The SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – July 29, 2012


The Second Book of Kings 4:42-44

Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 4:1-6

The holy Gospel according to John 6:1-15

Notice the difference in the size of the crowd in the first reading and that in the gospel and the difference in the quantity of food to be placed before them.  Elisha invites the man to place the twenty barley loaves from his first harvest before 100 people.  When Jesus asks the disciples where they can find enough food for to feed the 5000 plus people waiting for Jesus, the opine that two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.  It takes naiveté, don’t you think, for a boy to offer five barley loaves, the food of the poor, and a couple of fish to feed the multitude?  As the disciples question, What good are these among so many?  That’s the same question the man in the first reading had of Elisha.  In both cases the little bit becomes a superabundant feast with leftovers to be gathered up lest they go to waste.

It has always seemed strange to me that when the miracles of the multiplication of loaves are proclaimed, there aren’t stronger reactions from the assembly.  That may be attributed to the fact that few if any are hearing the story for the first time.  I’ve never seen someone poke a person near by and ask what he thought of the amazing story.  We’re so busy dismissing the tale as impossible that we miss the message we are supposed to hear.  God sustains us with abundant mercy that reflects God’s love for the human family.  Then again, how we hear the miracle stories might depend on the character in the narrative with whom we identify.  We ought always to do that, you know.  We ought to place ourselves in the reading and become part of it.  Hearing the gospel that way will make all the difference in the world.  Are you one of the disciples being challenged by Jesus to provide for the multitude?  Are you the lad with the few barley loaves?  Are you one of the hungry ones in the crowd?  See how differently you hear the reading now.

Last night on the evening news there was a story regarding the growing epidemic of obesity in our society in every age group.  “Supersize me!” apparently responds to a wide felt craving for huge, rich, fatty and calorie-laden meals.  Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol, strokes and heart attacks among younger people are occurring with increasing frequency.  Apparently, we don’t like to say “No” to ourselves.  As I listened, I thought about the millions of people in various countries of Africa, Asia, and elsewhere who are living in squalor and starving to death.  During a visit to Kenya and Uganda, more than once I felt panic surge through me as poverty of the masses became evident before me and I saw the pain in parents’ eyes as they wondered from where would come the basics to nourish their children.  And shortly after my return to these shores I found myself standing in awe in a supermarket amazed at the excesses bulging on the shelves.  That experience of excess was numbing for a while until I got used to it and it became normal again.

There is a basic tenet of our faith contained in this Sunday’s readings.  God, in the Hebrew Bible promises to provide for his people.  Elisha challenges the man with the barley loaves to believe that and to trust that God can do wonders with his meager offering.  Jesus, in the gospel does not let the disciples be passive spectators of a hungry people in need.  He poses the question: Where can we buy food enough for them to eat?  In an instant they did the math and knew the need far exceeded their ability to respond.  Or so they thought and would continue to think until they understood the One whose disciples they were.

This reading from John’s Gospel begins the sixth chapter that is an exposition of Jesus as the Bread of Life.  In the course of the chapter Jesus will teach us that he is the Bread of Life and that we cannot have life within us unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood.  He is the fulfillment of all those promises in the Hebrew Bible.  We will stay with this chapter for the next several Sundays.  I hope you will be stunned and amazed at its conclusion that will leave us no wiggle room.  That’s the way with Jesus, after all.

The Multiplication of the Loaves is the only miracle story that appears in all four Gospels.  Matthew and Mark have two tellings of it.  In the three synoptic Gospels, the Multiplication of the Loaves point to the central action of the Last Supper.  But in John’s Gospel there is no institution narrative, on the implications of taking part in the Eucharist.  Jesus washes feet and challenges those washed to do the same for each other.

John’s account of the Multiplication story is filled with Eucharistic language.  When the disciples get the people to recline, (just as the disciples will recline at table with Jesus on the night before he is to die) Jesus takes the loaves of bread, gives thanks to God, breaks the bread and distributes it to the crowd.  The people eat and are satisfied.  And there are enough fragments left over to fill twelve baskets.  The Israelites ate the miraculous bread, Manna, in the desert during the Exodus.  The belief was that that feeding would happen again when the Messiah would come.  Then the hungry will be fed and the poor will have the Good News preached to them.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the fulfillment.

Jesus is the Daily Bread we plead for in the Lord’s Prayer.

We are a Eucharistic people.  Celebrating Eucharist is at the heart of our faith lives.  How we celebrate Eucharist ought to reflect the Sunday’s gospel.  Now, the Risen One is in our midst and is in us as we gather, according the Vatican Council II, as the Body of Christ.  We gather individually and as community believing that all are welcome at this Table.  We come mindful of the hunger in our life, a hunger that only Jesus can fill.  We come, not as passive spectators, but as active participants, as co-celebrants, according to Council language, to take the Bread and bless it as we hear Jesus invite us all to take it and eat it because this is Christ’s body.  He hear Jesus invite us to take the cup and drink from that Blood that is she for us and for all for the forgiveness of sins.  As we respond to Christ’s invitation we realize that as often as we do this we do it in Christ’s memory and Christ is present to us as our strength to go and live this meal that we have shared.

It is from the action that the Eucharist comes.  The faithful share in the Bread and Wine, the Body and Blood, from the celebration in which they have taken part.  They should not have to receive from the reserved Sacrament from previous Liturgies.  The faithful experience Christ present in the Word that is proclaimed, in the Presider, and in the people assembled.  If they do they will be able to recognize Christ’s sacramental presence in the Bread and Wine.  And when they have eaten and drunk, they will live the implications of what they have done by being sent out from the assembled to be Christ’s presence to the poorest of the poor and to every other class of society as well.

The challenge for us as Church is to live the Eucharist.  In spite of characteristics that seem to stand in conflict with this in the Universal Church, the local church can remain committed to being a servant church where all are welcome and the dignity of each is affirmed.  Gathering as two or three, or one or two hundred, wherever the Eucharist is celebrated Christ is present and so is the whole Church.  There is only One Bread, One Body, One Cup of Blessing which we share.  In reaching out to the poor, the alienated, the off scouring of society, it is Christ who welcomes and heals and reminds us that there is one God and Father of us all, and that we have been redeemed and forgiven by the Lord’s dying and rising.

We are a Eucharistic people and Alleluia is our song!

Sincerely,

Didymus

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