17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Unlike Matthew, Mark and Luke, St. John in his recounting of the Last Supper says nothing about the institution of the Holy Eucharist. With that said, St. John does write of the Holy Eucharist but in a manner that the other Evangelists do not. There is in Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel Jesus’ teaching about His body and blood as food and drink – a teaching that caused many to turn away.
In today‘s Gospel, there is an allusion to the Holy Eucharist in Jesus’ action: “He took the loaves, gave thanks and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much as they wanted.” Jesus action brings to our minds very clearly the introduction to the consecration in the Mass: “He took bread…giving You thanks…and gave it to His disciples.”
The Gospel presents an interesting dialogue between Jesus and His disciples, Philip and Andrew in particular and quite a scene that is not only very colorful but also paints Jesus in light of the Hebrew Scriptures. The crowd is huge – five thousand men not counting women and children – according to the census Geneseo, New York is over 8,000 people – the crowd would have been at least that size!! And it is before this crowd that Jesus is being likened to Elisha the Prophet who fed a hundred people with twenty barley loaves.
In addition, Jesus’ command that the people recline as at a banquet because there was a great deal of grass there brings to mind the words of Psalm 23 – “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. Fresh and green are the pastures where He gives me repose…You have prepared a banquet for me in the sight of my foes…” The banquet was so marvelously abundant that 12 wicker baskets of fragments of the original 5 barley loaves are filled – nothing said about the fish! The experience was so great, so wondrous that they were going to carry Him off to make Him king – something He avoided completely.
What can we take from all this for our own lives of faith? I believe there is something in that statement about the people having their fill. When the Lord comes into us in the Holy Eucharist, the Lord comes in His totality – what we see, what we taste is a small host, a sip of consecrated wine – but the Lord Himself is not small, not a fragment, not limited – He wants to fill us with Himself – you, me, all of us – what limits His coming, His presence is our own receptivity. How much do you/I desire the Lord – how deep is the welcome – how embracing is the response? Total? Partial? Fearful? Conditional? The Lord – the living banquet – never intrudes, is always graciously respectful of our freedom, our choices no matter how imperfect, how poor. He stands at the door and knocks; how wide do you, do I open the door to our hearts – what is the degree of welcome?
In the letter to the Ephesians – the second reading – St. Paul urges us to live in a manner worthy of our call. He then lists the signs of such living: humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another through love, persevering in peace with one another – to what degree are these present in my life, your life as men and women who recline at a banquet of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ – men, women, children who are extravagantly privileged to consume not barley loaves and fish but the Lord, the Good Shepherd Himself?
The wondrous miracle which Jesus performed was not a miracle for the sake of a miracle – that was not what Jesus was about at any time. There is more to this Gospel than a miraculous banquet near the sea and in a grassy place – it has something to say about the Kingdom of Our Father – it has something to say about how our God wants to treat us – it has something to say about His merciful, inviting love for each one of us.
In the responsorial psalm – Ps 145 – among others, this verse is addressed to our God: “You open your hand” – that simple phrase speaks volumes – God’s open hand is extended to you, to me – an invitation to communion, to intimacy, to fullness of life – is my hand, yours open to Him?