to be winning. There are Christians starving even as Jesus pointed out there were many starving windows in Old Testament Israel while God fed a pagan one through Elijah. There are Christians dying bit by bit from horrible diseases even as Jesus pointed out that many lepers were dying in Old Testament Israel while Elisha healed the leprous pagan general who had defeated Israel.
Try to get you head around that; try to calculate your way out of that. You can't get your head around it anymore than you can get your head around God sending His own Son to the cross rather than you. You can't calculate your way out of that anymore than you can calculate what it really cost God to redeem you. You can only run to the One with the loaves and the fishes even when you're lacking loaves and fishes. For even if you lack goods, fame, food, and life, you never lack forgiveness and eternal life in Him. Even when you're without the loaves and fishes of this life, you're never without the Bread of life who feeds you till you want no more. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (20080727); Matthew 14: 13-21