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July 18, 2021
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this eighth Sunday after Pentecost comes from our Gospel text, especially where Mark records, “When [Jesus] went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

Before a certain pandemic took the world by storm, it was rather commonplace for grocery stores to offer their patrons free samples. Members of their staff would man a station where they would prepare small, individualized tidbits of a certain product that maybe was on special, or that the store had an overabundance of. If you’re anything like me, sometimes those samples would be incredibly good, and you would find yourself meandering back to the same station for seconds … or thirds … or sevenths. Whether or not you actually buy the product advertised, you still got a taste of what you could have … and it might very well leave you wanting more. That’s what samples do. They tease with a snippet, a crumb, a morsel of what you can expect to come later. They’re tantalizing tidbits that foreshadow what is to come. Call them … a foretaste.

That’s a word we’re somewhat familiar with, right? A word often associated with the Eucharist, the Holy Supper of our Lord’s true body and blood in, under, and with the bread and the wine. Sometimes, for the post-Communion collect, you’ll hear Pastor French or myself pray, “Gracious God, our heavenly Father, You have given us a foretaste of the feast to come in the Holy Supper of Your Son’s body and blood ….” What is meant by that is that the Lord’s Supper gives us a taste—physical and spiritual—of what is waiting for us on the other side of Jesus’s return. It’s a sample of the blessed communion we already have with our Lord, as well as with all the company of heaven. This is not the only example of “foretaste” as a theological concept expressed in our confession. It is something seen readily throughout the Scriptures, and our Gospel lesson today absolutely exudes it.

We know the miracle in this text very well, one of the only miracles seen unequivocally in all four Gospel accounts: the feeding of the 5000 men, plus the women and children with them, with nothing but fives loaves of bread and two fish. After the disciples return from doing their apostolic work, Jesus leads them away for a bit of “R&R.” They get in their boat to go to a “desolate place,” barren, isolated, wild, a place on the edge of the desert wasteland, but their intention to slip away was not to be. We’re told that “many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.”

Jesus and the others come ashore, and He sees this crowd, and instead of getting frustrated or angry, we’re told that “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” The Greek word for Jesus having compassion on that crowd is very strong, denoting a sort of gut-wrenching anguish. He knows what they need – the Word of God – and since the leaders of Israel, the supposed shepherds of the people, aren’t giving it to them, His heart ached for them, and He began to provide that Word as He began to teach them.

But the teachings went on, and the hour grew late, and there wasn’t enough time to let the people go away to the distanced villages to get food; they’d been given spiritual sustenance, but they also needed physical sustenance. The disciples tell Jesus as much, and He replies with a humanly impossible challenge: “You give them something to eat.” Even two hundred days’ wages wouldn’t be enough to feed a crowd of well-over 5000 adults and children! How could they possibly provide them with enough food?

Now, we know what Jesus had in mind, but the disciples did not, so when He tells them to check inventory, they come back to report (possibly with some sarcasm) that they’ve got five loaves or cakes of bread – “Oh, but we’ve also got two whole fish!” Clearly, in human terms, that’s not enough to even feed their theological troupe, let alone this crowd. But Jesus is unconcerned with the number; He commands the crowds to sit down in that deserted place now populated, upon the verdant slopes of what was once wild and desolate and dead. At this point, Jesus does His Jesus thing: taking the food, looking up to heaven, giving thanks, and in some way that none of the Gospel writers can even describe, multiplies that food to feed the entire crowd, with enough leftovers of broken cakes and fish morsels to fill twelve baskets-full.

It was an incredible miracle with sumptuous morsels and tidbits for all who read it. We’re given several foretastes in this miraculous text. The most obvious one is the connection many theologians and pastors make to the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Certainly, it is not an apples-to-apples comparison to that miraculous, holy meal—there was no wine that we’re told of, the diners feasting upon the bread and fish were not eating and drinking the forgiveness of their sins, and Jesus was not telling them to make this unique meal into a sacrament. However, in that particular dinner, what we nevertheless see is a clear showing of God Himself providing for the needs of His people. We’re seeing culmination of the foretaste shown to Moses and the leaders of Israel in Exodus 24, when they went up on YHWH’s holy mountain, seeing God face to face, and we are told that they “ate and drank” in His presence.

But that’s not the only foretaste we get in this text. The splagchnon, that deep-seated, heart-wrenching compassion that Jesus felt toward the shepherdless crowd, starving for God’s Word … that’s a foretaste of the compassion and steadfast-lovingkindness that compelled the incarnate God, the Good Shepherd to lay down His life for His sheep, to die in the cruelest way imaginable for His wayward children. That heart-rending compassion and pity shown at the shores of the Sea of Galilee is the same love and mercy shown by the God of the universe when He took on human flesh, endured the beatings and scourgings, ultimately to be nailed to the cross on Golgotha’s hill to atone for the sins of His sinful creatures. It’s the same love and longing that He showed to each of us in the waters of holy baptism, when He put His name on our foreheads and hearts and declared to all of creation, “This one is My beloved and forgiven child.”

Are you full yet with these samples and foretastes? I hope not, because there is another; one I don’t want you to miss, and it might be easily missed. “Then He commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass.” The area where they were had been wilderness: deserted, barren, a haunt of jackals and demons. That’s a good way to think of, not only this area, but all of creation after the Fall: it was broken and dead, not as it ought to be, what it was created to be. But then comes the Creator to undo the curse and scourge that sin wrought in this world, and where He goes, life springs up from what was once dead. This once barren hellscape where the feeding occurred was, by the time of Jesus’s arrival, verdant and lush and green once more. This miracle is a foretaste of the undoing of sin’s diabolical effects. No more will sin and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground! He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found! We saw this best where it happened first: on Easter morning, as the tomb of the crucified Lord was vacated in glory and triumph! But that foretaste pointed to the return of our crucified, resurrected, and now ascended Lord Jesus, when He will issue a cry of command, and that which is now dead will live once more! That’s a foretaste, a sample that is sweetest of all: a taste of the restoration of all creation! May our Lord Jesus hasten the blessed Day of His return, so that these foretastes may find their culmination at the victory feast in His kingdom, which will have no end!

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Mark 6:30-44