The Compassion of the Lord
Saint Mark 8:1-9
There certainly seems to be a food emphasis in the three Scripture Readings today. In the Old Testament Reading we’re told about the Garden of Eden and the trees that the Lord God places there for Adam and Eve that are “pleasant to the sight and good for food.” In the Epistle, the Apostle Paul speaks of the fruit that believers like you and me get that “leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” And in the Holy Gospel, our dear Saviour miraculously supplies bread and fish to feed about four thousand hungry people. Is it time for lunch yet? All this talk about food is getting me a bit hungry. And, in a way, that’s what these Scripture Readings should do for us. They should make us hunger after the food that the Lord graciously provides—if not physically, then certainly spiritually.
Now, perhaps it’s a bit too soon in the morning to be feeling physically hungry, especially if you had a nice filling breakfast not all that long ago. But yet the passages before us are a needed reminder of from whence that breakfast came, and indeed from whence comes all that we understand as our daily bread. There was no doubt in the mind of Adam and Eve, at the beginning, that the food they ate was given to them by God. Doubt about the fatherly, divine goodness of God only became an issue when they were tempted by the devil, disobeyed God, and ate the fruit of that one tree of which God had forbidden. With this sin, their food no longer was just there for the picking. Now, as God told Adam, the very ground was cursed because of him—because of his sin—and in pain would he eat of it all the days of his life.
Yet, the earth would still provide food for Adam, and for all mankind. God had not abandoned the world because of our sinfulness. And as well, all of the thorns and thistles that arise, are really with us, too, for our good—to turn us to God, to bring us to depend upon His goodness and mercy—His help in time of need—to show us that we cannot survive on our own. In this is the compassion of the Lord.
Our sin, however, often obscures this truth from our understanding so that we do not see how God is compassionate toward us and does indeed open His hand, satisfying the desires of every living thing. No, we’re often like Adam’s son Cain, who, because of his sin, does not have it in him to sing, “We give thee but Thine own, whate’er the gift may be; all that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from Thee.” He looks upon the harvest of his field exclusively as the fruit of his labour—his doing alone. The gift he, therefore, offers up to God is not given in faith. The fruit of his so-called independence from God—the fruit of his sin—leads Cain into the way of death. He murders his brother Abel and spends the remainder of his days, as Genesis says, “away from the presence of the Lord,” which, of course, is spiritual death—a death leading to death that is everlasting.
The fruit of faith, as Saint Paul tells us in the Epistle Reading, “leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” Sanctification, to be sure, is the holiness of living that you have in Christ, that loves and trusts in God above all else and puts your neighbour’s need before your own. This is a gift that God the Holy Spirit works in you through faith. Your sanctification is also the spotless righteousness that you have in Christ—the forgiveness of your sins that you freely receive from Him—the cleansing of all unrighteousness that allows you to stand in the presence of the Almighty God and not be cast away from His presence—not now or ever.
You have this blessed result of faith—your life in Christ that you have now and for all eternity, dear friends, because the Lord is compassionate toward you. He gives to you freely and abundantly, without any merit or worthiness in you. We see this same compassion of the Lord in today’s Holy Gospel. Saint Mark tells us that, “when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, [Jesus] 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.’” And so, in His compassion toward them, Jesus miraculously and abundantly feeds them, multiplying seven loaves of bread and a few small fish so that they all “ate and were satisfied,” and seven baskets full of food were left over.
The disciples of Jesus may, too, have felt compassion in their hearts toward all the hungry people, but unlike their Master, they had no way of putting that compassion to work; they were powerless to do anything to help. And not only were they powerless, they were also lacking in their faith. The one who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, created all things in heaven and on earth was standing right before them, and yet they ask, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” Why even the devil knew that Jesus, if He wanted, could turn rocks and stones into loaves of bread. You remember that he had tempted our Lord to do just that in another desolate place immediately following our Lord’s baptism. Of course, the devil’s knowledge of what Jesus could do was not faith, for the devil had no fear, love, and trust in God at all. Still, with the disciples, faith should have informed them that Christ is the answer to all of life’s problems, even such a big problem of how to feed all those people.
Trust, dear friends. That’s what’s needed—for the disciples … and for you. The Lord will take care of all your needs. He will provide a way, even if it seems impossible to you. He will open His hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing—even for you. After all, as Saint Paul says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Indeed. And so you must ask yourself, if you can’t trust that God will take care of you for this life, how can you trust in him for your eternal life?
Apostasy, that is, falling away from faith in Christ, always begins, I believe, with a lack of trust in God for the things of this earthly life. With regard to this, I’m reminded of our Lord’s story of the rich man and Lazarus. The poor beggar Lazarus had virtually nothing in this earthly life—no riches at all except for faith—his trust that God was taking care of him and would deliver him to the glory of heaven and eternal life. And he was not disappointed in his faith. The rich man, on the other hand, put his trust in himself and in his earthly wealth, giving no thought to God and His promises. In the end, the rich man’s faith in himself, and not in God, brought him only misery and torment without end.
So, how do you have the faith of Lazarus, faith that trust in God for all things, for this life and the next? Well, I’m pretty sure that you all know the answer to that, but just to be certain, let’s turn our attention to the two “Easter eggs” that the evangelist Saint Mark has concealed in plain sight in today’s Gospel account.
The first is in what our Lord says to His disciples when He brings up the matter of the crowd’s hunger. He says to them, “they have been with me now three days.” As Christians who, every Sunday confess your faith in the words of the Nicene Creed, “three days” has a certain significance, doesn’t it? We say together, “And the third day He rose again.” For you, this corresponds to your baptism, for as Saint Paul teaches in the same chapter as our Epistle Reading, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Your faith is not something that originates in you or continues in you because of your reason or strength, but is gifted to you by the Holy Spirit, who, through Holy Baptism, joins you together with Jesus—with His death and resurrection—that you may walk in newness of life—life that comes from Him.
The second “Easter egg” involves the disciples’ seven loaves of bread. We’re told that Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and gives it to the disciples. That sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? Every Sunday we hear something quite similar in the Lord’s Supper’s Words of Institution. This “Easter egg” is present to remind you that in the Lord’s Supper, the Lord Jesus feeds you with the bread of life—the bread that comes down from heaven to give you life. Jesus says in John, chapter six, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. … Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
Dear friends, every day the Lord shows forth His compassion toward you by opening His gracious hand to satisfy all of your desires—and by desires, we understand that to refer to all that faith holds as important—faith and not your sinful flesh. And by faith you desire what God knows you need—for both your body and your soul. Thus, He supplies you with your daily bread, which, as Luther teaches is “everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home,” and so forth.
God also gives you everything that you need to have eternal life. The Father sent His only begotten Son Jesus to suffer and die in your place—to pay for all your sins with His spotless sacrifice on Calvary’s cross. And He rose again also for you, on the third day, that in His resurrection you would be declared righteous and holy before God. He graciously brings you to live in the death and resurrection of Jesus, forgiven and saved, through your baptism into Christ, who, by His Word that declares to you the Good News of your salvation, absolving you of all your sin. Your Lord Jesus also gives you to eat and drink of His own true Body and Blood in the Sacrament, for as He Himself says, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Surely, dear brothers and sisters, the Lord is good; He is merciful; He is full of compassion for you. And you are blessed in Christ, now and always. Amen.