Sunday, July 26, 2009

The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.

Reading 1
2 Kings 4:42-44

A man came from Baal-shalishah bringing to Elisha, the man of God,
twenty barley loaves made from the first fruits,
and fresh grain in the ear.

Elisha said, “Give it to the people to eat.”
But his servant objected,
“How can I set this before a hundred people?”
Elisha insisted, “Give it to the people to eat.”
“For thus says the LORD,
'They shall eat and there shall be some left over.’”
And when they had eaten, there was some left over,
as the LORD had said.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 145

R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.

Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD,
and let your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might.

R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.

The eyes of all look hopefully to you,
and you give them their food in due season;
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.

The LORD is just in all his ways
and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.

R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.

Reading II
Ephesians 4:1-6

Brothers and sisters:
I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace:
one body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.

John 6:1-15

Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee.
A large crowd followed him,
because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.
Jesus went up on the mountain,
and there he sat down with his disciples.

The Jewish feast of Passover was near.
When Jesus raised his eyes
and saw that a large crowd was coming to him,
he said to Philip,
“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”
He said this to test him,
because he himself knew what he was going to do.

Philip answered him,
“Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough
for each of them to have a little.”

One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him,
“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish;
but what good are these for so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people recline.”
Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.
So the men reclined, about five thousand in number.

Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks,
and distributed them to those who were reclining,
and also as much of the fish as they wanted.

When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,
“Gather the fragments left over,
so that nothing will be wasted.”

So they collected them,
and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments
from the five barley loaves
that had been more than they could eat.

When the people saw the sign he had done, they said,
“This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.”
Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off
to make him king,
he withdrew again to the mountain alone.

+++ +++ +++ +++

Elisha is described in today’s First Reading as “a man of God”. Earlier in this chapter, he promised a woman who had offered him hospitality, and who longed to have a child, that she would conceive, and so it happened. Then he cured another child of a serious illness, and provided a never ending supply of lamp oil to another widow and her sons for them to use and sell.

Today, we hear about the multiplication of twenty barley loaves to feed one hundred people who are suffering from famine. The holy man had to insist to his servant to take the loaves and start sharing them, even though they didn’t seem to be enough. He promised that there would be more than sufficient food to satisfy the needs of the hungry crowd, and that after everyone had eaten their fill, there would be plenty of leftovers. So it was promised, and so it was fulfilled.

With today’s Gospel, we are beginning a four-week series of reflections from John on Jesus, the Bread of Life. Today’s reading is a follow-up to Mark’s gospel from last Sunday. The crowd has followed Jesus and his disciples to a deserted place, and when they get there, they are famished. The disciples complain that they don’t have money to give everyone even a bit. Tensions begin to rise.

The gospel of John is fraught with such tense situations. Earlier, there was a wedding feast at Cana in Galilee, when the wine ran out. Today, there are only five barley loaves and a couple of fish. Jesus does not appear overly concerned, “Tell them to sit down and relax.” Then he started picking up loaves of barley bread and giving them to the disciples, who gave them to the crowd reclining on the hillside. Five thousand men, not counting women and children got to eat their fill, and when all was said and done, there were twelve bushel baskets of leftovers. The people were so content that they wanted to make Jesus their king. But he slips away by himself, already well aware of that he will someday be proclaimed “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” – not on a throne, but on a cross.

There will be more references to “bread” in the coming weeks. Think of the boy who had five loaves and two fish. “What good are they, when there are so many to feed?” Jesus takes the lad’s offering and does something miraculous with it. If there is something Eucharistic in this message, it is that Jesus takes our gifts, which have received from his bounty, and takes what seems to be insignificant and, giving thanks, transforms it into a perfect offering.

Yet, that’s not the full meaning of Jesus’ blessing of the loaves. He empowers us to accept our very life as a gift, and our abilities, whatever they happen to be, as gifts meant for the nourishment of others. But, within some of us – No, within all of us – there is sense of “poor self-image” or “inferiority complex”, that tends to masquerade as humility. But genuine humility is truth, and the truth is that Jesus can empower us, as he empowered James and John, Peter and Andrew, and the others, to speak, to teach, to work miracles, to bear witness to His presence in their lives and in the world – and He will do the same for us, if we rid ourselves of self-importance or self-loathing (whichever applies) and allow the empty vessel to be filled with His grace.

In the Sacrament of the Altar, writes Pope Benedict XVI in Sacramentum Caritatis , his recently published encyclical, the Lord meets us and become our companion on our journey. The very word companion derives from two Latin words, cum meaning “with” and panis, meaning bread. It’s even clearer in Spanish, “con pan” and “compaƱero”. True joy, the Pope writes, is found in recognizing that the Lord is with us, accompanying us faithfully along our way.

The crowd’s hunger was plea enough for Jesus. He fed them abundantly before they had so much as asked. There are times when we do not recognize our true hunger; but if we simply admit and acknowledge our need before the Father, he will feed us with all that we need to lead the full life of our covenant with him in Christ Jesus, our true Bread of Life.

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