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A complaint that people sometimes lodge against Christians is that they are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. They complain that churches are so focused on the spiritual that they tend to ignore the physical needs of those around them. We might respond that the spiritual is the most the important thing, after all, what good is it if you gain the whole world and lose your soul? What good is it to be the rich man in Jesus’ story and enjoy everything life has to offer only to end up in hell? The poor beggar Lazarus suffered physically, but he ended up in the glory of heaven.
What would people have said about Jesus? Was he so focused on the spiritual that he was no earthly good? Did he ignore the physical needs of those around him? Does he care about our bodies?
Matthew tells us that Jesus withdrew from populated areas in Judea and Galilee. He sailed across the sea of Galilee to a deserted place for the purpose of being alone, getting a little rest, a break from the constant demands of the crowds. But it didn’t work out. The word spread among the crowds that Jesus was in a boat headed across the lake and thousands of people quickly made the 8-10 mile walk and met Jesus when his boat landed.
If you had planned a little vacation and as soon as you arrived at your destination work called and said, “while you are there we need you to…” and then gave you a long list of things to do that would take up all the time you have planned to spend relaxing, how would you feel? If we were Jesus and saw thousands of people streaming to meet us and rob us of our rest and relaxation, we might get right back in the boat. We might borrow a phrase from the cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn – and say “Go away, your bothering me.”
What did Jesus do? He saw the large crowd. He had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Jesus had compassion on them. That’s one of my favorite phrases in all of Scripture. Sometimes it’s translated “his heart went out to them.” It’s a word that doesn’t just mean that you feel sorry for someone. It means that the feeling you have affects you physically. It’s gut level. You can’t help but do something to help those who have whatever need that is touching your heart.
Jesus had compassion on them. He had compassion on their physical needs. He saw people who were suffering from the curse and decay caused by sin. He saw people who were blind, deaf, and lame. He saw people who had leprosy and other incurable diseases. He saw people who were demon possessed. Whatever their sickness or disease, whatever physical problem they had, Jesus had compassion on them and healed them.
Did Jesus care for people’s bodies when he lived here on earth? You bet he did. But he didn’t just care for their bodies. These large crowds were still there with Jesus in that deserted place across the lake when evening came. Matthew doesn’t tell us what was going on throughout the day, but Jesus never just healed. As he healed, he also taught. If you think about the teaching of Jesus that Matthew recorded for us in the chapters we have been studying over the past few weeks, it’s safe to assume that Jesus taught them about the kingdom of heaven.
We don’t know exactly what Jesus said on this occasion but consider the location – a deserted place, not near a town or village; a grassy place overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Could they see grain fields? Did Jesus share the parable of the weeds among the wheat? Since they were in view of the lake, did he share the parable of the fish in the net? In some way or another we can be sure that he turned their attention away from their physical needs to the fact that, no matter how healthy they were at the moment, sooner or later they would all be like the grass and the flowers of the field that surrounded them. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord sands forever. There is an eternity. There is a resurrection of the body. There is a last day and on that day the angels will come and separate the wheat from the weeds, the good fish from the bad, the sheep from the goats, the believers from the unbelievers. Repent for the kingdom of God has come to you. I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father, no one enters the kingdom of heaven, except through me. Look at the lilies in the fields around you. Look at the birds flying. If God cares for these, and you are worth much more than they are because you are the crown of God’s creation, the rulers of all God created, you have an eternal soul, have no doubt that he cares for you, both body and soul. God so loved the world, you, that he kept his promise and sent his only son into the world that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus had compassion on the crowds. He showed that he cared for their bodies, he showed that he loved them, and they were willing to listen to his teaching, not just a 20 minute sermon, but for the whole day. This is a lesson we are learning in our world missions. Where we show care for people’s bodies – providing medical clinics, or digging wells for clean water- where people see that we have compassion on their physical needs they are often willing to listen to us tell them about the one who took on a body himself; who suffered physically as they do; who chose to be nailed to a cross for their sins and the sins of the whole world; who rose bodily from the dead to assure them and us that one day, we too will rise with a glorified body like his that is no longer subject to pain, sickness, disease or death. We need a constant reminder that, although it is true that people’s spiritual needs are much more important than their physical needs, people don’t care about what we have to say about their spiritual needs until they see that we care about them as a person, body and soul.
The disciples seemed to be concerned that Jesus had forgotten about the physical needs of the people. They saw the sun getting low in the sky and Jesus didn’t seem to notice. He was still teaching the people. They came to him and said, the hour is already late. Send the crowds away, so that they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves. What good would it be to be spiritually filled if they fainted on the way home? If they lack physical strength how can they share the good news they have heard with others?
How surprised these disciples must have been when Jesus responded, they do not need to go away. You give them something to eat. Their first thought was probably, “that’s crazy, Jesus.” We have here only five loaves and two fish. That’s barely enough for us, much less thousands of people! How can we give them something to eat?
I wonder if Jesus shook his head and at least thought, if he didn’t say it, “didn’t you see me heal a whole bunch of people today? Don’t you remember the story of the widow whose oil and flour never ran out? Don’t you remember how God provided mana in the wilderness for your forefathers? Shouldn’t your first thought be to pray? Didn’t you even think of saying, “Lord, we can’t feed them, but you can?”
Jesus told them to bring those five loaves and two fish to him, implying that what they had would be enough. And it was. After he looked up to heaven and blessed the five loaves and two fish, he began to hand out pieces to the disciples to distribute to the crowds. Just like the widow’s oil and flour, the loaves and fish kept multiplying until everyone had eaten all they wanted. In fact, after all 5,000 men had eaten, not counting the women and children who also ate all they wanted, the disciples gathered twelve baskets full of leftovers. After Jesus had provided for their souls, teaching all day about the kingdom of heaven, he again provided for their bodies.
Jesus does care for our bodies. Unlike some philosophers of the world who say everything physical is evil, we believe on the basis of Scripture, that our bodies are good. They are affected by evil, by the curse of sin, but they are not an evil creation. Even now in their imperfect state, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. By taking on flesh and blood Jesus has redeemed our bodies together with our souls. On the last day our bodies will be raised. As Job declared, we will see God with our own eyes, not the eyes of another. God has given us the fifth commandment that instructs us to take the best care we can of our bodies and the bodies of others.
Our life in the body here on earth has been given to us as a time of grace, a time for us to learn about Jesus, a time to be baptized into the name of the one and only true God, a time to come to faith in Jesus and be saved, body and soul, for all eternity. As long as we live here on this earth, God provides richly and daily all the we need for body and life so that we are able to serve him and others. As we live our lives on the earth, he wants us to be like him, to have compassion for others, to care for their physical needs, and as we do, to tell them about the kingdom of heaven.
By God’s grace, you and I know that Jesus wasn’t just some kind of hologram. He took on flesh and blood. He had a real body just as we do. While he walked the earth, he didn’t just care for people’s spiritual welfare. He cared for the whole person, body and soul.
Yes, Jesus cares about our bodies. He graciously provides for us richly and daily giving us clothing and shoes, food and drink, property and home… all that we need for our body and life. He does this most often by sending sunshine and rain, providing doctors and medications. If he chooses, he may still provide by means of a miracle as he did that day on the far side of the Sea of Galilee, healing people and multiplying bread and fish. He cares for our bodies, not because we deserve it, or have done anything to earn it. He does this only because he is our good and merciful Father in heaven. He does this so that we will be moved to listen to his word, to listen to the good news that Jesus came to be our savior. He does this so that we might trust that he not only to cares for our bodies, but that in Jesus, our sins are forgiven. He does this so that we might daily thank and praise him, serve and obey him and let everyone know that Jesus came to redeem both body and soul; that he is coming again to reunite every soul with it’s body and give all those who trust in Jesus eternal life.