In the midst of the season of Lent, comes Laetare, which means “joy.” On this day, even though our penitence continues, we take a moment to rejoice in the good gifts that our gracious Heavenly Father bestows on us. In the middle of the chapter on repentance, we steal a quick glance at the end of the book and are reminded of the boundless love and mercy of God. We mourn our sin knowing that Christ has already washed it all away. We fight against the passions of the flesh with the knowledge that our Lord has already conquered them all. Because we know the end of the story, we are never without joy even in the midst of sorrow. In particular, we can rejoice today in the many ways that God provides for our needs of body and soul.
In the First Article of the Apostles Creed, we confess our faith in God who created the universe out of nothing. Normally we attribute this work to God the Father, and this is right. But the Scriptures teach that God the Son is also the Creator: “For by [the Son] all things were created in heaven and on earth” (Col 1:16). Here in the sixth chapter of John, Jesus shows himself to be the very One who spoke the world into existence. He is the very same God who gave us life and breath, and still takes care of us. He is the God who gives us our daily bread.
St. Mark tells us, that when Jesus saw the crowds coming toward him in the wilderness, his heart was moved with compassion, because they were like sheep without a shepherd (Mk 6:34).You might think that Jesus had other important things on his mind. He did. He had been so busy teaching the people that he and his disciples had no leisure even to eat(Mk 6:30). Thenhe got the news that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded. And most of all, he was preparing for the final battle against sin, death, and the devil at his cross. Running the entire universe is a big job; surely Jesus has more important things to do than make sure we get to eat dinner tonight. And yet, God tells us, “Ask me for your daily bread.”
None of our needs are too small or too trivial for God.He knows when your water heater breaks. He cares when someone you love says hurtful things on Facebook. Jesus is concerned about every last, boring, mundane detail of our lives. God does not begrudge us his care; no, he delights to give us our daily bread, just as an earthly father delights to give gifts to his children. And what is our daily bread? Luther understood that this doesn’t just mean loaves of bread. It means everything that we need to support this body and life: Such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, family and friends, money, goods, even good government and good weather. All these are gifts from the hand of God.
Of all these things that God has given you, which gift is the most important of all? Which one is God most concerned to give? Jesus asks, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” (Mk 8:36). The most important treasure that God gives us in this life is our faith in Christ. This may not be the first thing we think of, but with eternity on the line, nothing else compares to this. If you have faith in Jesus, you lack nothing. On the other hand, if you had every earthly treasure without faith, you would be more wretched than the poorest beggar. When we look at the feeding of the five-thousand, we see that everything Jesus does has this greater purpose in mind. Yes, he has compassion on the hungry crowd. But more importantly, he wants to create faith in the hearts of his disciples.
At the beginning of the day, Jesus looked up and saw the large crowd coming toward him. Long before anyone was hungry, long before sunset, Jesus already knew what the people would need. He said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (Jn 6:5). That’s a very good question. How many bakeries are there out in the middle of the wilderness? And if you found one, would it have enough bread for 5,000 men, not counting women and children? Jesus brings this problem to his disciple’s attention at the beginning of the day, and the he seems to forget all about it. “You guys get a dinner plan. Meanwhile, I’ll be teaching the people.” Has God ever acted this way with you? You say to him, “Lord, we’ve got a problem!” and it seems that he replies, “Well, good luck with that. Let me know how it works out. Meanwhile, I’ll be busy running the rest of the universe…” What is God up to? Didn’t he promise to give us our daily bread? Yes he did, and he will. But first Jesus wants to give his disciples greater faith.
Finally they came to Jesus saying, “Lord, we have to send the people away. They have nothing to eat and it’s almost dark.” Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat.” They must have thought that Jesus was losing it. “Lord, even if we had two-hundred silver coins, which we don’t, it wouldn’t be enough for everyone to even have a little bite!” Jesus answers, “Tell everyone to sit down for a meal.” Now what were the disciples thinking? “This is a disaster! Jesus’ career is over. Thousands of people are expecting to eat a meal, and we’ve got nothing – just a few pieces of bread and two fish. What’s wrong with Jesus? Why doesn’t he see that we have a huge problem?”
But when the people had been made to sit down on the green grass, the Good Shepherd, Jesus, took the bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples – do these words sound familiar? – and the disciples distributed it to the people, and everyone was satisfied. Making bread for more than five-thousand people is no problem for the God who created the universe out of nothing. But Jesus let the disciples spend the whole day thinking that there was a big problem. Why? To teach them to trust. To create and awaken greater faith in their hearts. Yes, we need daily bread in this life, and God always provides. But more importantly, we need the faith that leads to eternal life. God cares about our lives on earth, but he cares far more that we spend eternity with him.
We, on the other hand, are often far too concerned with the cares of this life to think much of the next one. We can spend all our time looking for bread to satisfy the body and neglecting to ask for the Bread of Life. But our heavenly Father know what we truly need. And so in those times where God appears to be slow to keep his promises, when the sun is setting and it looks like we will go without, you can be sure that God is – even at that moment – keeping his promise to give you what you need the most – faith in his promise, faith in his Word.
Later in this chapter, Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever eats the bread that I give will live forever. And the Bread that I give is my flesh” (Jn 6:35, 51). We ask for our daily bread, and Jesus gives it. But he gives far more than simple food and drink, clothing and shoes. Our Lord gives himself – the Bread of Life which is his body broken for you. The wine of his Blood for the forgiveness of every sin. And he gives you the faith to believe that these promises are for you. Your heavenly Father care about all your needs. He has provided for you every day of your life so far, and he will continue to do so for the rest of this life, and for all of eternity. We may truly rejoice in his care. Christ is our Shepherd. He multiplies his gifts among us every day of our lives, and gives you his promise, “Whoever eats the bread that I give will live forever.” Amen.