PENTECOST 9, A – August 6, 2017

SCRIPTURES – Psalm 105; Isaiah 55:1-5; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21 

Now when Jesus heard [about the death of John], he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Matt. 14

 

In these dog days of summer it is easy to feel like an old dog: worn out and fatigued, not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually. First, there are always problems you have to deal with in your own life. Some days they are many, and other days few; but, there are always things to deal with that wear you down. And then there is the constant drumbeat of bad news that dominates the news programs and internet and newspapers. Especially wearing – at least, it seems to me – is the bad-mouthing of, and from, our elected representatives. What leaders they are! They do little but argue and berate one another, and then go off on their summer vacation to leave millions of people to deal with a health insurance system that is falling apart. Our wonderful state reps refuse to pass a budget and leave no option but cutting and hacking, bringing suffering to many of the neediest. It all wears you down!

 Jesus and His followers felt such fatigue at times. Oh, there was great joy and excitement when our Lord first came on the scene. Crowds came to Him, and He helped them with great miracles of healing. He trained and sent out His closest disciples to preach and bring His healing to many towns and villages, and they returned to Him energized and excited. “Even the demons submit to us in your name!” they told Him. But, the success and excitement did not last. The people of the cities near where Jesus grew up began rejecting Him, and He rebuked them harshly (Matt. 11:20ff). He was even rejected in His hometown of Nazareth. He began facing increasing opposition and hostility from the influential and highly regarded Pharisees. Jesus started hiding His message in parables, and even told His disciples to not make Him known. How this must have confused and depressed them! And, finally, King Herod brutally murdered John the Baptist, that great forerunner of Christ. When He heard of this, Jesus withdrew from the people and went off to a desolate place by Himself. Your Lord knows fatigue!

 But, His fatigue and needs were not foremost in His heart. That of others was; and still is. And so, even though He was worn out and worn down and withdrew to a desolate place, when the crowds found Him and pressed upon Him with their needs His heart went out to them. He went to them to help them and comfort them.

 It is important to see this compassionate response of Jesus, for it reveals who He is. As His heart was turned to the people of His day in their need, so His heart is turned to you. Jesus is your never-failing provider in every need!

 In today’s Gospel we see Him providing for the people in their physical need. Not only does He heal those who were sick; He miraculously provides food for all, and in great abundance. Twelve baskets were filled with what was left over!

 Why this concern, by the way, with the leftovers? Well, they would undoubtedly be the provisions for the next day. Jesus did many miracles, but only two miraculous provisions of food are mentioned. Most of the time, it seems, Jesus and His followers bought their food, just like everyone else. Expect the same, then, in your own life. Of course your God can do great miracles! But, He mostly takes care of us through the everyday people and things He provides: farmers, and the crops they grow and animals they raise; truckers who transport them and grocers who sell them; doctors and nurses and therapists and medicines; bankers and store clerks and trash collectors; and, dare I say it, even legislators! Thank God for them, and pray for them in their work. God gives His help and provides for our needs most often through the hands of others. See His hand behind their hands!

 You are His most important hands. The food was first distributed and the leftovers gathered up by Jesus’ disciples. Even so, you followers of His are a very important part of your Lord’s provision and care for people. He uses you to hand out His provision: with your presence and helping hand; with His words of comfort; and in answer to your prayers. And, it can even happen – and often does – that Jesus comforts you as you bring His comfort to others. He places into your heart His compassion and the peace with God that fills His heart, that you might be His mouth and hands.

 It is not an easy thing, of course, to show Christ-like compassion. It’s not easy to remain compassionate when your compassion is presumed upon or not appreciated, as can happen. This happened to Jesus after His miraculous provision, as the people tried to make Him their king so that they could get free food all the time. Your compassion can even get you into trouble. Opposition to Jesus grew when He helped those His society rejected, such as prostitutes and tax-collectors and Roman soldiers – and even legislators such as Caesar, whom He told the people to obey! It culminated in His crucifixion. And yet, even as He was crucified, His heart remained filled with compassion. “Father, forgive them,” He prayed; for those crucifying Him, and for us all. For, our lack of compassion and our sins, as surely as theirs, caused His death.

 Keep this in mind, especially when you are dog-tired and worn down and just want to withdraw. A brief respite is ok, as even Jesus sought this. Our bodies need rest and refreshment; our minds and hearts do, also. God richly provides us with good food and drink, and many other blessings in this world, for such refreshment. But, don’t ever withdraw from your Savior. He knows your sins and the things that weigh you down. He knows the dog days of your life, for He has lived them Himself. And, He not only knows; He has the refreshment, His forgiveness and His heart, that you need. Draw near to Him in His Word and Sacrament, the rich food of His body and blood which He offers to you freely to revive your soul. And as you get worn down and worn out, draw ever nearer. You may not feel like doing so. In fact, I can almost guarantee that you will not. But, only Jesus can give you the comfort of God’s compassionate presence. Only He can renew your compassion with His compassion. He offers it to you abundantly in the rich food of His Word and Sacrament.

 “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters,” cries your Lord (Isa. 55). “And he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live.” He who cries this out urgently desires to renew you, and He will not fail to do so. Gladly and confidently, then, receive Him – His forgiveness and cleansing of your life; His heart of love and compassion; His strength as the presence of God – and gladly and confidently pray:

Lord, grant me, then, thus strengthened with heavenly food, while here

My course on earth is lengthened, to serve with holy fear.

And when you call my spirit to leave this world below,

I enter, through Your merit, where joys unmingled flow. (LSB #642:4)