Text: Mark 6:30-44
Date: Pentecost VIII + Proper + 11B + 7/19/15
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Jesus and the apostles took a break for rest in a desolate place. But the crowds figured it out and ran ahead of them. When Jesus saw this huge crowd, as many as ten thousand or more, St. Mark says, “he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Surely the people knew and often prayed Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Jesus saw them as sheep. Do you think they saw Jesus as this shepherd, this Lord?
When His disciples suggested that Jesus send the crowds into the surrounding countryside and villages to buy something to eat Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.” Now Jesus wasn’t planning on a little late afternoon snack. He had bigger things in mind, so He “commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass.” Wait a minute. Green grass? Where did that come from? “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.” You see, the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is more than just filling a temporary need of hunger. In this miracle Jesus proclaims, demonstrates the goal of His mission. And that goal is, ultimately, to gather His people at the last day for the banquet of the heavenly feast in the new heavens and earth, Eden restored, but even better!
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” The desolate place they were at could have reminded them of our earthly journey as a “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Nevertheless we pray in the psalm, “I will fear no evil.” Why? Because You, my Lord and Shepherd “are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Mark tells us Jesus taught them a lot. His Word is the rod of the Law and the staff of the Gospel. Someone said this Word may offend you for it will not comfort you with lies. Rather God’s Word causes saving repentance of sin and faith in God’s deliverance.
“You prepare a table before me…my cup overflows.” Jesus took the loaves, said a blessing, broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. (These actions call to mind the Lord’s institution of the sacrament of the altar. And our participation in this sacrament is similar to this amazing meal that pointed beyond itself to the heavenly reality). Every time the servers came back for more, Jesus gave them more and kept giving. How many loaves of bread does it take to feed five thousand men besides their wives and daughters and children, and then to the point of all being satisfied?
The Lord is my shepherd. Faith has confidence in the goodness of the Lord. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” But there’s more! “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever!” This miracle as well as our participation at the sacrament is a picture, a foretaste of the goal, the great heavenly banquet in Eden restored, “only better!”
Did the people begin to get the idea? They should have from a few details. First, in verse 39 Jesus didn’t just command everyone to sit. People would either stand or sit for a quick meal or a snack. Rather He told them to recline, using the same word used at the Passover or for any other formal banquet. This was going to be a big deal!
Secondly, they were told to recline in groups. The word is “symposia,” implying that this was going to be way more than merely a quick picnic.
Every year, you know, I attend the Symposium on the Lutheran Confessions and the Symposium on Exegetical or Biblical studies at our seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. The first symposium began when I was in my second year as a student there. When the two programs came together it is not a little humorous that it took a few years for someone to notice and then to change the sign behind the lectern that used to call these meetings theological “symposiums.” Of course the plural is “symposia.”
The dictionary suggests symposia are “formal meetings at which experts discuss a particular topic.” That’s pretty dry. And if that’s all we did, well, it wouldn’t be much fun. Actually symposia in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds were more than that. The word literally means “drinking together.” They had an element of joy and gladness about them besides the study, discussion and teaching. When Jesus commanded that the people recline “symposia symposia” they were to know that they were preparing for a joyous party!
Thirdly, more than that, they were to recline in these groups, these eating parties on the (I love these words) “chloro chorto,” the “green grass.” So they sat down in groups. But the word means “group by group (like garden beds).” In Song of Songs chapter 8 we read the same word, “O you who dwell in the gardens, with companions listening for your voice; let me hear it” (Song 8:13). What is the most famous Garden in the Bible? The Garden of…Eden!
The Lord is my shepherd…He makes me lie down…He leads me…He restores my soul…He prepares a table…goodness and mercy all my life, “and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Here’s the meaning of this miracle. Jesus is the new Moses, teaching the people in the desert. Jesus is the new Joshua, having the same Spirit, come to bring Israel to their true Canaan and final rest. Jesus is the Lord and Shepherd Himself who has come to gather His people by His Word and Sacraments. As the crowds received in banquet style only some pieces of bread and some fish, this simple food pointed forward to what Isaiah called “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces” (Is 25:6-8). So when we receive the body and blood of Jesus in the sacrament it is with this vision, this glimpse of heavenly bliss that we are fed. It is a picture of Eden restored, only better, eternal life in the resurrection.
The Lord is my shepherd.