Repetition is not only the mother of studying, it’s also important in Scripture. They happen over and over and over again. Again is a word we ought to associate with these miraculous feedings. In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat… We heard a similar situation during Lent with Jesus feeding five thousand men. Again we go to Jesus providing not merely spiritual food, but also bodily food for a great crowd of people.
Jesus sees the crowd, and He announces that He wants to feed them, and then what do we hear from the disciples? How can one feed these people with bread in this desolate place? Once already they have seen Jesus provide a meal for a multitude. Yet the disciples haven’t gotten it yet. They wonder. They question. They may have worried.
Seeing isn’t necessary believing for the Jewish mind. Remember that the religious authorities needed two or three witnesses to arrest and convict Jesus of blasphemy. You might think the disciples are dimwits because they keep seeing the same things happening yet none of what they see stays in their long term memory.
Scripture is full of people falling into the same traps multiple times, over and over again. Abraham twice passes off Sarah as his sister and not his wife. The Israelites grumble about water twice…in fact the second time upsets Moses so much that he smacks the rock instead of just speaking to it like God had said. Men end up having multiple wives again and again, and it always goes poorly. The book of Judges – over and over the people forget God and get themselves into trouble. The prophets lament Israel and Judah falling into idol worship and worse. Over and over, people falling into the same sins, over and over again.
The Bible is a brutally honest book. It shows people how they are, warts and all, instead of how they should be. Sin naturally is repetitive. Sin is pervasive. Sin is habitual. Habits are hard to break, especially bad habits, and bad habits don’t like staying broken. Consider that every day of your life is a broken record of the “re-res”: remorse and regret. You leave something undone and regret it. You think evil thoughts against your spouse or your neighbor and later have remorse for what you did. Every day the same broken record plays in your conscience: the same weaknesses, the same faults, and the same sins.
In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, He called His disciples to Him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” Jesus has compassion on the great crowd. They are with Him. Jesus’ guts churn at seeing them go hungry…again.
This is the reality of what it means when we confess that Jesus Christ is both true God and true Man. This is what the incarnation of Jesus at Christmas means. Jesus has compassion – Jesus came down from heaven, took on a body like yours, like mine. He experienced life in this world. All the sorts of things that impact us – whether it is hunger and being faint or being mocked, or hurting, or mourning, being forsaken by friends. He experienced all those things. He has compassion.
The beautiful difference between you and me and Jesus is that Jesus has perfect love, perfect compassion. You and me, well, we will use our anger and frustration to justify ourselves. Jesus has every right to yell, stomp, cuss, and throw what my mom would call a “conniption fit” at both the disciples and the great crowd. Jesus could, as it were, take His ball and go home, leaving everyone to figure out what to do without Him.
Jesus has compassion. Jesus does what needs to be done to show compassion. He directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, He broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. No conniption fit. Just another miraculous feeding. Take, eat, and be satisfied.
Sounds like what happens every time we’re gathered in this space, doesn’t it? Jesus has compassion on us. He forgives sins. He feeds you with His Word of reconciliation and joy. He puts His Body and Blood in your mouth, giving you forgiveness up close and personal. All this He does through a flawed disciple, a pastor who has doubt, anxiety, stress, and even lacks compassion now and then. Jesus never fails to give you His mercy, His compassion won for you in the shedding of His blood for your sins.
See yourself in the crowd. You’re there. You were joined to Christ in your Baptism; just as little Bethany Dolores Juhl was this past Thursday. She’s there, too, even as a newborn baby. When Jesus says, I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with Me three days, He’s talking about you being united with Him in a death and resurrection like His. He knows your limitations. Jesus knows the war that sin wages upon you. He knows how sin plays upon you and messes with you.
Yet over and over again He comes to you here in this place and says to you that you are no longer, in fact, a slave to sin, but you are bound to Him. You are a slave to righteousness. You are forgiven. Your baptism, the forgiveness of your sins, bound to Christ, slave to righteousness, sanctified and given eternal life – these are the realities that Christ sees and remembers at all times. When you’re worn and weak and weary, He will make these realities present again. He will preach them again. He will place forgiveness upon your lips by giving you His own Body and Blood again, and again, and again.
Thanks to my friend and brother-in-office, Rev. Eric J. Brown of Trinity Lutheran Church, Herscher, IL, for much of what is written. To God alone the glory!