Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
This Sunday would be a great time for a local pastor to take his vacation. Sunday’s Gospel lesson begins with a comparable event, especially for pastors who vacation on a boat! According to Matthew, Jesus wanted some time away from it all, so “He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” When He and the disciples arrived, however, they found the place to be anything but solitary. The crowds had heard or otherwise figured out their destination, and had hustled around on foot in order to be waiting for Jesus and company when they arrived.
While on vacation, I have been called, on more than one occasion, by people in need. Honesty demands me to say that my initial reaction has not always been pleasant, but when the need is real and great, compassion eliminates selfishness. We are not told how the disciples reacted. We are told that Jesus saw the crowds and two things immediately happened — one was an emotion, the other an action: “He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” What we hear about the disciples came later in the day, apparently during a lull in the healing. They came to Jesus with a concern about the people: “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late.” Their point was that the people would be getting hungry and it was past suppertime. Maybe the disciples also had compassion.
If it was compassion, it was a different brand than that of Jesus. As a result of His, He acted. As a result of theirs, they wanted Jesus and the people to act: “Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus healed them — the disciples wanted them to go away. One author observes that this is a little too similar to the contemporary church, which often says, “Send them to their local mental health center. Let them can get ‘professional help.’ Send them to the Department of Human Services. Increase their Social Security payments, let the government provide the care … anywhere other than here, anybody other than us. Master, send them away.”
Jesus made no comment about their misdirected compassion. He simply said, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” In an article for Pulpit Resource, William Willimon wrote, “And perhaps it appears at this point that Jesus, Mr. Compassion, has compassion on just about everybody but His own disciples. His words, “You give them something to eat: may sound harsh, insensitive to the stress that His followers are under. Such great crowds, such meager resources, the late hour, the lonely place.” But the fact of the matter is that Jesus does not call us to serve in ways He will not equip us to serve!
The disciples were a little set back by His command, but they gave it a shot. The result seemed pretty inadequate: “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. Jesus, on the other hand, seemed almost pleased with their discovery. He said, “Bring them here to me.” At that point, Jesus took over and did His thing: “He directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.” Matthew recorded the end result of the disciples’ effort, after the Lord Jesus blessed it: “They all ate and were satisfied.”
Because Matthew wrote this story long after the resurrection, I believe that he intended to jog our memory banks with the way he wrote, “and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to the disciples.” Apparently, Willimon shares that opinion. He wrote, “If you hear — in Jesus’ taking the bread, blessing the bread, breaking the bread, and then giving the bread — an experience you have had before, you are right. Every time we come to the Lord’s Table, we repeat this fourfold action. The move from weary disciples, to recognition of human need, to sharp demand, and then to a gift of more than enough is repeated every time the church gathers to break bread.”
Myron Augsbruger wrote, “A little with God is more than much without Him.” Those words are right at the heart of the Gospel. What we bring to God on our own is woefully inadequate, even if there is much righteousness, much good works, much piety. But, as Paul points out so often, God’s grace is sufficient. The God who did not spare His own Son for us will surely fill and overfill whatever is lacking. His grace, mercy and love are more than enough for us. The disciples came with five loaves and two fish. Jesus blessed it and they left with 12 baskets of fragments. Their leftovers were way more than their “bring to’s!” We come with our own woefully inadequate righteousness and a great deal of unrighteousness besides, but in His grace, Christ blesses us and we leave with the righteousness of God’s Son — way more than enough!
There is a wonderful vision of the Gospel here, but there is also an unnerving message of the law. After noting the late hour and the lack of a McDonald’s in that lonely place, the reluctant disciples did not want to do anything. They wanted the crowd to pack their bags and go home.
Many forces work on us to make us like those disciples. Some of them had first been disciples of John the Baptizer. Just prior to their trip by boat, to get away from it all, they heard that Herod had murdered John. They were filled with grief and naturally wanted some time to recover. They were also exhausted from the ongoing ministry. While they may have been moved by the energy Jesus had somehow mustered because of His great compassion for the crowds, they felt that was enough. They were also concerned for themselves. If they gave what little they had to this monstrous crowd, they would not get anything to eat. Then there was the seeming futility of it all. Not only would they have nothing, but thousands of others would also remain hungry and stuck in the lonely darkness.
It takes great faith to fight such great forces. It takes great faith to believe that our feeble efforts can accomplish anything worthwhile. But our faith is not in some wimpy and inadequate God. A little faith in a great, great God is blessed with wonders and miracles that continue to amaze us. When Jesus blesses what we have, it is enough.
God has richly blessed and increased what has been brought to the mission of His church. Here at LCMS World Mission, we stand in awe at what God has done and keeps doing. During the last decade, LCMS World Mission opened work in more countries than were opened in the entire first century of our work. The Gospel is preached in 29 different languages in LCMS congregations — and that is in North America alone! In 1991, members of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod donated about $12.6 million to God’s mission. By last year, Jesus had blessed that into more than $26 million and volunteer missionaries gave another $5 million worth of work free!
When Jesus blesses what we have, it is enough! At the same time, God keeps opening doors. As we look around, we find people speaking 250 languages here in North America. Many are international students who may be right next door. We also find that 3.5 billion people in the world have little or no opportunity to hear the Gospel. What do we say? Are there too many? Should Jesus send them away? Or are we ready to see what resources we have to feed them with the Bread of Life and the sincere milk of the Word? Bring what you have and see what Jesus does with it.