Seventeenth Sunday of the Year July 26, 2009

2 Kings 4:42-44; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15
God is concerned about everything and he takes personal care of his people. Today’s readings give us this message. He gives people the bread sufficient to fill their hunger and make them comfortable. He leads them to faith and gives them his own body and blood as a proper spiritual nourishment. He who eats him will never die. The Gospel of today begins with the narrative that Jesus is being followed by a very large crowd as he came to the shore of the sea of Galilee. The people had heard his teaching, had seen his miracles and had experienced his personality. They wanted to be with him and not go away. He realises that they were all hungry and had nothing to eat and most of them had travelled long distance just to listen to him. Now he takes upon the responsibility to take care of them and feed them till they are full. Through his very actions we realise that we have a God who is a life giving God and who cares for the hungering crowd. When God gives, he gives over abundantly: they all ate and there was plenty that was left. Be it through Elisha the prophet or through Jesus, God provides more than we need and wants us to be restored to our dignity as human beings and to the fullness of life. We too who are privileged to have all the food we need and more, can make a difference by sharing with the less fortunate. At the same time we see the record in the old testament of the struggles of famine and starvation. Prophets like Ammos, Jeremiah, Isaiah were quick to denounce the unequal distribution of wealth but also suggest alternatives of equal distribution based on social justice and love for the poor. They indeed showed their concern to the people of their times.
In today’s First Reading, we heard that a man, perhaps a farmer, brought food from the first fruits to Elisha, the man of God. This generosity was in obedience to the word of God to His people through Moses. The word of God is given in the book of Exodus which says, “The choicest of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God.” United with God’s people and trusting in the Lord, Elisha commanded that the food be given to the people. Hearing this, the servant questioned how a hundred persons could be fed with so little food. Keeping in mind the providential care of God, Elisha repeated his command, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.'” The servant obeyed and the people had enough to eat and there was plenty left over. Again we see the role of prophet Elisha who shared the fruits with those in need, and the servant who distributed the food to the one hundred persons who ate it, indicates the holy nature of God in the unity of the Spirit of the Lord. Through these actions, we perceive that the people knew and obeyed the will of God. Through these actions, we perceive spiritual love, God’s people taking care of one another as one people. We perceive the joy of giving and the joy of receiving, all for the benefit of the one people of God.
Paul in today’s Second Reading, his letter to the Ephesians, invites us to live a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called, in humility, in gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. These words echo the Christian actions of the people as referred to in the Old Testament. Paul begins with the words: “I, the prisoner of the Lord” and asks all live a life worthy of their calling. Each one has a call received from Christ from the beginning and what is expected of each is his fidelity to it. By this he indicates that through Christ who died for our sins, we have been freed from the slavery of sin and enslaved to God. Now, we are indebted to Jesus. Thanks to the promises of God that we have received through Christ and the Sacrament of Baptism, we are no longer free to do as we please. In thanksgiving to God for His abounding grace, we are called to live our living faith in Christ as one in the Spirit of the Lord. A prisoner does not have his free will. He is bound by rules and norms and he has to follow these norms seriously. Similarly, a young child is required to obey his parents, or a slave is required to obey his master. The young children have a free will to do as they please and the slaves have too. But, if they fail to obey, they can expect loving discipline to correct them until they will obey. We as Catholics, do have the right to disobey the teachings of the Church as we have a free will! But we do not have the right to disobey the Lord God and His teachings that are implemented through the Church. We are called to be united as one in the Spirit of Christ. We are called to be united in the teachings of the Church.
The Gospel Reading reminds us of the miracle of the multiplication of food, where with five barley loaves and two fish Jesus fed five thousand persons and they had twelve baskets of leftovers. This may seem humanly impossible, but when God is pleased with His children, nothing is impossible for him. The source of the food is the little boy that gave up his food for Jesus to share it with the others. We also heard that the disciples obeyed Jesus. They asked the people to sit down and while they were seated, they were fed. These people are those who were united in the Spirit in obedience and ate as much as they wanted. This miracle serves as an introduction for a long discourse on Jesus as the Bread of Life. John begins by telling us that Jesus crossed over to the opposite shore of the Lake of Galilee and that he was followed by a large crowd. They had walked a long distance to see Jesus. John says it was because “they saw the signs that Jesus was doing for the sick”. This is likely an expression of the deep hunger and longing of people for healing and wholeness in their lives. At the same time, it could also be interpreted in a purely selfish and curious sense, the way people will flock in crowds after hearing about some “miraculous” event. John does not speak about his teaching ministry as the Synoptic Gospels do. But John mentions that “now the Passover festival was near”. The Passover is the great feast when the Jews each year celebrate their liberation from slavery in Egypt and God’s leading them into freedom as his chosen people. Today’s scene is an anticipation of the new Passover where Jesus will be the central figure and where Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection will be our liberation from sin and death.
In the Gospel we have the dialogue between Jesus and Philip, who always comes as across as rather naive and simple. He asks the questions that is simple and natural: “Where will we get food for all these people?” Jesus asks him. Philip says “Two hundred denarii would not be enough for each to have a little,” indicating a situation practically impossible in human terms. This reflects the dialogue with the prophet Elisha in the First Reading when he was told to feed the people from 20 barley loaves. “How can I serve this to a hundred men?” he asks God and God says “Give it to the people to eat,” is the simple answer. Give and it shall be given to you, is the norm of God. It is Andrew who shows the little boy with food and the miracle takes place. It is important to observe that Jesus did not feed the people with nothing. He started with something that was already available. What Jesus did was made possible because that little boy was willing to share what he had with others, including the many strangers around him.
Some even stress that the “miracle” that took place because of the boy’s generosity which resulted in many others generously sharing what each had brought with the strangers around them. It does require a kind of miracle to break through people’s self-centredness and their concern for their own security. Look no further than your own bank account. The little boy broke the ice. People are dying of hunger and malnutrition in our world, not because of a lack of food but because of poor distribution. The food is there; it is the will to share it or the means to produce it that is lacking. This may look a bit strange yet we see that the Eucharist that we are celebrating every day is also about giving, about loving and about sharing. The bread which has been offered by all is blessed at the consecration, then broken and divided and given out to all. In fact St Paul has some very harsh words for Christians who want to celebrate the Eucharist but refuse to help the needy members of their community.
Often we miss a special task of Jesus in this episode. In the Synoptic Gospels, it is the disciples who are told to distribute the bread and fish among the people. But here in John, it is Jesus himself who distributes: John is soon going to record Jesus’ words about his being the Living Bread which gives life to the world. Even though there are intermediaries, it is always Jesus himself who comes to us in Word and Eucharist. John wants to emphasise that Jesus is the source of all nourishment, spiritual and material. He personally shares himself even today. The immediate reaction of the people is to make him their King, Messiah. Jesus’ response is to flee into the hills. He escapes the temptation to power and stays away from such a situation. We ask the grace from Jesus to be of service to all and continue the mission of Jesus. A mother wanted to teach her daughter a lesson about giving. She gave the little girl a quarter and a dollar for church. “Put whichever one you want in the collection plate and keep the other for yourself,” she told the girl. When they were coming out of church, the mother asked her daughter which amount she had given. “Well,” said the little girl, “I was going to give the dollar, but just before the collection the man in the pulpit said that we should all be cheerful givers. I knew I’d be a lot more cheerful if I gave the quarter, so I did.”

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