Fourth Sunday in Lent – Laetare
“More Than Twelve Baskets”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
19 March 2023
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
Satan’s very first temptation of Jesus was about bread. After a 40 day fast Jesus was hungry. Satan tempted Jesus with these words,
“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” [Matt. 4.1-11]
Some of you may be familiar with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It is usually shown as a pyramid. One reads it from the bottom up rather than top down. There may be as few as 5 categories or as many as 8, but whichever model one picks, the most fundamental needs, according to Maslow, are physical [physiological] needs. These are the base of the hierarchy. These needs are the biological component for human survival. In that need for survival food is one of them. One needs to eat to survive. One must have food and water as well as other things we call necessities.
Jesus had reached the height of his popularity with people. Large crowds followed him and “saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.” Jesus took his disciples up on the mountain but the large crowd followed him. It was spring and the grass was green and flowers were blooming on the hillside. They were far from any town. Jesus used this to test his disciples. He asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Jesus already knew what he was going to do. Philip answered that 200 denarii, 200 days pay—a half year’s wages!—wouldn’t be enough to scratch the surface for their needs. Then Andrew spoke up about a little boy who had five barley loaves and two fish. Philip had answered with reason while Andrew gave a childish answer. What they boy had certainly wouldn’t go very far. Perhaps two or three people could have been fed with that!
There was a lot of fresh grass there providing comfortable seating, like sitting down for a picnic lunch in the warm spring sun. Jesus instructed the disciples to have the people sit down. John records here that when the men sat down there were about five thousand of them. Matthew tells us that there were five thousand men in addition to the women and children, so we can safely say that there might easily have been upwards of 15,000 people.
When Jesus was tempted by Satan he refused to satisfy his hunger; he responded to Satan that
“ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
Yet here Jesus performs the sign that he refused to do for Satan. He performs it for the hungry people who followed him. Truly it was a miracle! Yet, the Psalmist tells us that God does this continually for this world.
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
15 and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart. [Psalm 104.14-15]
We don’t think much about this being miraculous since it is so regular in our world, even with natural disasters. The only time we hear any voices they seem to be the eco-activists who tell us that the sky is falling, that complete disaster is just around the corner. They throw people into a panic over just about everything related to the created order—and notice that I say “created order” and not simply nature, who according to these people, means “Mother Nature.” There is no such person except in pagan religions personified as the goddess Gaia, who was the daughter of Chaos. Even if one dispenses with the pagan deities, this still lives on in the view that the earth is a self-regulating organism. These eco-activists believe that the earth can’t regulate itself and that it is up to them to fix everything they deem to be a coming disaster.
They tell us that God does not feed the world, that food and water are running out, yet, since 1950, American farmers increased per-acre corn yields by 500%—yes, 500%!— and other crop yields by smaller but still amazing amounts, all the while using less land, water, fuel, fertilizers, and pesticides. Even in nations where food is in scarce supply, like India, farmers have enjoyed record harvests in recent years. In short, God has blessed this earth with tremendous progress in how food is provided. This is nothing short of a miracle in its own right. And yet, many become like Andrew with his childish answer that there simply cannot possibly be enough for everybody.
After all had eaten Jesus told his disciples to “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” And they gathered up twelve baskets of the leftovers, much more than what Jesus had at the start with five barley loaves and two fishes! We Americans regularly throw away more food than we can possibly eat. We clean out our refrigerators because leftover food has passed its useful life. We cannot eat rotting and decaying food. We clean out our over-sized freezers because that food we stored for later use has now developed freezer burn. It’s been in there too long! Have we not witnessed a tremendous miracle of God in providing us food in such super-abundance?
The crowd proclaimed him “the Prophet who is to come into the world! Perceiving they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” Jesus fed hungry people with bread, but it soon became apparent that bread for their bellies was all that they really wanted. They could get no higher on Maslow’s pyramid of human needs than that of the animals.
Bread for our bellies doesn’t solve our real problem, our alienation from God. Feeding the hungry might solve our hunger for a few hours but it doesn’t get us any closer to God and his desire to rescue people from eternal death. The real problems are higher on Maslow’s pyramid. Bread for the belly doesn’t begin to touch our egotistical self-glorifying desires that cause conflict between us and others, to say nothing of our alienation from God. Bread for our bellies does not feed our empty souls.
In St. Mark’s Gospel our Lord began his earthly ministry with these words:
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” [Mark 1.15]
Jesus calls us to look beyond that base layer of physical needs. In his first temptation Jesus tells us that life is more than bread for our bodies. There must be true nourishment for our souls, and that is found only in the Word of God which tells us of God’s plan to redeem us by the innocent death and resurrection of his Christ.
Luther calls these people in the crowd who wanted to force Jesus to be their Bread King “children of the devil who obstinately go their own way.” [Luther’s House Postils, vol. 1, p. 358]. They want nothing to do with righteousness before God. They can’t get beyond the base level of their needs to see what Jesus really wants for them, that he wants to be their Savior from all that would separate them from the Father forever.
There is more to say about this text and bread. On this coming Wednesday evening at the Office of Vespers we will continue this thread. There Jesus will say, “I am the Bread of Life.” But for today let this be what we take from these beginning verses from John 6:
- God provides for our physical needs, often so abundantly that we would need a caravan of semi tractor trailers to gather up the leftover fragments of what has been supplied.
- We see that our Lord even provides for the physical needs of those who despise and hate him, that he makes no distinction between believers and unbelievers when it comes to feeding our bodies.
- Let us learn to thank him for our daily bread, not just with our words but also in how we live, sharing our abundance with others who have much less of their daily bread, for that too, is commanded by our Lord, that we share in his abundant providence.
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit