17th 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 — their purpose was religious. They attempted to look through the reigns of the kings, to record and to assess the fidelity of the nation to God. So, prophets have a prominent role in Kings.
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 was willing to oblige, but he, of course, doubted that only 20 loaves would suffice for so many people. Nevertheless, the man 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 Epistle to the Ephesians.
This epistle 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 the great pagan shrine. So, the Ephesian Christians lived in a very important pagan religious center.
Understandably, the epistle called upon these Christians to be strong in faith and not to yield to the temptations most certainly proceeding from this context of the city.
St. John’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. In this story, Jesus encounters a crowd on the shore of the Sea of Galilee near the ancient, and still thriving, city of Tiberias. The Gospel notes that Passover was near.
The crowd was hungry. Philip, an Apostle, approached Jesus with this fact. The Lord ordered that food be found. 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 as 5,000.
Before this distribution, the Lord blessed this food.
The five loaves and few fishes 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 of course we distance ourselves from God by our own selfishness and sin. God is with us yet today in Jesus, the risen Lord.
So, we humans are not totally helpless. A man brought Elisha the loaves. A boy produced the food for Andrew in the reading from John. Yet, in neither case, were these human provisions enough. God, however, entered the story in each case.
The connection with the Apostles, and attention to their role in salvation, are clear. The Apostles, through the Church, still bear our concerns to Jesus. By the same token, they 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, vital for life. Secondly, the meeting of the people on the shore in this story from John was near Passover. The Eucharist is the great Passover meal.
Next, Jesus gave thanks, the same gesture that occurs in all the accounts of the Last Supper.
Finally, all partook in the Lord’s gift of this food. All were satisfied. The fact that much was left over reveals to us the lavishness of God’s love and mercy.
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