Five thousand fed.
Licensed Lay Minister
A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 19, 2023 at Holy Communion
Psalm 122, Deuteronomy 15:1–11, Psalm 125, Galatians 4:26–5:1, John 6:5–14
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable to you, Almighty God.
I had a difficult time tying all the lessons for today together. After a lot of research and reading, I think I finally got what they were saying. The main message is to obey God and to love him and each other.
Psalm 122 is a hymn of joy sung by a pilgrim in Jerusalem. The psalmist is there for one of the three annual festivals that Jews were supposed to attend. The pilgrim is so happy to be in Jerusalem, to praise God for all he has done for Israel and to thank him for all the blessings he has poured over Israel. He also prayed for peace over Jerusalem and for peace within the city for his brothers and friends.
Psalm 125 tells us that those who trust in the Lord are strong and as steadfast as the mountains. Although, Jerusalem isn’t surrounded by mountains, it is in mountainous country. According to one of my study Bibles, God’s people are called righteous – “those who are good,” “those who are upright in heart.” The Lord surrounds his people and strengthens them as surely and as immovable as any mountain. God gave us freedom of choice and we can choose God’s way or the way of the world.
The book of Galatians was written by the apostle Paul. In this lesson, Paul talks about the two sons of Abraham, the one born of the slave wife and the one born of the freeborn wife, and how they represent the two ways of living. Another study Bible explained it this way. People are saved because of their faith in Christ, not because of what they do. Paul contrasted those who are enslaved to the law represented by Hagar with those who are freed from the law represented by Sarah.
If you want to understand what Paul means by “being enslaved to the law” read the book of Deuteronomy. This is the book from which our Old Testament lesson is taken today. The believer is not enslaved by the law, but is a child of promise and lives by faith. Christ came to set us free – not free to do whatever we want, because that would lead us back into slavery to our own wants and desires, but free to live unselfishly. Jesus was asked a question by a Pharisee and I will quote from Matthew 22:35–40. “ ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment and the second is like it. Love your neighbour like yourself. All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’ ”
Deuteronomy 15:1–11 contains the law for cancelling debts. At the end of the seventh year the Israelites were to cancel the debts of a brother or a fellow Israelite. This didn’t apply to a foreigner living among them because he was not subject to the command to let his fields lie fallow during the seventh year, therefore he should be financially stable and able to pay his debts. When someone comes to us for a loan, it should not be given from a hard heart and a tight fist, but lend generously with an open hand and thankfulness that we are able to do so. We sometimes think that people are poor or needy through their own fault, but we are not to judge. Quoting from Matthew once again, chapter 26, verse 11 – “Jesus told the disciples that the poor will always be with you, but you will not always have me.” This was said after after a woman had poured some expensive perfume over Jesus’ head when he was dining with some friends. The disciples had asked why waste this perfume when it could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor. Verse 11 in our reading, says there will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need.
Now to the gospel lesson contains the one miracle, apart from the resurrection, found in all four gospels: Jesus feeding the five thousand. Jesus had been in Jerusalem for the feast of the Jews and some time later crossed over to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee. A great crowd followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had done on the sick. Jesus and his disciples went up on a mountainside and sat down. He was sitting there, having a bit of a rest and teaching the disciples, when he looked up and saw a huge crowd of people coming to look for him. Jesus asked Philip where they could buy enough bread to feed all these people, because there were about five thousand men, besides the women and children. Jesus knew what he was going to do, but he wanted to test Philip. Philip told him that eight months wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite. Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up and said that there was a small boy there that had five loaves of barley bread and two small fishes. They brought the bread and fish to Jesus and he had the crowd sit down on the grass. After blessing the food, Jesus gave it to the disciples to distribute among the people. Everyone ate as much as they wanted and the disciples picked up twelve baskets of scraps when they were done. We have no idea of the size of the baskets but it doesn’t matter – twelve baskets of scraps was a hugh amount from five loaves of bread and two fish. When the people saw him do this miracle they exclaimed: “Surely he is the Prophet we have been expecting.” Jesus knew they were going to make him their king so he slipped away into the hills by himself. Even though, at least some of them had seen him do other miracles, they had to see to believe. Remember after Jesus had risen from the grave and appeared to some of the disciples, John who hadn’t been with the others didn’t believe. He said that until he saw and put his fingers in the nail holes in Jesus’ hands and his hand in the hole in his side, he would not believe. Jesus appeared to the disciples again and John was with them. After showing John the proof that he needed in order to believe, Jesus told him not to be faithless any longer. Believe. Another quote, this time from John 20:28–29. “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed. Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”
When Jesus asked Philip about buying bread, Philip didn’t stop to remember all the miracles he had seen Jesus do and to think that possibly Jesus could somehow feed that crowd. Philip thought in worldly terms just as we probably would – where could I get that much money? Who could I ask? I need this right away. The disciples knew that between them they couldn’t gather near enough money to feed that many people, so they didn’t offer what they had. The little boy didn’t hesitate. He probably knew that his five small loaves and two fish wouldn’t go very far, but he gave what he had.
How about us? Do we share freely what we have? Or do we think the little bit I could give won’t help very much so we give nothing. Are we like the little boy and give what we can even if we realize it won’t help a whole lot. Some of the most generous people I know have very little but have been blessed with a giving heart and an open hand.
Now to summarize. The pilgrim was excited that he was in Jerusalem to celebrate one of the festivals that Jews were, by law, expected to attend. He was obeying God and also praising God, acknowledging all he had done for Israel. Deuteronomy tells us to be generous and help all those that need help. Do not help with a grudging heart and a closed fist. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, tells us that we have the ability to make choices – will we be slaves to the whims of the world, or will we be guided by God and his love for us? The five thousand were fed. With God, anything is possible if we only believe, because his love is overwhelming, but he does expect us to love all and share what we have.
So as we leave here today and go out into the world, let us remember to love everyone and do God’s work where we are needed.