Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 29, 2018
First Reading: 2 Kings 4:42-44
Psalm 145: 10-11
Second Reading: Ephesians 4:1-6
Gospel: John 6:1-15
The first apple I ever ate literally fell from the sky! On April 30, 1975 my family and I fled from the Communists in search for religious freedom and a new life. Our exodus into the deep sea on a flimsy boat was a pure leap of faith. “God will provide and protect us,” my mother assured us. And so we abandoned everything and fled with literally nothing but the clothes on our back. We were shortly rescued by an American navy ship along with many other refugees. Since there were too many of us to feed, American soldiers occasionally tossed crackers or fruits into the crowds. On one occasion, I happened to catch a delicious red apple. I have never had an apple to myself before, so I was tempted to run off somewhere to eat it all. But I knew that option was not possible. We were a family and we need to share everything we have. Thus, we sliced that apple into seven pieces, one to each member of the family. Although that apple was the only thing for dinner that night, we somehow felt nourished by each tiny sliver.
The Scripture readings this Sunday, which highlight the theme of God feeding the hungry, recall my own experience of God providing my family when we were in need. In the first reading, an unnamed foreigner appeared and offered Elisha barley bread made from the first harvest. First fruits of the crop were normally offered to God because they were considered the best and freshest. However, the prophet Elisha ordered that the bread be given to the people who had gathered. Elisha’s directive was unusual since the offering belonged to God or to the caretakers of the temple. Thus, those who ministered at the temple objected, but Elisha insisted saying, “Give it to the people to eat.” The miracle was extraordinary for over one hundred people were fed by a mere twenty barley loaves. There were even some left over. This miraculous story reveals the generosity of God and the remarkable leadership of Elisha.
The Gospel reading stresses a similar theme that is Jesus meets our needs and longings. The miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish comes from the Gospel of John who alone called it a “sign.” This is the fourth of the seven signs found in this Gospel. Through the sign of the bread for many, Jesus is revealed as bread for the life of the world. Unique to John’s account is the boy who offered the five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks (eucharistēo), distributed them, and then did the same with the fish. The boy’s generosity helped fed thousands of hungry people that day, and there were still twelve wicker baskets of leftovers. Jesus ordered his disciples to gather up (synagein) the fragments, which is a symbol of the gathering together of the church. The Eucharistic allusions are obvious in this Johannine story.
As we gather at this Sunday’s Eucharist, let us be mindful that God continues to nourish us and satisfy our longings. Just as God is generous to us to meet our needs, we ought to be generous with others. Generosity is an essential aspect of the life of every Christian, and we get many opportunities in our everyday dealings with one another to practice it. It’s not only about giving things, but also and more especially about giving of ourselves. Saint Paul knows what it means to give and receive for he writes, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:6-7).
vănThanh Nguyễn, SVD
Professor of New Testament Studies
Bishop Francis X. Ford, MM, Chair of Catholic Missiology