August 4, 2019
When I was in high school health class, we learned about a disorder called anorexia. A person who suffers from anorexia has an intense fear of gaining weight, often thinks of herself as fat or overweight, and usually copes with this fear by refusing to eat and constantly trying to lose weight. As immature high schoolers, we found this a bit funny. We loved food. Who on earth would refuse to eat? But this condition is no laughing matter. Those who suffer from anorexia can comit great harm to their bodies. They'll even starve themselves to death trying to obtain the unobtainable. They are delusional. I don’t mean that in an offensive way; it’s simply a fact. They believe that they do not need food and need to lose weight, even when presented with all the facts to the contrary. Those who suffer from anorexia need intervention from those who love them, careful counseling to identify the underlying cause of their condition, and they need to eat a healthy amount of food.
We all know the importance of eating food. Our whole lives revolve around food. A young mother worries when she brings her young children for their well-child check-ups, whether her children have gained the appropriate amount of weight. It can be a moment of pride or great worry when a young child is set on the scale at the doctor’s office. Yet, horrifyingly, there are some parents who aren’t concerned with how much their children eat. Although, they are perfectly capable, they don’t feed their children healthy food and let them go hungry and malnourished. What do we call such parents? We call them negligent, don’t we? Depriving your children of food is a form of child abuse.
Now consider this great crowd that stays with Jesus in the wilderness for three days. Jesus is concerned that they might faint on their way home for some of them had traveled from far away. And in St. Matthew’s account of this story we learn that this 4,000 did not include the number of women and children with them. So, this great crowd was not only filled with people, who traveled out into the wilderness without enough food to get them home, but they even brought their children into this dangerous situation! How reckless! And what does Jesus say to them? Does he call them delusional for neglecting to see the importance of food for their body? Does he call them negligent and abusive parents for depriving their children of food? No. Jesus has compassion on them.
Compassion. That is, Jesus felt for them in his gut. As they were undoubtedly hungry, including the children, so Jesus’ stomach ached for them. And of course, he provided food for them in abundance, so that they had seven baskets left over after every man, woman, and child was fully satisfied. And with this miracle, Jesus teaches all of us an important lesson: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
The crowd ran out of food, because they were listening to the word of God from Jesus’ mouth. They considered Jesus’ words more important than food for their bellies. And they were right. The food you eat helps you live for a moment, but it is later expelled from your body and you eventually die. No matter how healthily you eat, you cannot outrun death. Yet, the words Jesus speaks give eternal life. Those who believe in Jesus will never die. Though their bodies sleep in the grave for a little while, Jesus will raise them up to eternal life. The words of Jesus are true spiritual food that everyone needs. Jesus’ words give salvation and eternal life to all who believe them.
So, this crowd was not delusional for neglecting their need for physical food. Rather, it is those who do not see their need for the words of Jesus who are delusional. They are deluded by sin and unbelief that craves that which can only lead to death. And, if we call them negligent, who deprive their children of physical food for their bodies, how much worse is it to deprive them the spiritual food for their souls?
From the day God placed the first man into the Garden in the east, he has provided food and drink for our race. God willingly and abundantly provides for all that our bodies need. This is why Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things: food, clothing, home, will be added unto you. God provides for your bodily needs, so that you can seek the greater need.
The words of Jesus offer the most precious treasure you could ever imagine: forgiveness of sins, peace with God, eternal life. And these words are offered freely to anyone who will listen. Yet, amazingly, few do listen. And it’s not just those other people who refuse to come to church, who are delusional in this regard. We all are deluded by the old Adam, who still lives within our heart. Like horse and mule, who must be curbed with bit and bridle, we need to be coerced into feeding on words of eternal life. We force ourselves to go to church and listen. We force ourselves to read our devotions. We make our kids go to church and behave. Because each of us suffers from the delusion of thinking that we don’t need what need the most.
This delusion comes from our sinful nature, that is, our old sinful Adam. By nature, we think that we don’t need God. We value stuffing our faces more than filling our hearts. And so, when we feel this delusion overpowering us, and we think we don’t need to feast on Jesus’ words, what we need to do is grab that old sinful Adam by the back of the neck, tell him that he is delusional, and dunk him under with all sins and evil desires. We need to repent. And we need to hear those words that strengthen our new self to live forever.
What are these words that we should prize so highly? These words are Jesus. They give you your Lord and Savior. Jesus says, “Search the Scriptures, for … in them you have eternal life. And it is they that testify of me.” God’s word gives you eternal life, because it gives you Jesus. It reveals to you how God sent his Son to become and remain a human being, so that he might be your advocate for all eternity. Jesus Christ bore your sins for your sake. He died for you that you might live. Through the work of Jesus Christ, his work of atonement, you have peace with your Father in heaven. As Jesus rose again from the grave, you have the promise through Jesus’ words to follow in his train. Jesus came into the world to give life abundantly to all who believe his words, and so his words are our greatest treasure in this life. We cannot grasp Jesus with our hands, but we hold him in our heart through faith in his word.
Jesus is very liberal. That is, he generously pours out his grace on us. He baptizes us, so that we might be clothed in Christ every day. Under the form of bread and wine, he feeds us his true body and blood, which were sacrificed for our sins and even now intercede for us before the Father in heaven. Jesus richly provides for our spiritual nourishment, so that we might always satisfy our hunger while we live here in this desolate place.
You are what you eat. Your whole body is made up of the food you have consumed throughout your life. And to what has that brought you? Sickness? Frailty? Sinful urges each day of your life? And finally, death. To think that such food is your greatest need is nonsense. Through the hearing of Jesus’ words, you feast on Jesus Christ himself, the very bread of life. You become as he is. Jesus passed through death and now lives immortal, imperishable, sinless, and righteous forever. You are what you eat. When you feast on Christ, you share in his righteousness and glory. You become as he is.
God knows that you need physical food. He knows all of your needs. And he provides them for every living creature. And he assures you that you are much more valuable than they. God has compassion on those who hunger, especially for those who hunger, because they neglect their body for a moment, so that they might feast to feed their souls. Is it possible that you might suffer for a while, because of your pursuit to feast on Christ? Sure. For a moment. It might mean going hungry for a while, not getting your dream job, not making the sports team, losing friends, losing family. But it is impossible for you to lose, if you feast on Christ. He promises to add all these things unto you along with the kingdom of God and his righteousness. God assures you that you will not be neglected feasting on Christ through his word.
Sometimes children don’t want to eat what’s best for them. But good parents still give them healthy food to eat, so that they grow big and strong. A person recovering from anorexia will have to fight against the delusion that she shouldn’t eat food. But eventually she’ll enjoy the healthy feeling she gets from eating a well-balanced meal. There is no greater comfort than that which comes from hearing the words of Jesus. Our deluded old Adam might try to distract from these words. Our body, which is made up of perishable food will get easily distracted and at times confused. Yet, nothing roots out the fear of hell other than the blood shed for you by Jesus Christ. Nothing soothes your conscience like the peace God sends you from the mouth of your risen Lord. And there is no food or medicine or gadget on this earth that can give you eternal life, but only the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which you receive through faith in his words and sacrament.
Let us pray.
My Lord, You here have led me/ To this most holy place
And with Yourself have fed me/ The treasures of Your grace;
For you have freely given/ What earth could never buy,
The bread of life from heaven, That now I shall not die.
(O Living Bread from Heaven, Johann Rist, LSB 642:2)