Reading 1: 2 Kings: 4:42-44
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 145:10-11, 15-16, 17-18
Reading 2: Ephesians 4:1-6
Gospel: John 6:1-15
One of the writers in whom I have found the most inspiration through the years is the Jewish author Elie Wiesel. As a teenager, he survived the Nazi death camps and later became a prominent religious thinker who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. His riveting book Night has been read by millions. Wiesel died in the Summer of 2016.
In his Memoirs, Wiesel re-tells the story of the Nazi troops marching into his small hometown in Romania and then rounding up the Jewish citizens, cramming them into a tiny ghetto, and finally deporting them to the death camps on sealed trains. He writes of the feelings he had one night in the ghetto, just before he and his family were put on the train. There were flickering hopes that the Soviet army, whose artillery could be heard only a few miles away, might be able to save them. Wiesel recounts his inner thoughts that night: “That would be too beautiful, too miraculous. But this was not a time of miracles.” But then he adds, “And yet. Human miracles do exist, or rather, they could.”
Wiesel then recalls Maria – a Christian woman who was close to his family. Unlike most of the Christians in the town, Maria fearlessly tried to help Wiesel’s family. She appeared through the barbed wire of the ghetto to bring food and other supplies, and she tried to convince Wiesel’s family to follow her to a secret cabin in the mountains. Wiesel says of Maria, “It was a simple and devout Christian woman who saved her town’s honor.”
But this was not a time of miracles. And yet. Human miracles do exist, or rather, they could. This Sunday we pray with the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish from the Gospel of John. The depiction of Jesus’ reaction to the presence of a crowd of people is striking: “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?’” Jesus immediately recognizes the hunger of these people. He feels a responsibility toward them, that he must do something to care for their needs, to satisfy their hungers.
Perhaps the key moment in this Gospel story comes at the end. When Jesus realizes that the crowds want to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdraws to the mountain alone. In marveling at displays of power, the crowd is missing the heart of the matter: Jesus’ revelation of a God whose love is faithful, personal and beyond our wildest imaginings. And they are not attending to his call to encounter God by serving their hungry neighbors in need.
But this was not a time of miracles. And yet. Human miracles do exist, or rather, they could. Human miracles do exist when we open our eyes and attend to the hungers of those around us. Miracles happen when we use the personal power and authority entrusted to us to serve others, rather than to manipulate or dominate them. Human miracles like Maria, who threaded her way through the barbed wire to bring food to her Jewish neighbors in the ghetto.
In the Eucharist, Christ gives us the gift of his very Self, to be our nourishment and healing. He does this not through stupendous displays of power but through humble gifts of bread and wine. Nourished at the Lord’s table, we go forth to attend to the hungers of those we are called to serve.
Rev. Robin Ryan, CP
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology