Sunday, July 26, is the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B).
2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-11, 15-18; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15
“The hand of the Lord feeds us,” we say in the response to this Sunday’s Psalm. “He answers all our needs.”
With that prayer, the Church puts us into the crowds fed miraculously by Elisha in the first reading and by Jesus in the second.
The two miracles are similar in many respects, but Jesus’ miracle is exceptional: It is the only pre-Resurrection miracle mentioned in all four Gospels, showing its importance, and it immediately preceeds Jesus’ explanation of the Eucharist, showing its meaning. (Besides, he feeds way more people with less food.)
With that in mind, we can place ourselves in the crowds receiving the miracle in a number of ways.
1. This Sunday, we are experiencing a worldwide multiplication of the loaves.
The Catholic Church feeds the multitudes every Sunday with the one Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. The same Eucharist is blessed and shared in Hong Kong, Honolulu and Hiawatha, Kan.
We should have the same awed reaction to this as those hungry members of the crowd did, as they were surprised to find so little satisfying so many.
2. Both great events are only possible because of small sacrifices.
The multiplication of the loaves and fishes in the Gospel is only possible because a boy came forward and gave up the five loaves and two fishes that he could have just kept for himself or for his family. (I like to think his parents sent him to bring their food to Jesus — and I imagine it was his mom’s idea.)
The boy’s willingness to share makes an extraordinary thing happen. The same thing happens in Church each Sunday. Everyone in the congregation gives a little, and the consequences are eternal. It’s a lesson that comes up again and again in the Christian faith life: Do small things for Jesus, and he turns them into big things.
3. Jesus uses priests to reach the people.
In other tellings of the story, the Gospel makes it clear that the chain of food distribution went like this: Boy gives gifts of food to Jesus; Jesus blesses the food and gives it to the apostles; the apostles give the food to the crowds.
You get a sense of that in today’s Gospel, when the disciples are sent to gather the leftovers.
The Mass consciously uses the same distribution chain: The people bring up the gifts, the priest offers them to God, and then he distributes them to the crowds.
Jesus is always switching the spotlight from himself to his ministers. Their job is to turn the spotlight back on him.
4. The gift left the crowd in awe.
In the Gospel, the miracle of the loaves was enough to inspire the crowd to want to make Jesus their king.
For us, the heavenly bread Jesus gives us should inspire us to acknowledge him as the King of Heaven and Earth.
The difference: Jesus fled the crowd and went away to a mountain to avoid being made a king for feeding their stomachs. For us, his retreat place is in our midst, in the tabernacle. There, he wants to reign — not in our stomachs, but in our hearts.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas,
where he lives with April, his wife and in-house theologian and consultant, and their children.