Reflections

SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME 2021

Readings:2 Kings 4:42-44Psalms 145:10-11, 15-18Ephesians 4:1-6John 6:1-15

The large crowds in last week’s and today’s gospels were not following Jesus because they were hungry. You will recall that in our lectio continuum from Mark a similar “vast crowd” followed Jesus across the lake, arriving at the place of retreat even before Jesus arrives. They were like “sheep without a shepherd,” and then He provides for their sustenance by feeding them with very little (five loaves, two fish), as they specifically sat on “green grass,” reminding the reader of the “verdant pastures” of last week’s responsorial psalm. The same vast crowd would later go into the villages and carry everyone in need of healing to place them before Jesus, and they would beg “Him to let them touch even the edge of His cloak, and all who touched it were healed.” The crowds were looking for a prophet, not a king who would take care of their earthly needs.
All four gospels, which says something about the story’s importance for the Jesus story, relate versions of Jesus feeding the crowds, and this week’s gospel diverts from a similar reading from Mark, to give us the longest of all the versions, the one found in John at the beginning of the Bread of Life discourse. The first reading from the Book of Kings gives us a hint that Jesus’ feeding will be like that of the prophet Elisha, where hundreds are fed with very meager supplies. The crowd isn’t just vast, its about “five thousand in number,” and we are lead to believe that the “two fish and five barley loaves” are going to have to work all the harder to feed the people, but there are “twelve wicker baskets” of barley loaf fragments leftover, indicating the magnanimity of the “Lord, who answers all our needs.”
It is curious why the creators of the lectionary readings felt it was necessary to leave Mark’s gospel for John’s. While it is hard to miss a premonition of the Eucharist in all the accounts, the language of Mark (the oldest account) is the most Eucharistic: “Taking the five loaves and two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to His disciples to distribute to the people.” Indeeed, the Eucharistic language in all of them is surely a reason that this particular miracle is remembered in all four gospels.
What John’s account does have is a confession of faith: “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” The miracles of Jesus were not arbitrary shows of power, which is why He quickly leaves the area when He determined that they were coming “to carry Him off and make Him king.” The miracles were meant to show that the long predicted kingdom had arrived, and was in their midst. Jesus’ short ministry was meant to change hearts, show people just who God is, and give them a sense of what genuine worship of that God is all about.
The second reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians presents us with a striking mandate, urging us “to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received.” Have we done so? Do we live our lives “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is ever all and through all and in all.” Could a more beautiful call to unity be given to us on this day, at this time in the Church’s history?
It should come as no surprise to us that no one of us truly lives “in a manner worthy of the call we have received.” Indeed, we are sinners, and while we strive to do our best, we will always fall short of the mark. This should take no one by surprise, even the most self-righteous and hard-hearted among us. We begin our Eucharist with a penitential rite to remind us of our sinful nature, not to depress us, but to increase our gratitude for what has been done for us. In case our memories are short, just before the privileged moment when we receive the body and blood of the Lord, we publicly acknowledge that we are “unworthy,” but our faith in God tells us that He but “say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
The feeding of the multitude reminds us of the precious gift of the Eucharist, and with humility and an extraordinary sense of gratitude, we pledge ourselves “to live in a manner worthy of the call we have received.” May we not disappoint the Lord. More importantly, may we not disappoint ourselves!

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