With food and clothing let us be content, the Scriptures teach us. But, depending on the climate, you can survive with little or no clothing far longer than you can get by without food. Once you are born into this world, your life depends upon breathing and eating and drinking. Breathing is more constant, to be sure, but food and drink on a regular basis are just as necessary to survival.
Spiritual life is very much the same. As you are born of Christ Jesus in Holy Baptism and clothed in His Righteousness, so do you breathe His Word and Spirit by faith in His forgiveness of sins, and so do you eat and drink His Body and His Blood, which are your Meat and Drink indeed.
Now, as mothers are uniquely equipped to feed their babies, so is the Church equipped to nurture the children of God. But no Mom can feed her nursing infant if she herself is not also being fed. She cannot give what she does not receive. Thus, both Mother and Child wait upon the Lord, who alone provides all that is needed, who opens His hand to satisfy the hunger of every living thing.
The Apostles of the Lord must likewise rely on Him and receive His good gifts, if they are to do and give anything in His Name. They cannot speak, except as they have heard. They cannot teach, except what they have been taught. They cannot forgive sins, except by the Holy Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, which He breathes upon them by His Word. They cannot heal the people or care for the crowds, except they find their Sabbath Rest in Him and eat and drink from His open hand.
As it is, at this point in the Holy Gospel, they have been doing and teaching a lot for a great many people, and they are consequently spent, exhausted, and hungry. St. Mark makes a point of saying that “they did not even have time to eat.” Most of you know how that goes and what that’s like. You get caught up in your duties, in caring for others and meeting their demands, and, before you know it, mealtime has come and gone, you’ve missed your break, and you can feel yourself slowing down and starting to fade. Same deal when you’ve been too busy to get enough sleep. Whether you’re a cook or a waitress, a retail store manager, a doctor or nurse, a cop or an EMT on the night shift, adrenaline may carry you for awhile, and you may have reserves to draw upon, but eventually you’re going to crash. You need to rest, to eat and drink, to be refreshed and restored.
So it is that Jesus gathers the Apostles to Himself and, with tender compassion, care, and concern for these men whom He loves, He calls them away from the madding crowds to a secluded place, to rest their weary minds and bodies, and to eat. They follow Him to that place of peace and rest “in the boat,” that is, aboard the “Holy Ark of the Christian Church.” It is within the Church that you also find Peace and Sabbath Rest in Jesus Christ and eat and drink from His wide open hand.
But the crowds are hungry, too, for life and health and daily bread. So they follow after Jesus and the Apostles. Or, rather, they race around the water on foot and wait on the other side. They don’t get there in the boat, for they are not yet in the Church; they are like sheep without a shepherd.
And Jesus has compassion on them. He is moved by divine mercy, from the very depths of His being, to help them. This is the same compassion with which He goes to the Cross, like a Lamb to the slaughter, to lay down His life for the sheep. Thus does He become their Good Shepherd. Which is to say that He guards and protects them and rescues them from danger; that He defeats and drives away all the enemies who prey upon them; and that He leads and guides them in safety, sustaining them with food and drink in His green pastures, alongside streams of living water.
But what it means for the Lord Jesus to be their Shepherd, first of all, is that He begins to teach them many things. He catechizes them by and with His Word. He makes disciples of them by the preaching of repentance unto faith in His forgiveness of sins. For He preaches peace to those who are near and to those who are far off. Thus does He begin to shepherd them and meet their needs.
Still, it is a desolate place, and bodies do need food. Presumably, the Apostles have not yet eaten, either, but have been listening to Jesus. You can put yourself in their shoes and imagine how antsy they may have been. Were their bellies beginning to rumble and growl embarrassingly? Were they fighting to keep their eyes open? In any event, it was already quite late when they finally came to Jesus with concern for the crowds of people — and perhaps for their own hunger, as well. “Send them away,” they urged. “Let them go and buy themselves something to eat.” And then, at last, the disciples would also be able to rest and eat, to share their few loaves and fishes between them.
So you can also imagine their surprise and befuddlement when Jesus responds to their suggestion with an entirely different plan: “You,” He says, “give the crowds of people something to eat.”
Jesus is going to feed the five thousand, you already know that. But He pointedly does so by the hands of His disciples. That’s just how He works. That’s how He feeds His Church and shepherds the sheep of His pasture. He gives to His disciples to give to all His people what they need.
He puts them on the spot, at first, in telling them to do this thing. They know they don’t have it in them to get it done. They simply cannot do it. Where or how would they begin? It doesn’t even occur to them to consider their own uneaten lunch, because, really, what’s the point? Five loaves of bread and a couple fish might be fine for twelve hungry men, but it obviously isn’t enough to fill up or satisfy the bellies of five hundred times that many people. Not. Even. Close.
If the Apostles have been tempted to think that all of their doing and teaching were somehow by their own power and abilities, by their own resources and skills, they certainly know better in this present situation. In truth, they have nothing but what they first of all receive from the Lord. They have nothing to give but what they have been given. In this respect, their preaching and healing are really no different than feeding five thousand people.
So, now, as He has been with them in their doing and teaching, He takes what little they do have — the five loaves and two fish they have already received — and He opens His hand to provide for everything that is needed. He takes the bread, He blesses, He breaks, and He keeps on giving it to the disciples to set before the people. So it is that everyone eats, and everyone is satisfied.
This, too, is how He shepherds His sheep. The food accompanies the teaching of His Word, and now His Word accompanies and sanctifies the food; and both the teaching and the feeding are caught up in the compassion of His own Sacrifice. In this way He who gives Himself as a ransom for the many also gives Himself to them as real Food and Drink for body and soul.
He likewise allows you to get hungry, as He let the crowds and His disciples to grow hungry; and then He feeds you, one and all, with a miraculous Bread — which none of you have known before, and none of you could ever have gotten for yourself — that you might learn to be and to live as His disciple, that is, to live by faith in His Word. In such faith you wait upon Him, knowing that He will provide for you. And in such faith you receive His Bread from His hand with thanksgiving.
For He is your great Good Shepherd King — the new and greater David — who is the Lord, your Righteousness, in the flesh. He does and accomplishes everything for you in Himself. He justifies you and reconciles you to God, His Father, by His Cross and Resurrection. He bears all your sins, all your frailties and weaknesses, all your griefs and sorrows, in His own Body unto death. And He sheds His own Blood for you, to make Atonement for you, and to redeem you from the bondage of sin and death, unto Life everlasting. Having done all this, He also comes and preaches peace to you, that is, the forgiveness of all your sins by His Gospel. He calls and gathers you to Himself, and He cares for you by His Word and Spirit. He brings you to His God and Father, not simply as a guest or a visitor, but as a beloved child and heir. Thus, you have a home, that is, a place where you really belong, where you eat and sleep in the fellowship of the Holy Triune God.
No longer are you lost or missing or scattered. You shall not be destroyed but dwell securely, for the Lord Himself has sought you out and found you. He has gathered you to Himself, taken you into His arms, and brought you home rejoicing. Do not be afraid, for He is your Good Shepherd.
He cares for you now, in all these ways, through those shepherds He provides for His flock on earth, that is, through the pastors who preach and teach and administer His Gospel in His Name. As the whole Church is built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, so does the Church in each place live by the Ministry of such preaching and teaching, by the administration of the Holy Sacraments. Pastors do and teach these things, they give these gifts of God, not by their own reason or strength, but by the Word of Christ Jesus, handing over what He Himself provides.
What I receive from the Lord, I also deliver to you: The confession of Christ, crucified and risen, and His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.
I could no more do any of this by myself than the disciples could feed five thousand men, plus women and children, with their lunch. But Christ Jesus does it all; and even by my mouth and by my hand, He is the One who gives you the Fruits of His Passion here in the Liturgy of His Gospel.
So does He also continue to give His gifts from here. Consider those twelve baskets full of broken pieces, and how they were gathered up. Likewise, as the loaves and fishes were multiplied, so are His people fruitful and multiplied in loving and serving, feeding and caring for their neighbors.
What, then? Are you going to protest that you do not have enough? That you are hard pressed already, taking care of yourself and your own family? That you can’t afford to feed your neighbor, besides? That he or she does nothing for you, anyway, but only takes without returning the favor?
Brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ, you are reconciled to one another in Him, and you belong to one another as members of one Body in Him. You are one household and family, with one God and Father who daily and richly provides you with all that you need for now and forever.
Do not imagine or pretend that you have nothing to do or to give, nor that you do not have enough to go around. Instead, do what you are given to do, and give what you receive. After all, what do you have that you have not received from the Lord by His grace? All that is needed is provided, and more than enough. The Lord is generous, and even the young ravens know that all good things come from Him. Yet, He now desires to serve your neighbor through you, as He also serves you through your neighbor. He does not give this task without also supplying the bread to fulfill it.
Do not be afraid. The Lord will not let you starve. Nor will He work you to death. It is His work and His death that give you life, and even now He feeds you with Himself. So, it’s not as though everything depends upon you. But neither is it true that your work is pointless or inconsequential. Your calling is not a lark. Your office and station in life are not for nothing. Your labors in the Lord are not in vain. You’re part of His Family, you live in His House; so, just do your own part.
Do your chores and fulfill your duties, whatever you are given to do, in the confidence that Christ is the Cornerstone; that His own crucified and risen Body is the Building, the true Temple of God, in which you live and move and have your being; and that all things are accomplished in Him.
You are not a stranger, nor an outcast, but you belong to Jesus Christ, and so you are a friend and a fellow citizen with all His saints. Whether you live or die, you are His, and so you shall remain.
If you are tired, hungry, discouraged, anxious, or afraid; if you are spent, exhausted, and ready to expire — take heart, and do not despair. Your Lord has compassion on you, and He cares for you.
Come here now, and rest awhile in His Peace. Eat and drink what He so freely gives. Be refreshed by the Lord who opens wide His hand to feed you. For you also are baptized — that is the new and better “Circumcision” made without human hands — by which you belong to the fellowship of the new and better Israel, which is the Body and Bride of Christ, His Holy Church. You are God’s own child. You are a sheep of the Good Shepherd. And as such, He satisfies you with Life itself by His Word; which is to say that your body and your soul are fed with the Lord Himself.
Here at His Table in His House you are brought near by His holy and precious Blood, and through the veil of His crucified and risen Body you have access to His God and Father in the Holy Spirit. He is your Meat and Drink indeed, so that, even in death, you also rise and live in Him forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.