Seventh Sunday after Trinity
“You Satisfy the Hungry Heart”
St. Mark 8.1-9
04 August 2019
Rev. Philip Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
+ In the Name of Jesus +
At first glance this account of the Feeding of the 4,000 men seems to be no different than the Feeding of the 5,000. Some practitioners of Higher Criticism, a destructive method of interpreting the Scriptures, say that the Gospel writers were confused. Clearly, the average reader doesn’t see much difference between them, but there is a very important difference which underscores the fact that there are two miracles detailed by Matthew and Mark. Luke doesn’t include the Feeding of the 4,000 men. The audiences are different. In the Feeding of the 5,000 men the audience is Jewish while in the Feeding of the 4,000 men the audience is Gentile.
The name Gentile comes from the Latin translation of the Bible called the Vulgate. In the biblical Greek the name is tribe or nation. Gentiles are any peoples who are not Jewish. The terms Gentiles and Nations are used interchangeably.
So, if you remember nothing else from this sermon remember that Jesus brought salvation also to Gentiles, to all people. That salvation should come to the Nations is spoken of clearly in the Old Testament. When Jesus preached in his hometown of Nazareth the people became enraged because he cited Elijah being sent to a widow in Zarephath. She was a Gentile. He also cited Elisha being sent to heal Naaman the Syrian, a Gentile, of his leprosy. The people in Nazareth were enraged that God would want anything to do with Gentiles.
Isaiah speaks more clearly than all the rest that the Nations would be included in God’s plan of salvation. The Jews were to be a light for the Gentiles. Every Sunday we sing the Nunc Dimittis after receiving the Sacrament. Settings 1 and 2 use Nations while settings 3 and 4 use Gentiles.
Lord, now You let Your servant go in peace; Your word has been fulfilled.
My own eyes have seen the salvation which You have prepared in the sight of ev’ry people:
A light to reveal You to the nations and the glory of Your people Israel. [LSB 1]
God planned to save the whole world, not just the Jews. In his earthly ministry Jesus healed many Gentiles. Of particular interest for us this morning is the healing of the demon possessed man in the Gerasenes. [Mark 5.1-20] When Jesus asked the unclean spirit his name, he replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” Jesus allowed the demons to possess a herd of pigs [definitely Gentile territory because pork was forbidden for Jews to eat!]. At the end of the account, the Gentile man who had been made well begged Jesus that he might follow him, but Jesus denied his request. Mark records:
And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. (Mark 5:19–20).
This crowd had gathered on the far side of the Sea of Galilee in the district known as the Decapolis, literally, the Ten Towns, not far from the Gerasenes. How did it happen that 4,000 men plus women and children had gathered to listen to Jesus and follow him for three days? Could it have been this formerly demon-possessed man whom Jesus had healed? I firmly believe that he did exactly what Jesus told him to do.
This man became an evangelist to his neighbors with astounding results! They ran out of food. They hung on Jesus’ every word. There is no record of the words which Jesus spoke to the crowd but he no doubt talked about the Kingdom of God and that he was bringing salvation. It seems to me that what John records about Jesus’ words at the feeding of the 5,000 men probably applies here as well.
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (John 6:27–28)
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:35).
But there is yet one more evidence to this back story that Jesus has come to save Gentiles. One word from the Feeding of the 5,000 men and one word from the Feeding of the 4,000 men. It’s the English word “basket.” In Greek it’s different in each account. In the Feeding of the 5,000 men it is kophinos [κόφινος], a basket in which a Jew would carry his food. It’s narrow at the top and wider at the bottom, kind of like a water pot. In this account the word is spuridas [σπυρίδας], a hamper-like basket, one that the Gentiles carried. It’s the same word used of the basket to lower the Apostle Paul over the wall in Damascus [Acts 9.25]
“I have compassion on the crowd,” said Jesus. His heart went out also to these Gentiles. He saw their need and met it. He didn’t turn them away any more than he turned away the 5,000 men. The Bread of Life has now come to the Nations. Jesus came to satisfy our hunger. He satisfies the hunger of our souls for eternal life. He feeds us with life-giving words. He proclaims forgiveness to us. This compassion of Jesus always stands front and center.
Luther has taught us to pray this way:
The eyes of all look to You, [O Lord,] and You give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. [Psalm 145.15-16].
Then shall be said the Our Father and the following:
Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these Your gifts which we receive from Your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. [SC Section 2 Daily Prayers, Asking a Blessing]
He feeds us with earthly food but he also feeds us with heavenly food. You Satisfy the Hungry Heart is the title of one of our hymns [LSB 641]. It’s the refrain for each of the five stanzas. It’s about the Lord’s Supper and what Christ gives us in it. The Holy Supper is for only one kind of person, the sinner who knows his sin and hungers for mercy and forgiveness. That’s what this miracle underscores. Christ has compassion on sinners and feeds them with his own true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. Our Lord invites us:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Mt 11:28).
Jesus never turned away sinners who approached him and cried out for mercy. His invitation to all still stands, for Jew and Gentile alike. Penitents are never turned away. The hymn writer says:
“Come unto Me, ye weary, And I will give you rest.”
O blessed voice of Jesus, Which comes to hearts oppressed!
It tells of benediction, Of pardon, grace, and peace,
Of joy that hath no ending, Of love that cannot cease. [LSB 684.1]
Christ himself feeds us miraculously in this Holy Supper. He gives us his true body and blood under the bread and wine in a miracle which far outstrips the bread and fish! How it happens we cannot explain any more than we can explain the multiplied loaves and fish, but we trust it because our Lord Jesus Christ says so. He provides forgiveness, renewal, and strengthening for you in this meal.
It is hard not to be struck by the abundance of this Feeding of the 4,000 men. There’s more left over than there was at the beginning! Christ has multiplied the resources beyond “just enough,” and this serves to remind us that Christ’s mercy never runs out. It can’t be exhausted. The crowd could not eat all that Christ provided. And so it is with Christ’s compassion and forgiveness. Sometimes we think that surely God’s forgiveness must run out for certain people, perhaps for you, that we’ve exhausted God’s patience. Our sins are unnumbered and repeated, but sinners cannot exhaust Christ’s supply of mercy and compassion. As often as we come to this holy meal Christ supplies what we need in superabundance. In this supper both Jew and Gentile share Christ’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. In it Jew and Gentile are united with our Lord who satisfies our hungry hearts with his life-sustaining body and blood.
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.