St. John 6:5–14
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today is the last Sunday of the Church Year, the Sunday traditionally known within Anglicanism as The Sunday Next Before Advent. Just as it is within nature, which has its spring time of planting, a summer of growth, and a fall season of harvest, so it is with the Church year. It is a time of reckoning accounts, of taking stock, and closing the books on another year of grace. Another year is gone, with all its opportunities, both those taken and those missed, for growth in sanctification. It is now a part of the past, a book sealed not be opened again until the Last Day.
The prophet said, Jeremiah 8:20 (KJV) The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. These words were spoken in the second year of the seige by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, in his soon to be completed overthrow of his vassal, King Zedekiah, bringing an end to the Kingdom of Judah. While all who are received by Christ into His Kingdom at baptism are justified before God (saved), they still remain unsanctified and in danger of falling away.
The prophet Jeremiah lived in grim times. The Northern Kingdom, Israel, had been destroyed before his time, and now the Southern Kingdom, Judah, was politically and militarily imperiled. Paganism was rampant in the country, with altars erected on High Places to the Baals. Just before the beginning of today’s Lesson, we read, Jeremiah 23:1-2 (KJV) 1 Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD. 2 Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD. It sounds frighteningly like our present day. Notice particularly the strong words directed at religious leaders who have led the people astray!
But in these fearsome times, what does God say? Jeremiah 23:5-6 (KJV) 5 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. 6 In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. Look what the Lord has said to this people, those who were struggling for temporal salvation! Even amidst the vast apostasy of the land and the faithless pastors, God gives them the promise of a Saviour. He has promised them a New King, a descendant of David. When He comes, He brings salvation in His Own Person; He is OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. This has to be seen as a promise of Christ the Saviour to come. No one else can do this for us; no man is able, and neither the Father nor the Holy Ghost professes to do this for us. Jesus Christ alone is our righteousness. Even the Jews unwittingly acknowleged Him in the closing words of today’s Gospel, John 6:14 (KJV) Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. One clear lesson that we should draw from today’s lessons is this: No matter how bad things look in the world around us, Christ, the Good Shepherd, continues to feed His flock. Are we accepting, with gratitude, that which He freely offers, to the continual progress in our own sanctification? That part is up to us, and we must avail ourselves of the grace offered to us for it to benefit us.
In the proclamation of the Lord, given by Jeremiah and quoted just above, Christ is referred to as a BRANCH. He is given this title elsewhere, in Zechariah 3:8 and Zechariah 6:12. It is symbolic of the Incarnation, Christ’s taking human nature to Himself and placing Himself in the line of descendants from Abraham, through David, and on down to His day on earth. In taking on our impoverished state in His Incarnation, He gives us the unbounded wealth of Heaven, a treasure bequeathed to Christians that they might become branches of the True Vine, extensions of Himself.
The promises of God are always fulfilled, although not necessarily when we want them to be. The fulfillment often is far more sweeping than anything imagined by the hearers when the promise is first given. This is certainly true in this case. The salvation won for us by Jesus Christ, making us justified before God, is much, much more than the temporal deliverance from warring neighbors. Rarely do we appreciate fully the scope of what the Lord says.
The First Lesson ends with the words, Jeremiah 23:8 (KJV) But, The LORD liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land. The Lord is telling those who hear that a time is coming when of the ALL faithful will live in their true home, a home that is their own as a gift and not subject to an overlord, and that He will gather them into this new home. In that new home, He will provide for them, so that they will enjoy that land forever.
This leads us directly into the Gospel lesson in which Jesus is feeding the five thousand on the hillside. This is a continuation of the thought from Jeremiah, the idea of Jesus gathering His own to Himself and providing for them. St. John introduces this miracle as a preface to the comments made soon thereafter at Capernaum when He says, John 6:26-27 (KJV) 26 Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. 27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. Here, in this passage, Jesus is identifying Himself, His Body and Blood referred to as miraculous Bread, as the meat which endureth unto everlasting life, just as they have previously seen Him feed the five thousand. Of course, the reference is veiled, and few would have understood it. It is only now, looking back, that His meaning becomes clear. He is leading our thinking towards the Holy Communion, the highest and most all-encompassing promise of Salvation.
As the Gospel Lesson begins, we have the conversation between Jesus and Philip. Jesus is testing Philip’s understanding. Philip was from Bethsaida, a nearby town, and he might be expecting to be asked, as a native, “where to we go to find food around here?” Philip fails the test — to have passed, he would have had to respond that the food would come from Christ Himself. But Philip fails the test, just as most of us would even today, and says that we have only the little that this boy has brought for his lunch on his fishing trip. His complete failure is fully evident in his final words, a plaintive plea, “But what are they among so many?” This simply points to the vast power and abundance available through Jesus Christ when He subsequently feeds the huge crowd.
The Gospel is filled with references to child-like faith, and it seems that we see this again in the young fisherman brought by Andrew and Philip to the Lord, presenting his meager lunch to Jesus for His use. What appears to us to be far too little to be of use, when placed in the hands of Jesus becomes a source of abundance for many. This is true over and over again, throughout life. If we approach Jesus, telling Him what we are going to do for Him, we will most surely be rejected. Jesus is King, and we must never tell the King what we are going to do. Instead, if we approach Him humbly, with our pitiful resources, placing them all at His disposal, then He accepts them and magnifies them into great works. This is true, both with our physical resources and also with our hearts, our souls.
When all have been satisfied, Jesus says, John 6:12b (KJV) Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Why does Jesus add this? Is there a shortage in the Divine resources, such that nothing may be wasted? Is Jesus without the power to create far more? No, of course not. The nature of God to to be extremely generous, to give in great abundance, giving to both the just and the unjust alike in this life. But the way things look to men is not always the way God sees them. He is aware of every speck of His creation. He knows every creature throughout time by name; He is personal to each and every particle of His creation, animate and inanimate. He will have no part of His creation wasted, and most importantly for us, the soul of no man wasted. It is the souls of men that are the fragments that remain, that must not be lost. As Jesus commands, they, the souls of men, must be gathered up, that all may be saved. John 6:13 (KJV) Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. “Twelve baskets,” corresponding to the number of the tribes of Israel, including all those scattered abroad and apparently lost forever to men, but all known and loved by God.
We need to see Jesus’ command to gather in yet another light. Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. This is a warning, to them and to us, that we can be lost unless we follow the commands of our Lord. He does not will any to be lost, but it is certainly possible if we rebel against our salvation. So often, we set out to accomplish some great task, but find that we are unable to complete it. We may attempt something that simply exceeds our physical or intellectual resources, or we simply run out of time before the window of opportunity closes. But then we hear the words of Christ, and if we obey, we may well find that some good has been accomplished, often more than our original goal. But nothing, no gift of God, is ever to be wasted.
Why does this matter, if we failed in our original endeavor? Because God looks at the motives behind our actions, not at whether we succeeded or failed. He looks at the love that moved us to act, or in some cases, the lack of love that moved us to act. Have we acted out of love, or self-interest? In His service, we must always gather up the fragments, that nothing may be lost.
On the mountain, Jesus fed the five thousand, giving them bread enough to eat and more. Later, at Capernaum, we read, John 6:32-34 (KJV) 32 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. 34 Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. They are saying to Him, “Lord, let us have this bread forever.” This was an especially good prayer, better than any of them realized. This prayer has been answered, for them and for us, when the Father sent His Son to be the Bread of Life for us forever. But they needed to also be praying that they might also know and understand Who this Bread is, and that they might have an enduring hunger for Him, that they, and we, might be nourished by Him forever. It is only the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ that will serve to feed us through all of this life’s journey and on into the next.
The summer is over, the harvest has been taken in for this year. The prophet was in error for our times because of the time in which he spoke, The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we ARE saved. But we are not safe, not safe as long as we continue in this life. We can never be truly safe as long as we continue to allow the things of this world to interfere with our love of God, and of His Son, Jesus Christ. As we progress toward the Lord, the importance of all worldly things must diminish to the point that Christ is all for us. Abilities, skills, knowledge, wealth, power, and yes, even other people, all must not stand in between us and Christ. He must be our all, our everything.
This year is rapidly coming to a close, just as have all the years before it, and we must press on into the uncertain future. Everything falls away, but the Word of the Lord, Jesus Christ, endures forever. We must hold fast to that which endures. He is our food for the journey; even beyond the grave, He is the Bread of Life.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.