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Trinity 7: From Johannes Spangenberg’s postil

by Rev. Dr. Benjamin T. G. Mayes ~ August 2nd, 2011

Johannes Spangenberg, Postilla. Das ist: Gründliche und deutliche Auslegung Derer Evangelien und Episteln/ so in den evangelischen Kirchen/ auf alle Sonn- und fürnehmste Festtage/ durchs gantze Jahr/ pflegen offentlich abgelesen zu werden (Nürnberg: Johann Andreae Endters seel. Söhne, 1683), 522–528. Translated by Benjamin T. G. Mayes.

The Seventh Sunday After Trinity, Mark 8:1–9

What does this Gospel teach us?

Three things. First, the kindness and mercy of Christ, who so heartily accepts these hungry people. Second, the great power of Christ, who richly feeds these people with seven loaves and a few fish, and causes seven baskets full of fragments to be gathered. Third, how we should make use of this miracle and benefit from it. And in summary, this Gospel depicts Christ to us in such a way that He is a gracious, merciful, beneficent man, who wants to help and deal with everyone. Therefore the people, too, wanted to be with Him, ran after Him, saw and heard Him gladly, so that finally even houses and streets became too small. Indeed, wherever He went—on the mountains, into the desert, and on the sea—they followed Him there. They were not frightened away by the hardness of the path, the height of the mountains, the danger of the sea. In the world it happens that the great, mighty, rich people want to have nothing to do with the crowd of poor people, so that they can have rest and comfort. But Christ doesn’t do this. He would rather have His rest interrupted than to let the poor people lack in their salvation.

Where do we see the kindness of Christ?

Where He says, “I have compassion on the crowd,” etc. [Mark 8:2]. He saw that many people were there and had nothing to eat, that they were hungry not only for bodily food, but also for the food of souls, for God’s Word, and were being scattered like sheep without shepherds. Therefore He took care of them and fed them in body and soul.

Didn’t they have many shepherds: high priests, pharisees, scribes, and Levites?

This is true, but those had become wolves. For when they should have gathered the sheep, they scattered them. When they should have put the sheep to pasture, they tore them up. And conditions in Judaism were poor and miserable. All faith and worship had been wiped out. All godly behavior was gone. All of God’s commandments had been abolished. And the synagogue of the Jews was split into mere sects: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes—outwardly a sincere appearance in clothing, but inwardly a false, dishonest heart. And what was worst, those who followed Christ were kicked out of the congregation and considered as pagans.

If we look at the basis of this, things in Christendom are happening not much differently?

This is true. We have so many shephereds—popes, cardinals, bishops, deans, and other prelates—who altogether were called to plant and build the congregation of God, and to preach God’s Word. But things happen here just as there among the Jews—few satisfy their calling. “The harvest is great,” Christ says, “but the laborers are few” [Matt. 9:37]. On these words St. Gregory writes: “The world is full of shepherds, but few of them work honestly in the vineyard of the Lord.” The have the shepherding office indeed, and they get enjoyment from it, living well from the church’s property. But they don’t want to work, preach, and tend Christ’s sheep. And what is worst, they also refuse to let others do it. Yes, those who act according to God’s Word and deal with the sacrament according to Christ’s ordinance they chase out of the land, call “heretics,” and wherever they get power over them, the slay them miserably. And so the noble Word of the Lord, the blessed Word of God, has neither room nor place among the people. And according to Christ’s words in Matthew 7, they are not worthy of it. Oat straw belongs in a cow, husks and dregs belong in a sow. It is right, says St. Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2 [:9–12], that whoever does not want to have the truth should spend his whole life with shameful lies and error.

How do the disciples answer the words of Christ?

They said: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” [Mark 8:4]. Here they are frankly stating their unbelief, for if they had seen bread and fish markets with their eyes, they would have given their trust freely. But now, when they see nothing with their eyes, their trust is gone, and with respect to them, the people would have had to perish forever.

What does Christ do amid the disciples’ unbelief?

He asks them: “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven” [Mark 8:5]. He asks them not as though He didn’t know, but so that this miracle would be manifest and obvious. And He commanded the people to sit down on the ground. He took them under His care and showed His kindness to them. Now He also wants to show them His power, and to feed and satisfy the hungry.

Where does Christ’s power appear?

He took the seven loaves and gave thanks and broke them and gave them to His disciples, so that they would lay them before the people. And they laid them before the people. And they had a little fish, and He gave thanks and commanded them to bring this to the people. And they ate and were filled. And they collected the leftover fragments, seven baskets. And there was about four thousand of them, without women and children, who had eaten. And He dismissed them.

Does God also show such kindness and power on earth these days?

Yes indeed. God’s hand is not shortened. He gives us everything we need: grain for food, wine for drink, flax and wool for clothes, wood and straw for fire. See how God has divided the year so orderly to provide for us. The seasons follow one another in orderly fashion. When winter is gone and the sun rises high, it becomes warm and fruitful; sap comes into the trees, they bud, sprout, and blossom; the field brings flowers, grass, and hay for feed; the birds nest and all creatures multiply. Summer brings many kinds of fruits and growth: cherries, plums, grain, wheat, barley, oats, peas, beans. These are harvested and people fill barns and floors. Then comes autumn, which brings wine and fills the cellar. So in spring, summer, and autumn God gives supply for the cold winter. In winter everyone makes good use of what he has. He threshes his grain, slaughters his cattle, salts it, hangs it in smoke, brews beer, refines the wine, and everything is done in orderly fashion. All corners are full of God’s gifts, and He supplies us humans wondrously. This is how He shows His power even to us. The sun has to shine for us during the day, the moon and stars by night. All elements and creatures have to serve us; heaven with the holy angels, the firmament with the stars and planets, the air with the birds, the sea and water with the fish, the earth with the animals, plants, trees, grain, wine, gold, silver, etc. Isn’t it a great power, that every year God takes so little grain thrown into the earth, and increases and blesses it so richly that often from one grain we get 30, 60, and even 100? People think that there are barely as many sheaves harvested as there are people living, and yet they are all fed. For how many lands and cities are surrounded by forests and wild heaths where no grain is ever sown or harvested, and yet they are fed? Yes, even if no grain grew and everything dried up, God still knows ways and means to preserve His people, as He showed sufficiently with the children of Israel, etc. Thus, a Christian should think: “My God, I am your creature. You have indeed created me. So, then, I will work and obey my calling, and I will commit all worrying to you. You will do it well, wherever and whenever it pleases You best and is most needful to me.” For faith in Christ is a certain foundation by which we hope and expect that we do not see it with our eyes and yet we must and shall have it. For before a believer shall lack anything in food, clothing, and shelter, the angels would have to leave heaven, the birds would have to come out of the air and feed us, stones would have to become bread, leaves and grass would have to become clothes, wood and fields would have to become houses and tents, as it happened for Israel in the desert.

How should we make use of this miracle?

We can make use of this miracle and benefit from it in two ways. First, by knowing for certain that Christ is the living bread that has come from heaven, and whoever eats of Him will live forever (John 6). Second, by strengthening our faith through this miracle as though with a certain seal and sign that God will certainly likewise keep all His promises and will richly provide for all those who believe and trust in Him and walk in their vocation and calling. For as He clothes the lilies and flowers of the field, which neither spin nor sew, and feeds the birds in the air, the fish in the water, which neither sow nor reap, so He has committed Himself to feed and to preserve all those who trust in Him and act sincerely in their calling.

What are the letter and seal of their covenant?

The heartfelt promise and divine pledge that is scattered about in the Scripture, as in Psalm 34 [:11]: “The rich must suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord and fear Him lack no good thing.” And Psalm 37 [:25]: “I have been young and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his seed begging for bread.” And Psalm 55 [:22]: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you.” And Christ says in Matthew 6 [:33]: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Has God also actually proved this?

Yes indeed. In the creation God first filled heaven and earth, air and water with creatures. Afterwards He finally created man and placed all creatures before his eyes, so that he would have everything he needed in rich, overabundant supply. He did not put man in an empty house, but in a full world that was really swarming and crawling with creatures. Heaven was full of angels and heavenly spirits, the air was full of birds, the water full of fish, the earth full of animals, trees, plants, grain, wine, the mountains full of gold, silver, iron, metal, and in short, there was no error, no lack, but only abundance in everything.

What does this Gospel want to teach us?

First, faith: that we may believe that God cares for us as long as we just trust in Him and hang onto His words. For the Word stands firm: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you” [Matt. 6:33]. It is God’s ordering: a Christian should first pray, go to hear the sermon, and praise and thank God. Then he should go to work and to the table.

Second, love: that we may do to our neighbor as Christ does to us, so that we may not be found unthankful and unkind on the Last Day, when all creatures will accuse us. The field will say, “See, man, I gave you wheat for food.” The vineyard will say, “I gave you wine for drink.” The sheep will say, “I gave you wool for clothing,” etc. “But you unkind man, you never once thanked God your Lord, much less served your neighbor with these things. Therefore depart now and take the reward you earned, with all unkind, unmerciful people in the abyss of hell. For it has been determined in James [2:13], that judgment will be without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.

Third, persistence in hearing God’s Word. We see here how these people are so fervent and desirous for the Word of God that they stay with the Lord Christ even for three days, in the middle of the wild desert. Some of our hearers can barely last an hour or a half hour at a sermon, even in the middle of the congregation, in the city and among the people.

Fourth, thankfulness: that we should not misuse the good things we have received from God or shamefully destroy them, but seriously store them away, be frugal, preserve them carefully, use them moderately, thank God, and help our neighbor with them. The world, sadly, is such that even though God gives everything so richly and plentifully, it becomes lazy, either keeping things for themselves so that no one can enjoy them, or misusing and wasting them at the wrong time, so that they benefit no one. The world has its judge. But those who thank God for His benefits toward them and are kind and merciful toward their neighbor, helping, serving, and assisting, they will hear the comforting words of Christ in Matthew 25 [:34, 40, 46]: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. And they will go into eternal life.” Amen!

1 Response to Trinity 7: From Johannes Spangenberg’s postil

  1. matthaeusglyptes

    Thanks for the translation and reference to the original. Nice find.

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