“And taking the five loaves and the two fish He 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.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, have you ever been hungry? We all know what it’s like to be craving our next meal, but I mean real hunger. The kind of hunger that comes from skipping meals out of necessity, the kind of hunger that comes from not knowing where the food you need is going to come from or how you will pay for it. We live in such abundance that for most of us, such hunger is something we experience only on television. Hunger makes people desperate; you know this even from the minor hunger you experience from day to day. It makes you irritable and short-tempered, and your cravings only increase until they are satisfied. For others, hunger leads to violence and crime. Those who are starving are moved to desperate measures to provide for themselves and their families. When you are hungry, nothing else really matters but providing your body with what it needs.
The crowd that followed Jesus was hungry. Not physical hunger, although that would soon become an issue, but spiritual hunger. They hungered for Jesus. You can see their desperation as they hounded Him, begging Jesus to provide for them. All our Lord wanted to do was take His disciples, exhausted from their missionary journey, on a quick vacation to rest and recharge, to pray and prepare for the exertions that lay ahead. “For many were coming and going and they had no leisure even to eat.” They needed a break, but the hungry crowd wouldn’t allow it. “Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.” The crowd is desperate; they are willing to run around the sea while Jesus sails across it. They want Him, for only He can satisfy their hunger, only He can provide what their leaders, their shepherds have failed to give.
“When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion upon them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Israel’s shepherds have failed them. They were to be fed on the rich bread of God’s Word, they were to feast on His grace and mercy, but Israel’s shepherds were too concerned for themselves to provide what God’s people needed. The reason the people are so desperately hungry is because they haven’t been properly fed; they have been spiritually starved by those who were to feed them, they have been neglected by those appointed by God to care for them. They are hungry, and in Jesus they finally see the One who can satisfy that hunger.
We, too, are a hungry people. Why else are there broken people all around us, desperately searching for fulfillment? Why else are alternative religions and spiritualties becoming more and more popular? Why else is pornography a flourishing, billion dollar industry? Why else are drug, alcohol, and gambling addictions so prevalent? Hunger drives people to do desperate things. Hunger leads us to do things that we wouldn’t do otherwise, but in desperation we are willing to try anything. Our hunger isn’t physical, it is spiritual; our souls are hungry. We hunger for love, for acceptance, for fulfillment, for forgiveness. We hunger for something to fill this void that we feel inside of us, something that will make us feel whole. In the world’s richest nation, a place where our physical needs are met to a degree not found anywhere else on our planet, we are starving.
Our shepherds, the shepherds of this world, know that we are hungry, they see the desperation on our faces, and they are ready to provide. You’ve seen their promises on TV, you’ve heard their messages loud and clear. Fulfillment comes through having the right friends and taking time to enjoy the pleasures that this world can offer. Fulfillment comes from that bottle of beer; that beautiful girl or handsome man. Fulfillment comes from being successful in anything, climbing over others to get to the top. Fulfillment comes from having enough money and enough toys to enjoy, from cars to houses to electronics. Your hunger can be filled if you live life for yourself. That is the message that this world offers, and you know that you have at times listened to these shepherds and sought the methods of the world to fill your own hunger. But these so-called ‘shepherds’ are doing more damage than good. They are teaching you to pour into that void in your heart the things of this world, and none of them can ever satisfy, none can ever bring an end to your hunger.
The solution to hunger comes not from this world of spiritual poverty, but from the One who entered this world to satisfy hungry people, to shepherd wandering sheep to green pastures. “When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion upon them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.” Jesus has compassion upon you; compassion, this beautiful word that we find throughout the Gospels to describe the pity, the mercy, the great love that Jesus has for His people, for you and me. The compassion of Jesus always moves Him to action, and here that action is teaching. He sets Himself up as the Shepherd of His people, replacing the foolish and negligent shepherds of this world. The teaching of Jesus provides guidance to the wandering, showing them where to find quiet pastures and cool waters. The teaching of Jesus shows the foolishness of the world’s shepherds, that what they give can never satisfy. For we are creatures of God, and our fulfillment can only come in Him. The early church father Augustine put it this way: “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” You have a God-shaped hole in your heart, and try as you might, nothing else can fill it but Him.
You have this God-shaped hole because you have been separated from your Creator by the corruption of sin. Sin makes you hungry, then leads you to fill that hunger with that which doesn’t satisfy. The only way that our Shepherd could fill His hungry people was by ridding us of the source of our hunger, the sin that separated us from God. In compassion, that deep love and pity that He has for you and me, He did exactly that. Jesus shows forth His compassion in that He didn’t spare even His own life, but gave it up as the sacrifice for our sin. He fasted from Maundy Thursday through Good Friday, as He suffered the blows and insults of men to deliver hungry people from the source of their hunger. He thirsted on the cross as He shed His own blood for your sin. It was compassion that led Him there, that led Him to freely, willingly give up His own life into death for you. Your sin was upon His shoulders, and so when He suffered and died, enduring the punishment that your sin deserved, that sin, the source of your desperate hunger, was defeated, you were reconciled once again with your Creator.
The resurrection on Easter morning is the proof that God has accepted His sacrifice, that sin itself has been paid for. Now our Shepherd, the risen Lord Jesus Christ, goes forth to fill hungry hearts with Himself. Only He can fill our spiritual hunger, for only He has defeated the source of that hunger. His compassion motivated His death, and now His compassion motivates Him to satisfy the hungry with the only food that satisfies, Himself. This is food that no one can buy, that no one can provide for themselves; it must come from the One who has defeated sin on our behalf.
Jesus calls on us to sit at His table and receive His good gifts. “Then He commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties.” The crowd of desperately hungry people is gathered into congregations, to receive this food together in community, as a family of believers. The Shepherd calls on them to sit on the green grass, to dwell on the green pastures beside the still waters. Then He provides the meal. “And taking the five loaves and the two fish He 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.” He gives Himself to you and to me, using His messengers as His instruments. He gives Himself to us in His Word, in His precious forgiveness in the Absolution. But He also and especially fills hungry hearts with a meal, the meal of Himself, the Lord’s Supper. He takes bread, breaks it and says, “Take eat, this is my body.” He fills hungry hearts with His very own Body and Blood. Spiritual hunger is filled by physical food; His true Body and Blood, the price of our redemption, satisfies our desperately hungry hearts. What was true for the five thousand on the hillside is true of us today: “And they all ate and were satisfied.” The hungry are filled, they are satisfied, for they receive in abundance what they need. Jesus gives Himself in abundance to you to fill that void in your heart, to end your hunger for eternity.
It is no mistake that the Scriptures often describe the new heavens and the new earth as a banquet. There our hunger will be no more, it will be fully satisfied forever. You will dine with Jesus your Lord, the One who in compassion sought to end your hunger by defeating its source upon the cross. You will sit at that table with those you dine with today, along with all who have been filled by Christ in every age. That feast will never run out, for wherever Jesus serves the meal, there is abundance. “And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.” Have you ever wondered why there were leftovers? The disciples gathered up the broken pieces of bread and the leftover fish to feed the Church; the abundance of that day teaches us that Jesus has enough to feed you and me—on this day, and even forevermore. In the name of the one who fills the hungry, who defeats hunger itself, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.