“Things that Are Profitable for Us”
Did you catch the lamentable question from the disciples? Jesus wants to feed the crowd, because, after all, they’ve been hanging out with Him for three whole days, listening to His great teaching about the kingdom of God. But when Jesus expresses His compassion for the crowd, the disciples merely respond with faithless confusion: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”
Now you’d think that the disciples, of all people, would know better. But they don’t. Jesus had already fed 5000 people, and that from a mere five loaves of bread and two small fish. In St. John’s Gospel we read of two different worries that the disciples had at that earlier miraculous meal. First, they fretted over the mammoth need. As Philip said: “The wages for 200 days of work—that’s just over $10,000 with our current minimum wage—would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (Jn. 6:7). Second, they were anxious over the meager resources at their disposal. “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother said to [Jesus], ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they among so many?’” (Jn. 6:9). Yet Jesus used those meager resources to meet the mammoth need. From the five small loaves and two small fish He made a feast that fed 5000 men plus women and children and had twelve good-sized baskets of fragments left over.
You’d think the disciples would remember that. But no! Now comes a second mammoth need with similarly meager resources. And what do the disciples ask? “How can we possibly feed all of these 4000 people?” But remember how Jesus started this discussion: “I have compassion on the crowd.” So He takes the seven loaves and the few small fish, He blesses them, He hands them to the disciples, they distribute them to the crowd, and everyone is satisfied. And again they have leftovers—seven good-sized baskets full.
Actually, you’d think that we would know better too. After all, we have both stories, and we hear them year after year. We heard the Feeding of the 5000 back on the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Now today we hear the Feeding of the 4000. It’s almost as if Jesus is quizzing us to see if we’ll catch on and trust Him to provide for us. But we keep worrying about how we’ll make ends meet. We keep wringing our hands over our mammoth needs and our meager resources. We keep wondering and fretting over how our Lord can possibly feed us and provide for us here in this desolate place called the world.
Of course, we’re all aware of the news reports on the economy. The housing market has been in a slump for some time now. Economists are saying, “Yep, we’re in a ‘bear market’ on Wall Street” or “Yep, we’re heading into a recession.” But we really see the mammoth need and the meager resources every time we fill up the gas tanks in our cars or sit in traffic just burning up that liquid gold that makes our cars go. And not only are gas prices skyrocketing, so are the prices for our favorite foods. How on earth can we make ends meet now in this desolate economy?
Then, in our anxiety, we also seek to uncover what went wrong or determine whom to blame. Who or what caused the high gas prices—what politicians, what businesses, what governmental policies or what business practices? And in this election year we look to certain politicians to fix the problem for us. Which candidate for President will fix the housing slump or the energy crisis for us? But let’s be honest. None of this can truly solve our faithless confusion. None of this can soothe our troubled souls or heal our anxious cares.
That’s why we need the words and actions of our Lord Jesus. What He said to His disciples He also says to us: “I have compassion on the crowd.” Great words of promise and comfort! Then He puts those words into action by feeding the mammoth crowd of 4000 with the meager resources of seven loaves and a few small fish. Remember, this is the same Jesus who would promise and show His great compassion by going to the cross, by suffering and dying to free us from sin and death. This is the same Jesus who would rise from the dead on the third day to proclaim and give us His life with God, both now and into eternity. That’s His greatest compassion!
So how does that help us when we face the anxieties and stresses of an economy in a tailspin? Listen again to the words we prayed in today’s Collect. We began by addressing God: “O God, whose never-failing providence orders all things both in heaven and earth….” We may look at our nation’s economy and our personal finances and think things are out of control. But really our gracious God orders all things both in heaven and earth. Yes, our Lord and Savior Jesus is in control of all things. He does know what we need, and He gives us what we need to live and survive. That shows His great compassion too.
Then we petitioned our providential God with this request: “we humbly implore You to put away from us all hurtful things and to give us those things that are profitable for us.” Yes, right now, paying $4.00 per gallon for gas seems like a “hurtful thing,” as does paying more for simple groceries. But actually there are things more hurtful to us—things such as anxiety and worry, things such as our dependence on money and stuff for meaning in life, things such as trusting our possessions and status in life over our Savior who loved us and gave Himself for us.
So let me suggest that we consider high prices at the gas pump and the grocery store under the second part of our petition. We ask God “to give us those things that are profitable for us.” He always has, and He always does. As people who trust the great, cross-won, resurrection-given compassion of our Savior Jesus, we can receive and view most things in life as “profitable for us.” After all, paying more at the pump or at the check out line just may lead us to rethink and revise our priorities. It just may lead us to see that we don’t need all of the frills and niceties that money can buy. It just may lead us to realize that all the goodies of life are here today but gone tomorrow, passing away like the morning dew. It just may lead us to realize that we must and can depend on our compassionate Savior God to sustain us.
And He does just that, dear friends. If our Lord Jesus can feed a mammoth, hungry crowd from just a few loaves of bread and some fish, He can certainly take care of us in our daily needs. When we have Him, His life, His forgiveness, His salvation, everything else is but icing on the cake. When we have and hold dear His new life in our Baptism, we see that bad economic times cannot take that new life away. When we have Him in His Body and Blood on the Altar, we are nourished and strengthened to persevere and endure whatever trials come our way. In fact, when we cling to our compassionate Christ in His words and deeds, we realize that He is the chief thing that is most profitable for us. Our great, giving God has already answered our prayer. He gives us exactly what we need in giving us His Son to feed us and satisfy us. So, come to His Table, eat, drink and be satisfied!
On Friday we celebrated our nation’s independence. When I prayed the prayer “For the nation” (LSB, p. 313), the last line of the prayer resonated quite well. It says, “When times are prosperous, may our hearts be thankful, and in troubled times do not let our trust in You fail.” Yes, prosperous times and troubled times will come and go. However, our Lord Jesus has compassion and we can trust Him to give those things that are profitable for us. Not only does He open His hands and satisfy the desires of every living thing, but He also satisfies us with Himself, with His mercy and forgiveness, and with His very Body and Blood. So, come, be filled, and be satisfied! Amen.