Jul 25, 2015

17th Sunday: God is not stingy

2 Kings 4: 42-44
Eph 4: 1-6
Jn 6: 1-15

If you ever wonder about the generosity of God just think of today Gospel.  The miraculous feeding of more than 5000 hungry people, “as much as they wanted,” must have been astounding, not to mention all that was left over! So impressive was this event that each of the four Gospel writers relates, albeit in somewhat varied way, this miracle. 

If that isn’t enough, think of the wedding feast of Cana (Jn 2: 1-11). Jesus did not only turn water into a fine vintage of wine but 180 gallons of it and more than saved the day for the newly married couple.  Who said Jesus didn’t know how to have a good time. 

What about Jesus teaching on forgiveness (Mt 18: 21-22) in which Peter was likely amazed at his answer that forgiveness has no limits.  Or the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the Prodigal Son (Lk 15: 1- 32) which emphasizes our value in God’s eyes and our call to forgive as we have been forgiven over and over and over again. 

There are multiple other examples that Jesus always responded in a generous, unexpected way to those who asked him.  The ultimate example of course was the sacrifice of his own life for the sake of restoring a broken humanity with God and his promise of eternal life for those who believe.  What more could he possibly have done that would prove God will never be equaled in his giving?

So, today’s familiar Gospel story about feeding thousands of hungry people is far more than an amazing tour de force. Did Jesus do this in order to draw attention to himself and his power?  The crowds may have thought so or at least the potential of what more could be done by him as king. John states: “Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make hi king,” so “he withdrew again to the mountain alone.” (Jn 6: 15).  

This response of the crowds shows that they didn’t yet know who Jesus was or what he was or why he came.  We do for we live with the benefit of history so we must look back. But, honestly, how aware are we really?  How deeply do we know the Lord as the source of all we have and do? The crowds knew was that he was different, very different.  That he could work wonders and speak with great authority so it’s no surprise they turned out in droves.

Yet, at the base reaction of the crowds and not just with this impressive display of power was a sense of awe and they wanted more.  They misread Jesus and he wanted them to look beyond the bread and fish they just ate to see himself as the Bread of Life.

The impoverished crowds, understandably, wanted to make him their king.  In doing so he would release the bondage of Rome and create a nation in which prosperity would reign. For all of that reason, Jesus ran away from them.

We, like the desperate crowds, could become all caught up in a discussion over whether the bread and fish were actually multiplied or whether the crowds were moved to share with one another from whatever meager provisions they may have brought individually.

Now, since none of us were there the safer bet is to assume what the Gospel writers clearly imply – that thousands of people suddenly had food to eat and Jesus himself was the reason for that.
Still, the focus is not so much on the bread and fish but on the person of Christ himself.  As the Gospel of John continues in this sixth chapter we see a deepening of this miraculous event.  That Jesus himself is the “bread from heaven.” 

Our Catholic mind and heart so rightly goes to the Eucharist.  The Gospel writers and the early Christian communities saw in this event a fore shadow of the holy Eucharist. The sign is not centered only on what Jesus can do but rather on who he is. In both word and action he uncovers the truth of God’s mystery.  Faith in him will bring abundance – not wealth and power but God’s grace and eternal life.

What did Jesus ultimately do for the people?  He created with them a connection, a sense of community with himself as the source of that event.  So too in the liturgy, we come together as brothers and sisters in the Lord and a sense of community is present. Our liturgies since the reform of Vatican II have done this powerfully.

Yet, are we there just to catch up on the past week?  Many do but the far greater reason we are there to share in the bread of life from the only one who can feed us – his own body and blood – Christ himself. This is great mystery and deserves a faith filled response.

In the miracle story, Jesus “took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them.” So too in the Mass, bread is received, offered in thanksgiving, transformed to his presence, and then distributed so that all can be fed. This bread is not like the bread they ate or the manna in the desert we hear referred to by Elisha the prophet in the first reading.  This bread will satisfy in a way unlike barely loaves and fish only give temporary relief. 

God is not stingy but he measures far beyond our expectations and will never be outdone.  Of that we are assured.  Our celebration of the Eucharist is a moment to connect with the source of life itself.  We are all hungry and as we heard last week, “he taught them many things.” His word satisfied and fed their hunger – our sharing in the Word of God each Mass is food for the soul.

But now Jesus himself not only speaks he also touches the very core of our existence, the need for nourishment.  His bread goes beyond the material need we all have to feed our bodies.  It is food for the journey of our lives.

Many are gathered, a sense of community, a word is shared, food is offered then transformed, we are fed and then sent to carry on his work.  If that doesn’t create a feeling of awe and wonder nothing will. When you attend Mass this weekend or the next time you go, plug into this great mystery and find a deeper respect.  Don’t ever take this for granted because there is nothing that will ever equal what God has done and continues to do in and through his Church.

O God, protector of those who hope in you,
without whom nothing has firm foundation, nothing is holy, 
bestow in abundance your mercy upon us
and grant that, with you as our ruler and guide,
we may use the good things that pass  
in such a way as to hold fast ever now
to those that ever endure.  

(Collect of Mass)