Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Second Book of Kings is the source of this weekend’s first biblical reading. The two books of Kings originally were one volume. At one point in the evolution of the Bible, they were divided into two books.
These two books are historical, but their purpose was religious. They attempted to look through the reigns of the kings and proclaim the fidelity of God to the nation. Thus, the prophets, who spoke for God, were prominent in these books.
This weekend’s reading does not even mention a king. Instead, it recalls the life of Elisha the prophet. As an act of faith in and homage to God, a devout man brought the first products of the harvest to Elisha as a gift to God. These products were in the form of 20 barley loaves.
Elisha accepted the offering but told the man to distribute the loaves among the people, who numbered 100. The man of course doubted that only 20 loaves would suffice for so many people. Nevertheless, he complied.
Rather than being insufficient, the loaves were plentiful enough to satisfy the crowd.
For its second reading, the Church this weekend presents a passage from the Letter to the Ephesians.
This letter was directed to the Christian community of Ephesus, in the first century A.D. a major city in the Roman Empire and an important port on the Asian coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Crowning the city was the magnificent temple of Diana, the Roman goddess.
Throngs came as pilgrims to this great pagan shrine. Ephesian Christians were surrounded by intense pagan fervor and sinfulness as well.
Understandably, the letter called upon these Christians to be strong in faith and not to yield to the temptations that most certainly overwhelmed the city.
St. John’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. In this story, Jesus encountered a crowd on the shore of the Sea of Galilee near the ancient and still thriving city of Tiberias. The Gospel pointedly notes that Passover was near.
The crowd was hungry. Philip, an Apostle, approached Jesus with this fact. Another Apostle, Andrew, noticed that a boy had five barley loaves and a few fish. Jesus instructed the Apostles to distribute these loaves and fishes among the crowd, numbering 5,000. Before this distribution, the Lord blessed this food.
The five loaves and few fishes, obviously meager given the number of hungry people, satisfied the multitude. Indeed, after all had had their full, an abundance remained.
The Church reassures us this weekend. God is never distant from us unless we willfully distance ourselves from God by our own selfishness and sin. God is with us today in Jesus, the risen Lord.
God gives us life and all that we need to maintain life. We are not left to struggle as best we can.
In Kings, and in the Gospel, people were hungry and unable to meet their needs on their own. God entered the story in each case, magnificently. All had their fill.
The connection between Jesus, and the Apostles, and their role in salvation, is clear. The Apostles, through the Church, still bear our concerns to Jesus and still convey to us all the blessings of the Lord.
Links between this event in John and the Eucharist are many. First, bread is food. Food is vital for life. Secondly, the gathering of the people on the shore in this story occurred near Passover.
The Eucharist is the great Passover meal.
Next, Jesus gave thanks, the same gesture that appears in all the accounts of the Last Supper. Finally, all partook in the Lord’s gift of this food and were completely satisfied, and much was left over, revealing the lavishness of God’s love and mercy.
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