Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Second Book of Kings is the source for this weekend’s first reading. Originally, First and Second Kings composed one volume, but at one point in the revision of the Scriptures, this one volume was divided into two parts.
As the title implies, these books have to do with the kings of the united nation of Israel. The stories in First and Second Kings almost always have a religious significance, since the Hebrew Scriptures always had as their purpose the conveyance to the people of religious truths and values. Religion was the most important aspect of Hebrew life, so living by religious standards, as given by God, was crucial.
Prophets are prominently mentioned in both books of Kings. After all, they spoke for God to the people.
Therefore, in this weekend’s reading, the central figure is not a king, but Elisha, the prophet. The message is twofold. God, the almighty Creator, gives to humans control over nature, to the extent that they can govern it. Nature is for the use and well-being of humans.
The other part of the message is that God provides for humans. His gift is a supernatural gift, bringing life when no other source of life is forthcoming.
For its second reading, the Church presents a passage from the Epistle to the Ephesians. It is a moving appeal to the Christians of Ephesus to bear with each other, to be patient with each other and to love each other, because the faithful compose one body. One Spirit gives them life and strength. Disciples of Christ are not a collection of individuals, ships passing silently in the night; they are united in a great and holy unity.
The passage also warned, realistically, that adversity often awaits the faithful believer.
St. John’s Gospel supplies the last reading. It is one of the best-known, and best-loved, sections of the New Testament. It is the story of the multiplication of the barley loaves and fish.
Important in this reading is the fact that Jesus can supply all things. The Apostles and the crowd were helpless. Without the Lord, they would hunger and even starve. They were desperate.
Not only did they have no food, they also had no funds to buy food. Earthly assets were worthless. They failed to supply the need. By contrast, Jesus supplied for the people.
He first gave thanks over the sparse food at hand. This is an obvious reference to the Eucharist. Indeed, in Greek, “eucharistia” means “giving thanks.”
As a sidebar, Philip did not understand that Jesus was asking him for a testimony of Philip’s own faith. Despite being an Apostle, Philip could not understand everything. Every person is limited in the ability to perceive.
Ephesians indicates clearly that the Christians in Ephesus at times were at odds with each other. They were under stress. The Roman culture looked upon Christianity as ridiculous and as a threat to the good order of the empire.
Obviously, the Christian teachings of one supreme God, a divinity of love, was beyond and contrary to the Roman notion of things.
Ephesus was more than a great city and seaport. It was a shrine. Its temple, dedicated to Diana, the goddess of the moon, was the destination of many pagan pilgrimages. Many Ephesians were fervent in their paganism. It was, for Christians, an unwelcoming place. So it is with us today, even without the particulars of the struggle between Roman culture and Christianity.
The Gospel faces many opponents. Calling us to strong faith, the Church reminds us that we need God. Even if we are true believers, as was Philip, we cannot see everything. We cannot survive on our own.
The wonder and the consolation are that God provides, feeding us in the Eucharist.
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