THE SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B

2 Kings 4:42-44

Ephesians 4:1-6

John 6:1-15

At the heart of who and what we are as Church is the Eucharist.  The Second Vatican Council declared the Eucharist to be the source and summit of all we do as Church.  For the next several weeks, in the Liturgy of the Word, we will depart from Mark’s Gospel and enter John’s for his discussion of Jesus as the Bread of Life.  We will sit under the Word as is our wont and nosh so as to take in his flesh and drink his blood with implications we may not have begun to imagine.  We’ll have to wait a few weeks until we come to the end of the Jesus-as-the-Bread-of-Life proclamations to see if you agree.

Where does the proclamation begin?  Are you surprised that the starting point is a perceived hunger?  In the first reading we meet the prophet Elisha, the successor to the great prophet Elijah, the prophet God took to heaven in the fiery chariot.  Elijah’s mantle cascaded down onto Elisha’s shoulders and his prophetic mission began.  20 barley loaves, the product of the first harvest, are presented to Elisha who in turn directs that the loaves be given to the people to eat.  20 loaves.  100 people.  Common sense dictates that that will not be enough in order for all the people to have something.  Elisha’s servant protests that he will look foolish placing so little before so many.  Elisha insists with the key understanding that we ought to take from the text: Thus says the Lord, they shall eat and there shall be some left over. It is the Lord who is the source of the bounty.

Exodus is the account of God’s providential care of his chosen people, the Israelites, during their formation period in the desert.  God provides them with abundant water from the Rock, manna, quail, and the people never know hunger.  That providence continues in the Second Book of Kings as the people experience a time of hardship.  The point of the 20 loaves being more than enough is that God provides in excess so that when the next hunger comes, there will be something for them to eat.

Jesus’ mission is to proclaim God’s love for the people, God’s desire that the people be whole and know fulfillment in the healing and forgiveness that Jesus brings.  As Jesus teaches and performs the signs of healing and the driving out of demons, a hunger arises in the people.  Crowds follow Jesus.  Crowds differ from disciples.  Crowds are seekers who have not yet determined to believe in Jesus and so to journey with him as disciples.  They’re not ready yet for commitment.  But they hunger and sense the wonder and mystery that is Jesus.

A little phrase is important for us to hear if we are to get the message.  Jesus went up on the mountain and there he sat down with his disciples. Going up on the mountain designates Jesus as the new Moses.  Moses went up the mountain, spoke with God and brought the Law to the people who waited below – forbidden even to touch the mountain.  Jesus brings the disciples with him for the encounter that will follow.  Jesus sits with his disciples.  He takes a position of authority.

Then comes the test.  What have the disciples learned about Jesus from their experience of him?  Sizing up the crowd coming toward him and their hunger, Jesus asks Philip, Where can we buy enough food for them to eat? The answer Jesus was looking for would have declared in some way Jesus’ messiahship, proclaimed confidence in Jesus’ power to save the situation.  Instead, Philip sums up the magnitude of the problem and assesses the cost to give each of the 5000 just a morsel, far less than a satisfying meal.  Andrew brings forth a lad with a few loaves and a couple of fish, but what good are these among so many? It’s the boy’s response that is key here.

Jesus directs the disciples to get the crowd to recline as they would at a banquet.  Then, Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them…and also as much of the fish as they wanted. Take.  Give thanks.  Distribute.  That is Eucharistic language.  Every time we celebrate Eucharist, the institution narrative relates that Jesus took the bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them. In our faith experience, these are the central actions of our worship.  Believers come to the table with their hunger.  The Word is broken and they are fed.  The Bread is blessed and broken and they eat.  There is abundance regardless of the size of the Assembly.  In fact there is more than enough.  The supply is never exhausted.  All this is foreshadowed in John’s narrative of the feeding of the five thousand.

In the gospel pericope there is abundance from so little.  But that little had to be offered.  Elisha had 100 people and 20 loaves and then leftovers after they had eaten.  Jesus had 5000 people and five loaves and, afterwards, twelve wicker baskets were filled with the fragments left over after all had eaten their fill. The promise is fulfilled in Jesus, not only fulfilled but in excess of what could have been imagined.  God is a god of bounty and Jesus is the means to that bounty.

There is much to ponder.  To say these are anxious times is to repeat the obvious.  If we allow ourselves to hone in on the people around us we can become aware of their needs.  It is one thing to talk about statistics but if the statistics have faces the impact of whatever they are dealing with is all the greater.  If you know a homeless person, the plight of the homeless has meaning.  To hear that 23 million people in Africa may die of AIDS in the next 10 years is incredible.  But if you have held the hand of someone in that condition it means all the more.  To talk about the number of people suffering from mental illness can make for an interesting discussion.  To weep with someone in that dark night can break your heart.

It is trite to say that the task is monumental.  It belabors the obvious to wonder what we can do to ease the burden.  What is the little we have, these meager resources, among so many?  But it seems clear from the gospel that Jesus expects us to place the little we have at his disposal, to be taken by him, blessed by him, broken and distributed by him.  We just might find that there will be more than enough; even baskets left over after everyone’s needs have been satisfied.

That is really the meaning of the Eucharist we celebrate and why the Eucharist is the source and summit of all we do as church.  The action transforms us and the gifts we bring.  The body of Christ is present – present in the Word proclaimed, present in the Bread and Wine, present in the Assembly.  And it is the Body of Christ, blest, broken and distributed that goes forth and becomes the means to alleviate the needs that confront us.  That is the promise God gives.  It is the hope that Jesus brings.  We just have to respond in faith and let Christ work through us.  That’s the Messianic Age in a nutshell.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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