"Things Profitable for Us"
Can you believe that unbelieving question from the disciples? Jesus wants to feed the crowd, because, after all, they’ve been hanging out with Him for three whole days, listening to His teaching on the gracious rule and reign of God. But when Jesus expresses His compassion for the crowd, the disciples respond with faithless confusion: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”
Now of all people, the disciples should have known better. Jesus had already fed 5,000 people from a mere five sandwich rolls and two small fish. Yet somehow the fears of the moment hid that from their hearts and minds.
In John’s Gospel, the disciples had two different worries at that earlier miraculous meal. First, they fretted over the mammoth need. Philip said: “The wages for 200 days of work—that’s just over $11,000 with our current minimum wage—would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (Jn. 6:7). Second, they fretted over the meager resources on hand. “Andrew...said to [Jesus], ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they among so many?’” (Jn. 6:9). Yet Jesus used those meager resources to meet the mammoth need. From the five small loaves and two small fish He made a feast that fed 5000 men plus women and children and had twelve good-sized baskets of fragments left over.
You’d think the disciples would remember that. But no! Now comes a second mammoth need with meager resources. And what do the disciples ask? “How can we possibly feed all of these 4,000 people?” Remember how Jesus started this discussion: “I have compassion on the crowd.” So He takes the seven loaves and the few small fish. He blesses them. He hands them to the disciples. They, in turn, distribute them to the crowd, and everyone is satisfied. And again they have leftovers—seven good-sized baskets full.
Come to think of it, you’d think that we would know better too. After all, we have both stories, and we hear them year after year. We heard the Feeding of the 5,000 back in Lent. Now today we hear the Feeding of the 4,000. It’s almost as if Jesus is quizzing us to see if we’ll catch on and trust Him to provide for us. But we keep worrying about how we’ll make ends meet. We keep wringing our hands over our mammoth needs and our meager resources. We keep wondering and fretting over how our Lord can possibly feed us and provide for us here in this desolate place called the world.
We continually worry and fret over things like nasty viruses, power-hungry politicians, mob violence and riots in our cities, the economy, and how best to enter our stores of choice. Is the stock market trending up—like a bull—or going down—like a bear? Will our 401(k)s and our IRAs have enough in them when it’s time to retire?
Then, in our anxiety, we seek to uncover what went wrong—what government policies or what business practices—and determine whom to blame—what politicians, what businesses? And with the next presidential election just around the corner, which candidate will fix everything for us? Let’s be honest, though. None of this can truly solve our faithless confusion. None of this can soothe our troubled souls or heal our anxious cares.
That’s why we need the words and actions of our Lord Jesus. What He said to His disciples He also says to us: “I have compassion on the crowd.” Words of great promise and comfort! Then He puts those words into action by feeding the mammoth crowd of 4,000 with the meager resources of seven loaves and a few small fish. Remember, this is the same Jesus who would also promise and show His great compassion by going to the cross, by suffering and dying to free us from fears and doubts, from sin and death. This is the same Jesus who would rise from the dead on the third day to proclaim and give us His life with God, both now and into eternity. That’s His greatest compassion!
So how does that help us when we fret and worry about the mammoth needs and the meager resources? Listen again to the words we prayed in today’s Collect. We began by addressing God, “whose never-failing providence orders all things both in heaven and earth….” We may look at our nation’s economy and our personal finances, at the pandemic and the pandemonium, and think things are out of control. But our gracious God truly orders all things both in heaven and earth. Yes, our Lord and Savior Jesus is in control of all things. He does know what we need and what we endure. He does give us what we need to live and survive. That also shows His great compassion.
Then we petitioned our God who provides: “we humbly implore You to put away from us all hurtful things and to give us those things that are profitable for us.” Yes, we may classify a worldwide pandemic, chaos in the streets, economic suffering, and racial tensions as “hurtful things.” But actually there are things more hurtful to us—things such as fear, anxiety, and worry; things such as our dependence on money and stuff for meaning in life; things such as trusting our elected leaders—fellow sinners—for safety and security above our Savior who loves us and gave Himself for us.
We ask God “to give us those things that are profitable for us.” He always has, He always does, and He always will. As people who trust the strong, cross-won, resurrection-given compassion of our Savior Jesus, we can receive and view most things in life as “profitable for us.” After all, times of trial, stress and upheaval may just lead us to rethink and revise our priorities. They may just cause us to realize that all the goodies of life are here today but gone tomorrow, passing away like the morning dew. They may just lead us to know more deeply that we must and can depend on our compassionate Savior to sustain us.
That’s exactly what He does, dear friends. If our Lord Jesus can feed a mammoth, hungry crowd from just a few loaves of bread and some fish, He can certainly take care of us in our daily needs. When we have Him, His life, His forgiveness, His salvation, everything else is but icing on the cake. When we have and hold dear His new life in Baptism, we see that the current uncertainties cannot take that new life away. When we have Him in His Body and Blood on the Altar, we are nourished and strengthened to persevere and endure whatever trials come our way. Without it, our faith only withers; but with it, our Lord strengthens and fortifies. In fact, when we cling to our compassionate Christ in His words and deeds, we realize that He is the chief thing that is most profitable for us. Our great, giver God has already answered our prayer. When He gives us His Son to feed us and satisfy us, He gives us exactly what we need. So, come to His Table, eat, drink and be satisfied!
Lutheran Service Book has a most fitting prayer “For the nation” (LSB, p. 313). The last line of the prayer sums it up well. There we pray: “When times are prosperous, may our hearts be thankful, and in troubled times do not let our trust in You fail.” Prosperous times and troubled times come and go. Needs might be mammoth and resources meager. However, our Lord Jesus has compassion, and we can trust Him to give those things that are profitable for us, even when they feel most hurtful. Not only does He open His hands and satisfy the desires of every living thing, but He also satisfies us with Himself, with His mercy, forgiveness and life with Him. Amen.