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Posts Tagged "Mark 6:30-44"

Foretaste

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

Prost!

July 22, 2018
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 is from our Gospel lesson, specifically where Mark records, And taking the five loaves and the two fish, [Jesus] looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

There are many here who are of German ancestry, but even those who don’t have German blood in their veins have likely heard an infamous toast often sung auf Deutsche. It’s very popular at gatherings like Oktoberfest, and it goes like this: Ein Prosit! Ein Prosit! Der Gemütlichkeit! Ein Prosit! Ein Prosit! Der Gemütlichkeit! Roughly translated, it means, “A toast! A toast! To cheer and good times!” I say “roughly translated” because one word in there, in particular, does not translate well into English: Gemütlichkeit. This is a word that has many deep and rich connotations that cannot be adequately summed up in a single word in English. Yes, it has connotations of jocularity, but it also has overtones of friendliness, warmth, belonging, hospitality, and leaving your troubles behind you at the door, as you come to feast on rich foods and drink good drinks with your family, friends, and community. This is Gemütlichkeit, and I think it’s a word that should become part of the vernacular here in the States, especially in the Church!

You may find that odd, given the usual context in which the word is used, but it seems obvious to me that this spirit of Gemütlichkeit fits well into our Lutheran theology and practice, and I’d argue that the concept is biblical. You do see it in Scripture, and I’d argue that you see it here, in our Gospel text. We’re looking at one of the best known miracles of Jesus: the infamous feeding of the 5000, with little more than a snack: five loaves of bread, and two fish. Truly, it is an astonishing miracle, but like most miracles our Lord performed, the action in and of itself isn’t really meant to be the focus. Instead, there is a deeper, fuller, and richer meaning behind it, a more profound and real reality. Let’s look at the text and try, in our broken and sinful human nature, to find it.

So, after returning from doing the work He had sent them to do, the disciples withdraw with Jesus at His command to a desolate place – you can read that as a desert place. Jesus wants His disciples to rest, away from the crowds, after the work that they had done – casting out demons, healing the sick, and proclaiming that people should repent of their sins. So they withdraw across the lake. Though they try to escape the crowds, the crowds follow them. Indeed, they run on ahead of them, to beat them to where Jesus and the disciples would land. Once Jesus sees them, sees their longing, Mark tells us that He has “compassion” on them – that’s probably the best English translation but it doesn’t really do the word justice; in the original Greek, the word denotes more of a “gut-wrenching anguish” on behalf of another person. Jesus sees these people in their lostness, their shepherdless-ness, and the seat of His affections, His inmost being, is moved to the point that, instead of taking the time to rest, He teaches these sheep without a shepherd. You start to see the spirit of Gemütlichkeit showing itself.

Now, Jesus is still presumably teaching, when the disciples approach Him, concerned about the late hour, and ask Him to send the people away so that they can go somewhere (not in this isolated area) and get some food. Instead, Jesus commands them to provide these shepherdless sheep with sustenance. Obviously caught off-guard, and intimidated by the physically and financially daunting task that’s been set before them, they ask, in essence, how they are to accomplish this monumental assignment. Jesus asks what supplies are on hand; the disciples check it out, and report back: all that they have is five loaves of bread … and two fish – as if that was supposed to help the situation. Nevertheless, Jesus takes what they give Him. He blesses and gives thanks for it, and somehow, in a miraculous and inexplicable way, provides enough of that same food to completely satisfy the hunger of each and every person present, with a copious amount of leftovers – 12 full baskets, in fact. Logically, it doesn’t make any sense. The first law of thermodynamics dictates that matter cannot be created nor destroyed, but here we see this Jewish rabbi in the desolate countryside of 1st Century Judea, doing precisely that. This is an incredible event, but what is happening behind the scenes? Incredible as this miracle is, once again, it’s pointing beyond itself to a greater, more incredible reality.

Some have thought that this miracle is indistinguishable from the institution of the Lord’s Supper – after all, some of the verbiage is quite similar ... Jesus taking loaves of bread, giving thanks, and giving it to His people. Well, not quite. This miracle certainly isn’t the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and the effect of partaking of that miraculous bread isn’t the same as when the disciples (or us, for that matter) receive Jesus’s true body in, under, and with the bread, but I will say that the two are nevertheless related; they are both pointing forward to the new creation, to the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom which has no end.

That is the summation of Jesus’s mission – to renew and restore all things, to make all things new, and to gather all His flock to Himself, but here we get a glimpse, a foretaste, of that new creation, of that feast, of that holy Gemütlichkeit. What we see here, and what really sets the eschatological tone for this miracle, is how Jesus is fulfilling what Isaiah had written: On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples, a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. According to Isaiah, YHWH Himself was going to host this incredible feast, presenting it before His people … and here in Mark, we see YHWH incarnate, hosting a sumptuous, satisfying feast, providing for His people in a way that echoes what He had done centuries before with manna in the wilderness. All this imagery of feasting and being in community with one another and with God, all point to the eschaton, the new creation when Christ returns and ushers us into the ultimate feast, to be with Him and one another for all eternity!

As those ancient Judeans had a foretaste of this feast while they ate bread in the presence of Jesus, YHWH incarnate, so do we have a foretaste of this feast whenever Christ Himself provides us with His true Body and Blood in, under, and with bread and wine. However, we know that whatever feasting, hospitality, belonging – whatever Gemütlichkeit we are able to have here in this broken world is incomplete, unfinished, so we wait. We wait – eagerly – for the return of our Shepherd-King, when we will finally see what true Gemütlichkeit looks like: belonging in and to Christ and one another, partaking of that marriage feast which our Good Shepherd will spread before us, and singing His praises forever and ever in the new creation. Prost!

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

Tags: Mark 6:30-44
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