8th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 13) LSB #349
Text – Matthew 14:20b
And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.
THE BROKEN PIECES
It’s a nursery rhyme that everyone in this room is likely to know: “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall; all the king’s horses & all the king’s men could not put Humpty together again.”
Certain people have the kind of personality that likes to fix things. It’s a stereotype for men that stereotyped women often complain about. Men don’t want to listen. They just want to fix the problem. “Yet all the king’s horses & all the king’s men could not put Humpty together again.” A lot of things will not get put together again in this world.
It’s a broken world we live in, with broken pieces, & broken people, surrounding us. The board of trustees here gets to deal with the broken pieces. The board of elders gets to deal with the broken people. It’s kind of unnerving to think about it in terms of broken people. How many of you are comfortable with openly talking about the ways in which you are broken?
Yet the nature of sin is that it has corrupted, twisted & broken every single one of us. People who refuse to acknowledge that as fact, are ultimately unable to come to grips with the struggles of living in this world. They’re unable to find purpose or meaning for the life they live.
Their entire existence is nothing more than a rat race from one broken objective to another. On the other hand, Christians are very aware of what sin has done to God’s creation. We’re taught about it from an early age & experience the effects of what God’s Word defines as rebellion against His good, gracious & loving will. Being so thoroughly indoctrinated in the reality of sin, however, can leave a child of God with an attitude of hopelessness.
We may learn to suck it up, grin & bear it, & tough our way through life. Don’t you dare enjoy living because that will spoil it & then you’ll lose whatever it was that brought you pleasure. So put on that somber face & if it feels too good to be true – then it must be a lie.
When something you value ends up broken, just forget about it because there’s plenty more brokenness where that came from. Denial & delusion on the one hand, or acceptance & despair on the other, those are the two options that Lucifer puts before us. Which one, do you think, was troubling the disciples in today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew?
“Now when it was evening, the disciples came to Him & said, ‘This is a desolate place, & the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages & buy food for themselves.’ But Jesus said, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They said to Him, ‘We have only five loaves here & two fish.’”
Clearly, the disciples were focused on the reality of sin & the brokenness of life in that desolate place. They’d accepted the damage sin does to our existence. They’d given in to the devil’s temptation & given up hope of finding a way to feed the massive crowd. In the mind of the disciples, providing food for that many people was completely out of the question.
Jesus’ disciples had resigned themselves to the Genesis 3:19 curse: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground.” They didn’t grasp that Jesus had come to reverse the curse. Yet that is exactly the message Jesus is conveying through this miracle. The Messiah has come to restore His creation to the way it was before the fall into sin.
As St. John wrote in Revelation 7: “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore… For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, & He will guide them to springs of living water, & God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:16-17 ESV)
That prophecy will be fulfilled in all its perfection when Jesus returns to earth on the Last Day. However, He is already now enacting that promise through His current reign in the world as well. Our problem with that is it’s almost totally hidden from our eyes. Listen to what St. Paul wrote regarding that in Colossians 3: “For you have died, & your life is hidden with Christ…” (Colossians 3:3 ESV)
If you have been washed by God, through the waters of Baptism, you are already now dead – dead to this world, dead to sin, dead to your own will & desires. Nevertheless, the true life you have, the eternal life, the perfection & glory, is still hidden to your physical eyes. That makes the life of a Christian so difficult.
The Messiah has come, but given the culture of abundance that we live in it’s going to be extremely difficult for us to hear these words of Matthew & grasp their importance. We barely know what it is to be hungry, let alone destitute, with no hope of finding food. The celebration that would have occurred with this miraculous feeding of the 5000 is pretty much beyond us.
But maybe you’ve had something you really treasured that ended up shattered by the careless actions of another. Maybe you took the broken pieces in your hands & felt the regret of their demise? Have you tried to put those broken pieces together again? Have you tried to rebuild a relationship that was broken beyond repair?
Jesus reigns today, even over those events of our lives. Messiah has come to restore our hope & our joy through giving purpose & meaning to our lives. So while Jesus did feed the 5000 & they merely had to sit down in order to receive their food, the disciples had to face Jesus’ challenge first.
In the midst of their hopelessness & despair while facing the impossible situation of 5000 men in the middle of nowhere with nothing to eat, Jesus challenged them. The disciples probably thought they did well in recognizing the dilemma & pointing it out to their Rabbi.
Then Jesus responds, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Maybe you’ve been in those shoes, standing there empty handed, having compassion but no resources. Keep in mind also that John the Baptist had just been beheaded by King Herod. This was not the best day in the world to be facing such a monumental task.
Here’s one author’s suggestion of what the disciples might have been thinking, at the end of the day, after all the king’s horses & all the king’s men had contemplated how on earth they were going to feed so many people.
“At the end of the evening I thought about my grumbling, my lack of compassion & understanding, & my sense that this hungry crowd approaching nightfall in the wilderness was just foolishness. ‘…you give them something to eat,’ Jesus had said to us. I wonder how much Jesus has to do to get through to us that He is the Son of God, Messiah, Lord of creation?”
If you had been with Jesus that day, would you have grumbled? Would you have thought this was a foolish mess Jesus had gotten us into? Would you have ended up embarrassed at your own lack of faith in what God’s Son could do?
In a sense, we are the broken pieces of bread & fish – left over. Christ has left us over, here on earth to continue feeding God’s sheep, even as broken as we are. Our purpose here is that others may know Christ & find life in Him. The Holy Spirit will enable us to find God’s strength in our weakness.
A perfect example of that is in our main outreach to the community. We operate a school that is continually in need of cash flow. The situation commonly looks broken & hopeless, yet that is exactly what God chooses to do His work through. He chooses that brokenness so it’s clear that whatever good is accomplished is our heavenly Father’s doing & not our own.
People, who will not acknowledge the fact of sin in this world, can never see, even in hindsight, how our Lord works through the brokenness of life to miraculously bring healing. They condemn themselves to striving after broken objectives. In order to keep us from striving for one broken objective after another, our Lord blesses us through His very own broken body & blood. Through them our heavenly Creator puts us back together again.
As in the feeding of the 5000 Yahweh strengthens & preserves us today through Holy Communion until our eternal perfection is completed. At the Lord’s Table we receive our Messiah who has come into the world, & is still arriving here each Sunday. So after receiving Christ’s body & blood we hear these words:
“Now may this body & blood of your Lord & Savior Jesus Christ strengthen & preserve you steadfast in the one true faith, unto life everlasting. Depart in peace & in joy.” We can depart in peace & joy because we trust & believe that our Savior does accomplish good things through our brokenness.
In the combination of Christ’s strength & mercy we can acknowledge sin & yet not despair because of it. So Martin Luther explained the 4th petition of the Lord’s Prayer in this way: “God gives daily bread indeed without our prayer, also to all the wicked; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to know it, & to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”
Psalm 104 expresses that nicely: “These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When You give it to them, they gather it up; when you open Your hand, they are filled with good things.” (Psalm 104:27 ESV)
Our heavenly Father withholds food from no one. That is true whether an atheist believes it or not, whether a Christian believes it or not. Christ’s main purpose in performing the miraculous feeding of the 5000 was to have those who were eating look to their Redeemer, not merely to the food. The long awaited Messiah had arrived. The broken pieces are not simply 6 bread & fish, but you & me. Our Savior didn’t just save us from hell. He is even now putting us back together again so that we might feed the rest of God’s sheep. Amen.