Ps. 136: 1-9, 23-26; Isa. 55:1-5; Romans 9:1-13; Ps. 78:25 (Gospel Verse); Matthew 14:13-21.
Bread, [Israel] spoke against God saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness? ... Therefore… the Lord… was full of wrath… because they did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power. Yet he commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven, and he rained down on them manna to eat… Man ate the bread of the angels; he sent them food in abundance. (Ps. 78:19, 21a, c, 22-25).
God placed two singular trees in Eden’s garden; one bearing the forbidden fruit of knowledge of good and evil; and the other the Tree of Life for sacramental eating.
We fast forward to our Gospel where Jesus fed 5,000 men to reveal himself source of Bread out of heaven in the world’s wilderness. The church’s Bread of angels would be actualized in the Resurrection by the Last Supper of a piece with Jesus’ atoning work on the cross.
Some think scriptural “bread” is mere image, that “Jesus is like bread”; but such analogy corrupts the atonement of the gospel in Christ’s flesh for New Covenant food.
The two trees planted in the Garden were icons of defeat and victory in heaven’s warfare; the forbidden tree published Satan’s defeat for coveting “knowledge” independent of his Creator; knowledge of “good” through ingratitude, of grasping self-knowledge, relative truth, and temporal beauty apart from God.
The other tree, the Tree of Life was meant for man’s eating in the creation for remembrance of God’s heavenly victory (Luke 10:18, 19; Rev. 12; Dan. 10:13, 14). Adam, made in the “Image” of God (Gen. 1:26a) was to bear witness to God’s absolute truth, goodness, and beauty by the things in face to face communion.
The forbidden tree was not in the Garden to test Adam; rather, as God’s viceroy for proclaiming his Word on earth, he was to preach against a satanic self-knowledge or understanding separate from our Creator-God.
If correspondence is not exact, still the Tree of Knowledge stood in the Garden much as does God’s law in the Christian congregation, both a warning and revelation of God’s absolute holiness. Neither the forbidden Tree nor Sinai’s Tablets were intended as spiritual food independent of the Tree of Life, icon of God’s heavenly victory.
The Tree of Life was sacramental food for growing in “the likeness of [God’s Son]” (Gen. 1:26b) and for strengthening man’s trust in God over Satan having been cast to earth; much as the good news of Christ crucified and risen proclaimed in the congregation.
But Adam abused proper use of the iconic trees, partaking of the tree, not meant for human consumption, and resulting in man’s fall, loss of Holy Communion, and true knowledge of God.
Adam and the woman would be denied access to the Tree of Life, means of knowing and seeing God face to face. Had Adam, after his fall, eaten of the Tree of Life, in what St. Paul calls an “unworthy manner” (1 Cor. 11:27), mankind would have been confirmed in permanent death.
Mercifully, Adam and the woman were removed from the Garden. For the sake of God’s saving Word, the woman and her children, Adam remained in his preaching office, albeit now corrupted through the lens of evil’s knowledge.
Torah truth would await Moses and a better witness from David (Isa. 55:4); but Truth and Spirit would arrive only in the man Jesus crucified and risen. And yet in today’s Gospel we note rejection of God’s sent one.
Jesus was informed of JB’s violent death, upon which he withdrew to a desolate place for communion with the Father; but the sycophant-miracle seeking crowds pursed. They did not believe or care for his teaching reign. On account of unbelief Jesus taught in parables hiding kingdom truth, goodness, and beauty but explaining these to his believing disciples.
Over the last several Sunday’s, we engaged Jesus’ bread and fish parables: Seed Sower, Wheat and Weeds, Woman Leavening Bread, and a Dragnet bringing both good and bad fish into the church; each emphasizing the hiddenness of God’s elect, the invisible church.
Jesus feeding of 5,000 men with five loaves and two fish is fitting collect for the bread and fish parables uniquely pointing to the greater feeding coming in his NT church.
As with the 5,000 the bread Jesus gives his church in the resurrection is neither allegory nor belly food. Only after Jesus’ feeding miracles (the 5,000 and 4,000) does spiritual reality dawn on St. Peter. Jesus asked the Apostles, “But who do you say that I Am?”; Peter enthusiastically proclaims Jesus our fruit for Life out of heaven, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:15, 16).
By the Father’s gracious revelation Peter understands Jesus for who he is. Peter is the church’s first and chief witness of Christ to be our angelic food. But when Jesus would catechize upon Peter’s insight, that he must suffer, be killed, and rise on the third day (v. 21), Peter like Adam fell, rejecting God’s icon for Life to be hung and cursed (Dt. 21:23) on a tree.
The cross is the place where Jesus is that one grain who germinated in the earth to become the church’s singular Tree of Life; source of abundant sacrificial and Eucharistic offering, returned by God for our food and Life.
Following his institution of the Holy Supper, Jesus warned, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-33).
It was Peter’s enthusiastic response that prompted Jesus to warn of Adam’s fall. Apart from Jesus; apart from him mounting a tree to be Bread of Life in the Resurrection, neither Peter nor we are able to do any spiritual thing. As predicted, on route to the cross, Peter negated his office and witness, denying Jesus three times.
Each denial expressed man’s ingrained knowledge of good through the lens of knowing evil by doing evil. From Adam and Peter’s perspective, God’s victory was impossible in a crucified “Son of the Living God”.
Satan desired to sift and devour Adam and Peter; also, his intent for you and I. But Christ who is the compassion of God placed the sin of unbelief onto his Son and abandoning him (Ps. 22:1). Satan possesses the world’s “wisdom” of good and evil denying God’s absolute goodness, truth, and beauty for an alternative vision of “good”.
If fruit from the tree of Satan’s heavenly defeat caused Adam’s fall; the church by Christ’s preaching office of Word in Spirit and Truth overcomes our inherited loss by a feeding for faith, forgiveness and sacrifice of thanksgiving.
Jesus is the substance of heaven’s food, not for Capernaistic belly filling, but that the will and purposes of the Father be accomplished by faithful reception of his Son’s flesh, advancing us in the “likeness of Christ” who alone saves by spreading his table in the midst of our desert journey.
Faithful eating in remembrance of Jesus’ promises joins us to his New Covenant witness of God’s love. For those with sighted eyes, we discern in our Eucharist, association with the Israelite saints of old who dined with God on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 24:9-11); breaking Bread with God face to face. Amen.