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Breath of the Spirit
Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.
Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.
We have to commit to “living in a manner worthy of the call we’ve received.”
JULY 26TH, 2015: SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
II Kings 4:42-44
Only one of Jesus’ miracles is included in all four gospels: his extraordinary feeding of a huge crowd of people. It’s narrated six times! Yet, as Scripture scholars constantly remind us, two (or more) evangelists can include the same passage in their works, yet use it to convey completely different theologies. Though every gospel bread miracle has something to do with the Eucharist, each writer concentrates on a different aspect of it. This is certainly the case with today’s gospel pericope.
Up to this point of the “B” lectionary cycle we’ve been methodically listening to Mark’s gospel, appreciating how, passage after passage, he develops his insights about dying and rising with Jesus. Yet just when we reach the point in which he presents his ideas about how we accomplish our dying and rising in the Eucharist – his first bread miracle - we shift from Mark’s theology to John’s: a biblical “no-no.” (What’s even sadder is that we’ll never – during any weekend liturgy - hear Mark’s take on that important miracle.)
Mark focuses on the role of the disciples in feeding the crowd; John zeros in on Jesus. He’s the one who first notices the lack of food, and then, on his own, takes care of everyone’s hunger. He’s totally in control of the situation. After all, from the very beginning “he himself knew what he was going to do.”
This is the image of Jesus the fourth evangelist almost always conveys. He usually pushes Jesus’ humanity into the background, and displays his divinity front and center. That’s why we can’t compare Elisha feeding 100 people in today’s II Kings pericope with Jesus feeding five thousand. Besides, Elisha depends on Yahweh to pull off the feat, while Jesus – as Yahweh – does it on his own.
Yet perhaps the most important part of John’s chapter six narrative is his insistence that this event, like all his miracles, is a “sign.” What’s implicit in the Synoptics is explicit in John. No evangelist employs miracles willy-nilly. Each has a reason why he puts this particular miracle in this particular place. There’s always something deeper in such passages than immediately meets the eye.
For John, as for us, a sign is something which leads us to something else. If we don’t reach the something else we won’t understand what the sign was trying to convey.
The late Anthony de Mello often told the story of the Indian peasant who had a life-long dream of visiting Bombay. When his friends and fellow villagers eventually raised enough money to make such a trip possible, he was overjoyed. Yet he surprised everyone by returning from Bombay much earlier than expected.
When his benefactors asked, “Did you actually see Bombay?” he assured them he had. And when they inquired what Bombay was like, he eagerly responded, “It’s green, about two feet long and a foot high, with big yellow letters, B O M B A Y.” Obviously, like many readers of the Scriptures, he had confused the sign with the reality beyond the sign.
We can’t understand John’s theology without understanding John’s signs. For instance, in today’s passage the “twelve wicker baskets with fragments” can only refer to the Twelve Tribes of Israel. John is convinced that all Jews, like all Christians, could be fed by Jesus if they only permitted themselves to be fed by him.
Of course, to appreciate John’s signs we must have the same frame of mind which the Pauline disciple who wrote Ephesians had. We have to commit to “living in a manner worthy of the call we’ve received.” Gospel signs are only for those committed to becoming other Christs. All others will stop at the city limits.