“FIRST IMPRESSIONS”
17TH SUNDAY
(B) July 28, 2024
2 Kings 4: 42-44; Psalm 145;
Ephesians 4: 1-6; John 6: 1-15
by Jude Siciliano, OP


Dear Preachers:

 

Today Jesus throws a picnic for 5000 hungry people. Which stirs in us the same question his disciples asked when they saw the hungry crowd and their scanty supplies, the five loaves and two fish they had to offer, “… But what good are these for so many?” Have you ever felt that the problem you’re facing is just too much for you to handle on your own? Or, even more than those nearest you can help you manage? That’s what those disciples must have felt as they faced the hungry 5000.

During this liturgical year we have been hearing readings from Mark’s gospel. But today we have shifted to John as we will do for many of the remaining Sundays of the summer. The multiplication of the loaves is narrated six times in the New Testament. Each evangelist tells the story with variations to suit their needs. But at its roots, it’s the same story and the number of times it is narrated emphasizes its importance for the early church and, of course, for us. Let’s see why.

The stories of the multiplication differ, a characteristic of good storytellers. Each has features that draw on their religious traditions. The details vary but the truths at their heart are the same. In John’s version the story echoes the Eucharistic narrative. If we look for the institution of the Eucharist in his telling of the Last Supper we won’t find it. What we do hear, in his version of the Supper, is the washing of the disciples’ feet. By just focusing on the foot washing in the place we expect to hear the words of the institution of the Eucharist, John is suggesting that we who eat the bread of Christ’s presence are to then humbly serve the needs of others. As Christ did when he washed the feet of his disciples.

But if we want to learn another “take” on the Eucharist we will find it in John’s account of the multiplication of the loaves. Note that Jesus is the first to see the needs of the crowd. They are hungry, away from home and have no other resources. He asks his disciple Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Philip responds in the way we might when we face a need we can’t handle on our own. “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” A “little!” Hang on Philip, Jesus is not miserly in what he can provide for our hungers. John tells us that they had more than enough to eat. The God Jesus reveals to us is abundant in mercy, compassion, forgiveness and nourishment.

In other miracles stories, when a person with a serious need approaches Jesus and expresses faith in his ability to help them, he does. But in the multiplication story, the hungry crowd does not ask Jesus for food. Jesus sees their need before they get to him. But I thought you had to be a believer to get help from Jesus. Not in the story. The God Jesus is revealing to us takes the initiative to feed our hungers. Which suggests God is already helping us in the needy places of our lives. Have we noticed that help, even though we haven’t thought to ask? Or, have we asked and are getting help in surprising and unexpected ways?

Philip’s response to Jesus’ question, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” indicates he does not think they have the resources they need to feed such a large crowd. Enter Andrew: who presents a child with five barley loaves and two fish. He adds, “… but what good are these for so many?” Our resources often don’t seem to be enough to address the enormity of our needs. Note, the five loaves and two fish are a hint to biblical readers. The number seven symbolizes completeness. It is as if John is telling the reader, “Keep your eyes open, something is about to happen. God is about to do something really fulfilling.”

At this point the story voices our serious needs and our inability to address them: large hungers and our minimal supplies and abilities to do anything about them. But in the story Jesus takes over. He requests the people “recline.” This is not going to be a rushed meal that just satisfies hungry stomachs. It will be a feast which will not only feed them, but give the people a chance to reflect on the source of the abundant food. There were 12 wicker baskets left over, more than enough food. Ours is not a stingy, tightfisted God.

Isn’t it ironic that it is a child who has the food needed for the miracle? None of the adults has what’s needed, but a child does. Does the child represent our own vulnerable selves, and our limited resources to address the situations of need we face? Or, should I do what Jesus does in the story: give thanks and share what I have with others? Then I might notice how God multiplies, in surprising ways, even small offerings. The crowd is filled by the food God provides and also experiences God’s compassion for them in their need.

The Jewish converts who first heard John’s telling of the miracle would have heard echoes of the story of their ancestors: how God delivered them from captivity, led them 40 years across the desert and fed them bread each day – one day at a time. The people knew the bread that they were about to eat was from God because Jesus “gave thanks” for it.

There are people throughout the world, in our immediate surroundings, even across the dinner table, who have physical and emotional needs. We might feel inadequate to help them. Yet, we give thanks to God for what we have and, with trust in our bountiful God, share it with them: our presence, a loving and caring word, resources and our prayers. God can surprise us and multiply “the bread” we offer those with hungry stomachs and spirits.

When Jesus fed the crowds he taught them about God’s unconditional love. The only prerequisite they had to have to receive the food was their hunger. The first Christians who gathered to break bread and share the cup, upon hearing John’s story of the multiplication, would have been reminded that they were to serve the hungers of those in need. That’s what God saw and that’s what Jesus fed and those of us at the table today are to do the same for others.

 

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/072824.cfm