The Feeding of the Five Thousand

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READINGS

Mark 6:34-42
34 ​​​And Jesus, coming out, saw a crowd of many, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things. 35 ​​​And when the day was already far spent, His disciples coming to Him, say, This is a deserted place, and the hour is now far advanced. 36 ​​​Send them away, that going into the fields and villages round about they may buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat. 37 ​​​And° He answering said to them, Give ye them to eat. And they say to Him, Shall we go and buy two◠hundred denarii of bread, and give them to eat? 38 ​​​And° He says to them, How many loaves have you? Go and see. And when they knew, they said, Five, and two fishes. 39 ​​​And He ordered them to make all recline in companies and companies on the green grass. 40 ​​​And they reclined° in groups and groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 ​​​And taking the five loaves and the two fishes, He looked up to heaven, and He blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fishes He divided among them all. 42 ​​​And they did all eat, and were satisfied. 43 ​​​And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments and of the fishes. 44 ​​​And they who did eat of the loaves of bread were about five thousand men°.

Arcana Coelestia 4217
…when the word ‘bread’ is used in the Word the angels do not call to mind material bread but spiritual bread, and so instead of bread perceive the Lord who, as He Himself teaches in John 6:33, 35, is the Bread of life. And because they perceive the Lord they perceive the things which derive from Him, and therefore His love towards the whole human race. In so doing they perceive at the same time man’s reciprocal love to the Lord, for these two kinds of love are knit together within one idea occupying their thought and affection.

[2] Not unlike this are the thoughts of the person who has a holy mind, when he receives the bread in the Holy Supper; for at that time he does not think of the bread but of the Lord and His mercy, and of the things which constitute love to Him and charity towards the neighbour, because he is thinking about repentance and amendment of life. Yet the way people think about these things varies according to the degree of holiness present not only in their thought but also in their affection. From this it is evident that when ‘bread’ is mentioned in the Word no idea of bread presents itself to angels but the idea of love and of countless things connected with love. It is similar when wine is referred to in the Word and also received in the Holy Supper. In this case angels do not think at all of wine but of charity towards the neighbour. This being so, and since man in this way is linked to heaven and through heaven to the Lord, bread and wine have been made the symbols and unite a person who leads a holy life to heaven, and through heaven to the Lord.

[3] The same applies to every detail within the Word, and therefore the Word is the means by which man is united to the Lord. If that uniting means did not exist heaven would not be able to flow in with man – for without a means no uniting together would be possible – but would remove itself from him. And if heaven were removed it would no longer be possible for anyone to be led to that which is good, not even to physical and worldly good. Instead all restraints, including external ones, would be abolished. For the Lord governs the person in whom good dwells by means of internal restraints, which are those of conscience, whereas the person in whom evil dwells is governed solely by external restraints. If these were abolished everybody governed solely by external restraints would become insane in the way a person is insane who has no fear of the law, no fear for his life, nor any fear of losing position and gain, and so of reputation – for these are the external bonds – and so the human race would perish. This explains why the Word exists, and the true nature of the Word. The Lord’s Church where the Word exists is like the heart and the lungs, and the Lord’s Church where it does not exist is like all the other internal organs which get their life from the heart and lungs

SERMON

Today we are going to open up the story of the Lord’s feeding of over 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish and see if we can find how this story is able to nourish our spiritual life or help us to better co-operate with the Lord as He looks to regenerate our minds.  The general teaching of the story is that the Lord is the only one who can truly sustain and fulfil our life.  He who is the source of life is the only one who can give life, and if our life is to be what the Lord desires it to be then it is to the Lord as the Word we must turn.

It’s a story about how our external minds need to undergo a reorganisation and be brought into a form able to receive the goodness that flows in from Lord.  But it is not easy to give up established patterns of thinking and ways of being.  We have developed patterns of beliefs and methods for approaching life that have become so entrenched that it is almost impossible for us to see how things might be different.  Yet all the miracles found in the Word, if they demonstrate anything, show us that what we might consider impossible is possible for the Lord.  For anyone actively engaged in the spiritual work of self-examination and repentance it soon becomes apparent to them that they have very little control over their mental life, and while they may not want selfish thoughts and feelings dominating their mental life, it seems that they are powerless to do anything about it.

But I would suggest to you today that the realisation of our own powerlessness in spiritual matters is not a bad thing.  As we have seen in all the miracles up to this point, there is a general principle that says we have to be brought into a state where we are willing to acknowledge what truths teach concerning our condition before we will be willing to turn to the Lord.  In our story today we see that it is the Lord Himself that enables us to see our need.  If we practise the Word we will find that it is the Word who creates the conditions by which we are able to feel that need for change within ourselves.  This makes it possible for us to act in spiritual matters and approach the Lord as if of ourselves, thus enabling Him to provide us with what is needed to meet the need while maintaining our sense of freedom in spiritual things.  And He does all this with our eternal welfare foremost in mind.

Let’s look at how these principles are illustrated in more detail from the story.  First in verse 34 we read…

34 ​​​And Jesus, coming out, saw a crowd of many, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.

Jesus can be best thought of as the Lord’s desire for our salvation and by the expression, “And Jesus, coming out…” is signified that desire becoming more prominent in our external awareness which creates an openness to receive teaching from the Word illustrated by the statement that “…He began to teach them many things.”  The spiritual life begins with having to learn truths from the Word, and when these truths are understood in a way that faithfully reflects who the Lord is, the state of the human condition, and what’s required of us so far as our regeneration is concerned, then regardless of whether the teaching has come through reading, or hearing truths expressed through sermons, or in conversation with others, what’s received is received from the Lord.  The Lord flows into what we receive through external means by an inward way giving life to the lower things we have received into our minds that are in agreement with what the Word teaches.

AC 9227 …the truths called the truths of faith enter into man by an external way, and that the good which is of charity and love enters by an internal way. The external way is through the hearing into the memory, and from the memory into the understanding; for the understanding is man’s internal sight. The truths which must be of faith enter by this way, to the end that they may be brought into the will, and thus be appropriated to the man. The good which flows in from the Lord by the internal way, flows into the will, for the will is the internal of man. The good which is from the Lord meets there at the common boundary the truths which have entered by the external way, and through conjunction with them causes the truths to become good. Insofar as this is effected, so far the order is inverted, that is, so far the man is not led by truths, but by good; and consequently insofar he is led by the Lord.

The idea of the Lord having compassion on the multitude is linked to His provision of the Word, through which we can receive truths into our minds in which the Lord can be present.  For the Lord’s compassion is not something sentimental but flows from a pure love that looks to make available what’s needed for the salvation of the human race in a way that doesn’t undermine the principles of freedom and rationality.  So this multitude of people on which the Lord looks, and sees is in need of a shepherd, represents the disordered thoughts and affections of the natural mind that need to be brought into order so that they can receive the Lord’s inflowing life represented by the five loaves and two fish.

Knowledge of spiritual realities from the Word can only prepare the mind for reception, it is the practise of that knowledge that creates the conditions by which it can be regenerated.  It is for this reason that we read…

35 ​​​And when the day was already far spent, His disciples coming to Him, say, This is a deserted place, and the hour is now far advanced. 36 ​​​Send them away, that going into the fields and villages round about they may buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.

What this shows is that the state of being taught truths creates a desire for goodness.  This is seen in the arising need for bread to feed the multitude.  Bread as with all food in general in the Word corresponds to goodness.  For goodness to flow from teaching we have to be motivated to practice its truths.  But so long as we find the delight of our life primarily in acquiring truths for their own sake without a view to practising them, or feel satisfied with the understanding of truths we’ve received from others (traditions/historical faith), we won’t feel any real need to practice them to discover their truth for ourselves.  To move to a new state of life we first have to see a need to change, and we will only see this when we become dissatisfied with the state of life we are in.  This is described in the words of the disciples to Jesus in verse 35 where they say…

This is a deserted place and the hour is now far advanced…

In this statement we see a concern expressed, the conditions are changing and there is a need to respond. The idea of place corresponds to the state of the mind as to good, and what we see is that it is described as being deserted or a wilderness.  We will find that when changes have to take place in our spiritual life we are first brought into a sense of dissatisfaction and unease with the current state of our life.

The ensuing conversation between the Lord and the disciples in response to their recognition of the multitude requiring feeding represents the way the Lord as the Word is able to direct and guide our thinking processes.  The obvious solution to the disciples in this situation was to send the crowd away into the towns and villages so that they might procure provision for themselves.  Yet the Lord challenges the disciples to think about things in a different way.  In the same way the Word constantly looks to challenge us to see things in differently.  But the question is always, do we have ears to hear, are we listening in such a way that we are prepared to respond to what the Word is saying to us.  When we face difficulties we often resort to the obvious solutions, but the Lord is not interested in what’s obvious, He interested in what’s best.  And what is best from the end in view that the Lord’s holds for our salvation will often not conform to what we think it should be.  In the situation in this story the Lord responds in a way that pushes the disciples into seeing that even the smallest amount of goodness if acknowledged to be from the Lord can meet the greatest needs.  What we see as limited and small the Lord sees as more than sufficient.

​​​And taking the five loaves and the two fishes, He looked up to heaven, and He blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fishes He divided among them all. 42 ​​​And they did all eat, and were satisfied. 43 ​​​And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments and of the fishes. 44 ​​​And they who did eat of the loaves of bread were about five thousand men°.

But before this could take place the external things represented by the crowd had to be put into order.  Like the disciples we may well know that the Lord is fully able to meet the needs in our life.  But like them we too can be inclined to forget this and be swayed by the appearances of our senses over what the Word teaches.  Five loaves of bread and two small fish appear to be grossly inadequate given the magnitude of the need.  And, indeed, if we look to ourselves and our own resources all we will see is something meagre and limited.  Yet if we are able to look to the Lord then what we have been provided with will be seen in a very different light, being from the Lord we will see that it is more than enough to meet the need.  We need constant reminding of this which is why we need to make a habit of reading the Word, learning from it, and applying it to our life.  This is what orders the lower level of our mind, represented by the crowd, into a form receptive of higher things.  Our external minds are often a jumble of confused values, thoughts and affections.  In fact the Greek word translated, crowd, means a disorganised mass. By looking to practise the Word we create the conditions where this chaos can be put into order and as this is ordered so the way for the goodness blessed by the Lord is opened and can flow down and nourish even the most external aspects of our minds. It is as we learn to do this in the small things that we will come to trust the Word to see us through the larger challenges associated with living a spiritual life.

Spiritual food for the life of the mind is nothing other than the goods and truths of the Word.  Unless the mind is organised into a form able to receive what is good it cannot be regenerated.  We see then, that there is a need to constantly make efforts to compel ourselves to work with truths from the Word if our mind is to be organised into a form that the Lord can be present within.  It is only as the principles of the Word are established in us as the basis for our life that we are able to receive the inflowing life of the Lord’s love and wisdom into every part of our life.

Amen.

About David Millar

My passion revolves around supporting people to engage with the Lord's Word, or Divine truths in the form of sacred texts, to cultivate an intentional spiritual practice. Through the works penned by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) we find that the Biblical texts contain a deeper meaning that, once understood, enables them to be applied in ways that open the human mind to the realisation of its spiritual potential. The goal of the Divine Life is to free each and every human being from the pain of self centred living and bring them into the experience of all that is heavenly through the promotion of what is genuinely good and true. The material shared here is offered in the pursuit of that aim.
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