Sunday, July 29, is the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B). Mass Readings: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145: 10-11, 15-18; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15.
In today’s readings, there is a striking similarity between the miracles that Elisha and Christ perform: Both are food-related signs that enable the people of Israel to recognize them as prophets.
Elisha’s miracle is essentially a means of fulfilling God’s word; Elisha tells the people beforehand that the Lord has promised, “They shall eat, and there shall be some left over.” And this comes to pass.
Thus, Elisha’s miracle confirms both that he is a true prophet who has received a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kings 2:8-15) and that God is faithful to his promises.
By working a miracle that is similar to Elisha’s, but numerically more impressive, Christ reveals himself to be a successor to the prophetic office of Israel. This is confirmed by the people’s reaction to Christ’s miracle: “This is truly the Prophet” (John 6:14).
Their appellation for Christ is a reference to their belief that a successor to Moses and Elijah would eventually appear (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18; Malachi 3:23). Therefore, Christ’s miracle is a way that he reveals himself to be not simply any prophet, but the Prophet — the successor to the prophets of old who fulfills all prophecy.
In addition to calling Christ “the Prophet,” though, they acclaim that he is “the one who is to come into the world” (John 6:14). This phrase echoes the prophet Malachi, who proclaimed that the successor to Elijah whom God would send into the world would also be a messiah (Malachi 3:1, 23).
According to Jewish beliefs, the prophet-messiah would be an earthly ruler, a successor to the throne of David, who would prepare for the day of the Lord by re-establishing justice in the land. Such a just ruler would bring peace and security to the land so that, through him, God would provide for all material and spiritual needs.
The people’s recognition of Christ as this prophetic messiah explains why they want to carry him off to make him a king (John 6:15). The people saw Christ’s multiplication of loaves not simply as an indication that he was a prophet, but also as the beginning of the earthly rule of God’s messiah. They wanted to seize upon the opportunity to make this messiah their king, and thereby secure for themselves the future benefits that they thought he would bring.
In response, Christ withdrew to the mountains alone because he knew that the people had an imperfect understanding of who he was. Whereas they saw him as an earthly messiah come to re-establish the kingdom of Israel, he wanted to show them that he was actually a heavenly Messiah come to establish the Kingdom of God and provide for their spiritual nourishment through his grace.
There is a lesson for us in this interchange between Christ and the people.
Like the people in today’s Gospel, we can become overly focused on possible material benefits in our relationship with God. On the one hand, it is possible to develop a habit of praying for material rather than spiritual benefits, and on the other hand, it can be tempting to think of material prosperity as a sign of God’s favor.
In response to such impulses, we do well to meditate on the miracle of the loaves that we experience every Sunday — the changing of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ — and to remember that it is the source of all sweetness, which leads to everything we truly need: our sanctification and our salvation.
Dominican Father Jordan Schmidt is an instructor
in sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Faculty of the
Immaculate Conception at the
Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.