JULY 29TH, 2018: SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
A man came from Baal-shalishah bringing to Elisha, the man of God,
twenty barley loaves made from the firstfruits,
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.
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.
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.
Regular readers of this commentary know what to expect today. Every three years I begin the same way. This is the Sunday which reminds me of a unique experience.
Back in the 50s, our high school seminary had regular three-reel Sunday night movies. Because we had just one projector, we had two, ten-minute breaks, giving the projectionist time to change the reels and the rest of us time to use the rest room. One memorable Sunday we came back for the second reel, only to discover the movie people had packed the wrong reel. It was from a completely different movie! We dutifully sat through it, took our break, and returned to view the third reel of the original film. Exactly what we do on the Seventeenth Sunday of the Year, B Cycle.
We’ve been going through Mark’s gospel, until we reach his first account of the “bread miracle.” Then, for the next five Sundays, Mark’s movie is interrupted by John’s movie. Finally on the Twenty-Second Sunday we return to Mark.
All of us in the seminary gym that night immediately realized the difference between the second and third reels. Sadly, only a rare person recognizes the difference between Mark’s bread miracle and John’s. To most people they sound alike. We haven’t been trained to recognize each evangelist’s unique theology.
Briefly, Mark stresses the role of the community in the feeding; John zeroes in on Jesus’ role. Mark emphasizes the peoples’ action; John focuses on the bread and wine itself.
Only our Ephesians passage brings up the community’s importance, but the faithful’s humility, gentleness and patience aren’t directly connected to any bread miracle.
Except for the man from Baal-shalishah who supplies the twenty barley loaves, only Elisha plays a role in our II Kings feeding. Except for eating the miraculous bread, no other person participates in the process.
In our gospel pericope, Jesus’ disciples help only by informing him about the boy who has the five barley loaves and two fish, and then prepare the “large crowd” for the imminent banquet. The food they share isn’t even their own.
But it’s significant for John that this “sign” takes place in the context of Passover. Notice that John, unlike the other three evangelists, doesn’t have Jesus institute the Eucharist at the Last Supper. (He institutes another “sacrament” then: the foot-washing.) His Jesus gives us the Eucharist here, at the miraculous feeding. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons John’s Jesus is in total control of the situation. He, for instance, knows what he’s going to do even before he finds out about the boy’s bread and fish.
Though it might have historically taken Jesus’ first disciples a while to understand the implications of what he said and did during the meal they shared on the night before he died, John makes it clear the “Prophet” had everything precisely worked out in advance, exactly what we would presume of someone who’s also God.
It’s this divine person who enters the deepest parts of our lives during the Lord’s Supper. We’ll see and hear the implications of that unity during the next weeks. It’s a unique experience.
But now it’s enough to understand that Jesus is the one who’s started this process. He loves us enough to share his actual body and blood with us; shares it enough that no matter how much we receive from him, there’s always “leftovers.” His giving never runs out.
Our role is simply to understand this gift in the right way. John’s not only going to make certain we will, he’ll give us the reason this gift is essential to the faith the risen Jesus wishes to share with us. We not only share his faith, we actually share him.