SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – July 26,2015

 

A reading from the second Book of Kings 4:42-44

A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 4:1-6

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 6:1-15

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

Isn’t it strange that when the miracle of the multiplication of loaves is proclaimed, there aren’t stronger reactions from the Assembly?  Perhaps that can 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 the other thought of the amazing story.  When we dismiss the tale as impossible, we miss the message we are supposed to hear.  God sustains us with abundant mercy that reveals 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.  That is an important step to take in hearing the Word.  We ought to place ourselves in the reading and so become part of it.  Try it this Sunday and see what I mean.  It 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 in the crowd?  Make the identification and see how differently you hear the reading then.

In the news for some time now, there are stories regarding the growing epidemic of obesity in our society and 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 are occurring among younger people with increasing frequency.  First Lady, Michelle Obama campaigns for healthy foods for children.  Some listen.  Many don’t.

I had the blessing of visiting Kenya and Uganda, blessing because my eyes were opened and I acquired a new lens for perspective.  More than once I felt panic surge through me as I was confronted by the poverty of the masses.  Who would not be moved by seeing pain in parents’ eyes as they wondered from where would come the basics to nourish their children?  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 numbed me for a while until I got used to it and the plenty became normal again.

There is a basic tenet of our faith contained in this Sunday’s readings.  God, in Hebrew Bible promises to provide for the people.  Elisha challenges the man with the barley loaves to believe that and to trust that God can do wonders with a 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 meet the need.  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 Hebrew Bible. We will stay with this chapter for the next several Sundays.  I pray you will be stunned by 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 points to the central action of the Last Supper.  But in John’s Gospel there is no institution narrative at the Last Supper or the implications coming from taking part in the Eucharist.  In stead, 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.  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. At that time the hungry will be fed and the poor will have the Good News preached to them.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise.

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

A momentary aside: I find myself hearing this Gospel in a new way in the light of Pope Francis’s preachings of late about the wealthy’s responsibility to assist in relieving the needs of the poor.  It will be interesting to see how Congress responds in September when Pope Francis speaks to them.  Just as his speaking out about our responsibility to respect the environment has brought some angry responses, so too, I suspect, will his speaking on the Social Gospel of the Church cause teeth to grind.  In a society where profit is the principal goal, who will want to hear about Society’s responsibility to share with the poor and lift them up?

We are a Eucharistic people.  Celebrating Eucharist is at the heart of our faith lives.  How we celebrate Eucharist ought to reflect this Sunday’s Gospel.  Now the Risen One is in our midst and is in us as we gather.  That is according to the Vatican Council II’s proclamation of the Church 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 lives, a hunger that only Jesus can fill.  We come, not as passive spectators, but as active participants, again according to Council teaching, 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.  We hear Jesus invite us all to take the Cup and drink from that Blood that is shed 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.  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 that is their experience, 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, especially the marginalized, is affirmed.  Again, we must listen to Pope Francis’s call for a renewed Church.  Gathering as two or three, or two or two hundred, wherever the Eucharist is celebrated, Christ is present and so is the whole Church.  There is only One Bread, One Body, On 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.  All of us are redeemed and forgiven by the Lord’s dying and rising.

We are a Eucharistic people.  Alleluia is our song!

Sincerely,

Didymus

 

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