17th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2018 – Year B

29 July 2018

2 Kings 4.42-44
Ephesians 4.1-6
John 6.1-15

In the readings today we see God’s concern for the hungry. In the first reading we heard how a man brought Elisha, the man of God, 20 barley loaves and fresh grain in the ear. They were meant to be offered as first fruits of the harvest to God (Yahweh), but instead Elisha said they should be given to those who were with him so they could eat at a time of great need. As with Elisha, Jesus gives more than can be eaten to those following him.

In the gospel Jesus, moved by compassion when he saw the crowds, was concerned that they should have food to eat since they had followed him for some time and would be hungry. So he decides to do something about it.

When Jesus met hungry people he gave them the only thing that mattered most at that moment: food, and did so with great generosity – all ate as much as they wanted, and there were still 12 large baskets of scraps left over. Jesus, who is God, is always very generous with his gifts. Remember the great amount of wine that he provided at the wedding feast of Cana? Are we generous in our dealings with others in sharing what we can with them?

The miracle of the loaves is a miracle of great generosity. We experience this generosity every time we sit down to eat and especially when we receive the Eucharist. The experience of generosity should enlarge our hearts, and a desire to be generous towards those who are not as fortunate as ourselves.

Jesus, we are told, took the five loaves and gave thanks. So should we when we eat. In a world in which millions are hungry, or do we take our food for granted? In his recent Encyclical, Laudato si’ (On the care of our common home), Pope Francis urges us to ‘return’ to the practice of giving “thanks to God before and after meals… That moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life…” [paragraph 227]

This would not have been the first time that the people followed Jesus so they probably knew from past experiences that if they had followed him for some time they might be hungry and some at least would have brought food with them. Don’t we know that in the world we live in we have more than enough food to feed everyone but often those with a great amount will not share with those who have not, for various reasons, like keeping up the price of commodities on the world markets and forcing the poorer countries to sell their products cheaply etc. 

Maybe their hearts are closed. What Jesus is telling us is that those who have plenty and more than enough must share with those in need. Perhaps it is a question of awareness and a real desire to share. This maybe is a greater miracle than multiplying food miraculously.

It is interesting to note, that the food offered to Jesus, five barley loaves and two fishes was the food of the poor. The poor ate barley loaves whilst those better off would have eaten wheaten loaves. From my experience at least, I know that the poor generally, even though they have little, are the very ones who share more easily.  When I was young we would go carol singing at Christmastime and we found that as a general rule the poor gave most.

So whilst Philip saw the difficulties in providing food, as did the servant of Elisha, Jesus sees the possibilities and the opportunities that the occasion offered.

Obviously the scene reminds us of the Eucharist when the disciples of Jesus come together to adore, praise and worship God and to receive the nourishment we need to live our daily lives as followers of Jesus. When we go out from the Eucharist we are called upon to live a Eucharistic lifestyle. We are asked to put into practice daily what we have experienced at the Eucharist: forgiveness, unity, communion, sharing the Body and Blood of Jesus, his sacrifice of love for us

There is a direct connection between attending the Mass [Eucharist] and living a Eucharistic lifestyle. Can we call ourselves Christians if we do not do this? St. Paul in the second reading spells out some of the things we must do if we are a Eucharistic people especially the unity in our relationship with others.

The Good News today is that Jesus is concerned to feed people who are in need and whilst he did sometimes work miracles he has called on others to help out in whatever way possible.

St. John in his gospel never uses the word ‘miracle’. He uses the word ’sign’ for what the Matthew, Mark and Luke call miracles. Wherever good, love, forgiveness, sharing are practised these are equally signs of God’s concern for others. They don’t have to be extraordinary signs.

Besides, many people who are not in need of food to feed their physical hunger may need the food of friendship, concern, encouragement, forgiveness, love etc. Each of us is called upon to respond to these. Would be we happy with how we are responding these days?

“Lord Jesus give us the sensitivity to be aware of the needs of others on whatever level and to do whatever we can so that they will see the signs of your love in their daily lives. Amen”.

Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA

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