Laetare—The Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 26, 2006
St. John 6:1-15
Brothers and sisters in Christ what is a “sign?” Isn't a sign something that points you to something else? A sign points you to something else not to itself. For example you might see a sign for “Six Flags.” It might have a picture of a roller coaster on it. Now the sign is not the thing itself. You wouldn't go on a trip to see a Six Flags sign would you? But the sign points you to where Six Flags is. Tells you how far and what exit and all that. But you could misread the signs. You could see a roller coaster on a Six Flags sign and think “Six Flags must be where they manufacture roller coaster parts. I don't want to go there.” So you have misread the sign and it is no good to you. In the Holy Gospel appointed for Laetare the Fourth Sunday in Lent, St. John calls Jesus' feeding of the 5,000 a sign. Not just a miracle but a sign. What does he mean to say that it is a sign? What is it pointing to? What is it telling us? How do the people misread this sign? The sign that St. John records for us is one which points back to the Old Testament: Jesus is the same Lord who fed the children of Israel with bread in the desert. The sign also points us to the New Testament: for Jesus is the Bread of Life who gives His flesh for the life of the world and His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.
The crowds, however, misread this sign. They see the miraculous feeding of 5000 people with a handful of bread and fish and what do they make of it?. What do they want to do to Jesus? They want to make Him King. Why? Because they'll never have to make groceries again! With a King like Jesus, who needs to take care of themselves or others? He'll just multiply food whenever they need it! His would be an even better government than one which had welfare for everybody. After all, Jesus can provide food for everyone at no expense to the taxpayers! Turns out the crowd in the desert is not much different than the children of Israel in the desert. They were doing fine as long as God was giving them what they wanted. But if they weren't sure where their next meal was coming from they began to grumble. They doubted God's goodness in the wilderness. Nevertheless He fed them anyway. He gave them manna and quail in the desert to satisfy their hunger. Though there was judgment too. It says in the Psalms that He gave them bread for their bodies but sent leanness into their souls. They looked to the Lord not as their Savior and provider of every good gift, but only of what they needed for the moment. Likewise the crowd with Jesus. They didn't care about salvation and eternal life. Just more catfish po' boys. And that is the worship of Jesus that most people have today. Worship the Lord. Praise and adore Him. As long as we're well fed. As long as we've got money and a job and we're healthy. As long as things are good and working out my way, then I'm all for Jesus! But what about when times of suffering come? What about times of need or want? What about the carrying of the cross the Lord lays upon me? Then we want nothing of Jesus. Because for most of the world, that's all Jesus is: a Bread King. And How does the Lord deal with these crowds? Read on in John 6. He leaves them behind. They follow but then He teaches them about the true bread from heaven. After He tells them to eat His flesh and drink His blood, they all leave. All except the twelve apostles. For the Lord will not let us have Him as merely a Bread King. A wish-granter. No, He has come as Savior and that is how we shall receive Him. Or not at all.
So let us read the signs aright, dearly beloved. Let us see Jesus feeding the 5,000 and understand what the Lord would teach us by such a miracle. This sign in the deserted place points us to Jesus as True God who provides for His people. Just as the Lord gave manna to feed the children of Israel, so now He gives bread and fish in the desert to the people. Psalm 23 tells us that the Good Shepherd “maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” St. John is careful to note that there was “much grass” in that place where Jesus and the crowds were. You see? All the signs point to this Jesus as the same Lord of the Old Testament. All the details of John's Gospel point us to Jesus who is God in the flesh, God providing for His people. And so we hear St. Paul tell us: “If the Father did not spare His only-begotten Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also graciously give us all things?” The same Lord who feeds His people in the desert is the Lord who has promised to feed and clothe you even more than lilies and birds. This is the Lord of whom the Catechism teaches us that He gives us “all that we need for this body and life.” The same Lord who “made us and still takes care of us.” Jesus, feeding the people in the desert is teaching us to look to Him for all things in our lives. Yet the sign that He does also points us beyond the mere earthly things which we need. The sign of Jesus feeding the 5,000 points us to Jesus as Savior and Lamb of God who takes away our sins, a gift we need far more even than food or clothing!
Again, St. John won't let us misinterpret the sign. He tells us that it was near Passover time. Passover was the holy day on which the Lamb of God was killed and eaten, just as it was in the time of Moses. The Lamb is killed and eaten and the blood is put upon the doors so that the Angel of Death passed over. Jesus is the Lamb of God—so John the Baptist has told us—who takes away the sin of the world. He is the Passover Lamb who is killed and eaten. So Jesus, being on a mountain to feed the 5,000 is a sign of His being on another mountain. No longer Mt. Sinai, where the Law is given, but Mount Calvary where sins are atoned for. Jesus on the mountain feeding the people is a sign pointing us to Jesus on the mount of the cross, the Lamb slain for the sins of the world, whose flesh and blood we eat and drink for our salvation. Dear Christians, it is indeed true that Jesus is “the Prophet who is to come into world,” but not because He can do neat tricks. Rather, because He brings to us the preaching of the reconciliation between God and man. True indeed that He is a King, but not a bread king who has a sandwich ready for whenever we get the munchies. Rather, the King of Kings, crowned with thorns and the great King who has conquered and saved His people from their wicked enemies: sin, death, devil, world and flesh. Jesus Himself explains this sign on the mountain to the people by telling them “Eat my flesh and drink my blood and I will live in you and you in Me and I will raise you up on the Last Day.” Not only is He the One who leads His people out of the slavery of sin, Jesus is the Lamb whose death is the day of our salvation.
Jesus feeding the 5,000 on the mountain with green grass is a true sign which points us to Calvary and what is accomplished there. Yet even Calvary is a sign which points us to where Jesus is now, today, for us. For the truest meaning of the sign is not that is just points to Jesus on top of a hill, but that it points us to Jesus as our food! No longer on mount Sinai or even Mount Calvary, but on Mt. Zion. The heavenly Jerusalem. Holy Mother Church. In the church is where Jesus is now. The blood and water which flowed from His side on Calvary are now flowing in this place. Water flowing from the font to you, washing you clean, bringing you through another “Red Sea” and into God's Promised Land: eternal life with Christ. Blood spilled, and flowing, not upon door posts of Egyptian slave quarters, or upon a cross, but upon the altar, for you to drink, to deliver forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Dear Christians, let us repent of any clinging to Jesus just for some bread and fish. Let us turn away from desiring a King who can make us happy all the time and Whom we worship only when things are going good or our way. Repent and read the sign! See what it points to. See to Whom it points. See what that One delivers. Here, in the church, all that is said and done should point to Christ, to your Baptism, to His Word and to His body and blood. For those Holy Sacraments and Word give us Jesus. No mere sign or symbol! It's Jesus Himself. And not just Jesus as some guy, but Jesus our food of salvation. That's how you can be sure you have Christ. And that He has you. The sign of the feeding of the 5,000 points to Jesus the Lamb of God slain on the cross. And the Sacraments bring that Jesus to us. All signs point to Jesus. And here He is in His church. For you and for your salvation. Amen.