Matthew 14:13-21 (Pentecost 10A)
St. John, Galveston 8/6/23
Rev. Alan Taylor

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

In last week’s message, I mentioned that Jesus’ disciples were beginning to suffer persecution for their faith. To assure them of God’s love for them, Jesus told them two stories, the parable of the hidden treasure and the parable of the pearl of great value. Rightly understood, these two parables assured the disciples that in the breathtaking reckoning of God’s grace, each of them, each of you, are a treasure to God, a pearl of great value, Jesus having given up everything in order to buy you back from sin, death and the devil. As the Apostle later wrote, “though (Jesus) was rich He became poor, that you, through His poverty might be made rich.”

Last week we were in chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel. As we move into chapter 14 this morning, the persecution suffered by the disciples is quite evident. “King Herod had seized John (the Baptist) and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.””(Herod) sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the (daughter of Herodias), and she brought it to her mother. And (Jesus’) disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.”

Though they shined as pearls in the eyes of God, the disciples suffered unbearable grief when John was martyred, as did Jesus Himself. Even as Jesus would suffer on the cross for the sins of the world, so the disciples would carry their cross as they followed Him. Perhaps this is the juncture of a good part of the difficulty in walking the Christian life, in understanding that ours is a cruciform life, that is, we are people of the cross, of the suffering and death of Jesus. As such, we are called upon to take up our cross and to follow Him. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said regarding discipleship, “when our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ calls us to follow Him, He bids us to come to Him and die.”

It is, however, especially in cross bearing, that we are called upon to set our eyes on Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith.” I’m reminded of a remarkable presentation that took place this past week at our LCMS National Convention in Milwaukee. In this particular convention, the Synod declared pulpit and altar fellowship with five other Lutheran Church bodies around the world. One of those church bodies was the Evangelical Lutheran of Ukraine. The Bishop of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church was at the Convention to make a presentation to our Synod President, Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison. He presented President Harrison with a helmet, an army helmet to be exact.

It was no ordinary helmet though. Over the last year or so, the LCMS has provided the Ukrainian Lutheran Church with helmets, particularly for its chaplains who serve in battle. This particular helmet was worn by Bishop Maschewski of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, the very man who was presenting it to President Harrison, and it had saved His life on the battle field when a missile struck the convoy he was riding in. He said, “Jesus reigns in the midst of His enemies. There is no power that can stand against Him.” Cross bearing comes in all sorts of ways in our lives, as does God’s benevolence and His provision.

The reading for this morning occurred right after the disciples received the news of John’s death. Jesus went to a desolate place, but the crowds heard about His departure, and they followed after Him. Jesus saw a great crowd of people had assembled around Him and He had compassion on them and He healed their sick.

I think that a pause is in order here to consider Jesus’ reaction to the crowds. Even with a heavy heart after the martyrdom of John, He had compassion on the people. Sometimes our English translations convey the meaning of the original text of the Scripture very well. Sometimes though our English words leave a little bit to be desired. I think this passage offers of good case in point. Jesus, we are told, had compassion on the people. The word here is the Greek word splancna. The word does mean compassion, but it gives a little deeper sense of what this compassion of God is like. This is a compassion that comes from the depths of our inner being, from our gut, if you will. It is a turmoil of the heart that drives a person beyond pity for another, to an action on their behalf, even as sacrificial action. At a time, once again, when the disciples might well have been wondering about the goodness and the benevolence of God during times of suffering and persecution, Jesus had compassion on the crowds as He healed their sick.

His compassion though extended beyond the needs of the sick and the ailing. This too is an important thing for us to note in this passage, that is, that Jesus cares even for what seem to be the most mundane and ordinary needs of people. The disciples said, “this is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.”

More than a miracle, the feeding of the 5,000 was a sign to the people who were there that day, even as it was and is a sign to us. Jesus is greater than any lack in our lives and His compassion reaches into our lives well beyond the forgiveness of our sins and His conquering of death and the grave.

In the person of Jesus, the Creator has come into the world. As John says, “All things were made through him (that is, through Jesus), and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Our Creator has come into the world. We confess our createdness in the words of the Apostles Creed, and Luther reminds of what it means to be created by the God who redeems, the God who enters into our humanity to save us.

    “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has 
    given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my 
    reason and     all my senses, and still takes care of them…He richly 
    and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body 
    and life…All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness 
    and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is 
    my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”

We call these gifts of creation First Article gifts of God, in that we relate them to the first article of the Apostle’s Creed, which confesses God as our Creator. However, there is sense in which all of the gifts of God are Second Article gifts, that is, gifts that come through by the redemption that is ours in Christ Jesus. I say that because, without the first Gospel, that is, the words of promise spoken to Adam after he had fallen sin, namely that God would send the seed of the woman (the Christ) to crush the head of the serpent, without that promise, Adam would have been left with the judgment of God. We saved from sin and death by the grace and mercy of Jesus. We also saved by Him that we might reap the many and wondrous gifts of His compassion.

“My Lord, You here have led me
To this most holy place
And with Yourself have fed me
The treasures of You grace;
For You have freely given
What earth could never buy,
The bread of life from heaven,
That now I shall not die.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +