17th Sunday of Ordinary Time “Loaves and Fish, Ever Ancient, Ever New” PDF Version
Homily for the 17thSunday of OT, Year B (2018): 2 Kgs 4:42-44; Jn 6:1-15
Since the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, every Sunday liturgy will present us with four readings from the Scriptures, typically a first reading from the Old Testament, then one of the psalms or canticles of the Old or New Testament, a second reading from the letters of the New Testament and then a reading from one of the 4 Gospels. More often than not you will discover an intended connection between the First Reading of the Old Testament and the Gospel.
The reason for this connection is two-fold: Firstly, it shows how Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all the events and prophecies that took place in the Old Testament. Secondly, this connection shows how Jesus will relive in His 33 years upon earth the entirety of the Old Testament, undertaking in His life and person everything that the People of God experienced since the creation of all things visible and invisible.
For example, consider why Jesus and the Holy Family escape to Egypt during His infancy. In part it was to save the child from the murderous rage of King Herod, but it was also to show how Jesus, just like the People of Israel, will experience exile and bondage in the land of Egypt, before the time of His exodus comes when His Heavenly Father calls Him back to the Promised Land, just as God brought Israel out of Egypt to settle them in the land of Milk and Honey.
Over the next five Sundays, the Gospel reading will come from Chapter 6 of the Gospel of St John. This is sometimes called the Bread of Life discourse and is where Jesus teaches most explicitly and controversially the truth of the Most Holy Eucharist, His Flesh and Blood given for the life of the world.
We will witness as in one eloquent and history changing teaching on the Holy Eucharist, Jesus and His People will also relive and bring to fulfillment pivotal events in their history, notably events that surrounded 4 of their great leaders and prophets: Moses, Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, in addition to fulfilling a prophecy found in the Book of Proverbs.
Let us think of today’s homily then as part 1 in a 5 part series.
That the Prophet Elisha could feed 100 people with 20 barley loaves and fresh ears of grain was an event that caused awe and wonder in the People of Israel. People began to believe and trust that God was with this holy prophet, and so they should heed his voice as not one voice among many but as a voice that spoke directly for God Himself. Elisha had accomplished on that day what seemed nearly impossible for human beings, to feed so many and adequately satisfy their hunger.
But Elisha did much more than just satisfy their carnal needs. More importantly, he feed them with the bread of faith, inspiring them to believe that this miraculous meal was no mere feat of encouraging people to share their food with each other, but that God had provided a miraculous means to once again come to His people in their need and inspire them to believe that He alone was God, and that Elisha was a prophet they could trust.
Now consider what takes place on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, nearly 900 years after the miraculous feeding of the people through the Prophet Elisha. Like Elisha, Jesus will take barley loaves to feed the people, though He only requires 5 loaves and feeds 5000 men, though it should be noted that this only refers to the men present that day, women and children were not counted, meaning the number of those feed by the 5 loaves and 2 fish must have reached into the tens of thousands!
St Bede the Venerable made an astute observation that it was significant that Jesus selected 7 pieces of food to feed the people, as he said spiritually the 5 Loaves represented the First Five Books of the Old Testament, also known as the Torah, which contains the Law of God’s people, and the Two Fish represent the Book of Psalms and the Books of the Prophets.
This means that while Jesus physically feeds the people, with less food and on a much grander scale than Elisha, that He was also spiritually feeding them with the hope and joy that what they were experiencing in that moment was a reliving of what happened in the time of Elisha, but with the promise that the heavenly food He was soon to give them would bring about a fulfillment of everything that was written in the past and allow them to feast on a food that could not perish, for that food would be the very flesh and blood of the Son of God.
It is little wonder then that the People that day wanted to quickly proclaim Jesus to be their Messiah and King! He was doing what the Messiah was said to do, feeding His people with hope and prosperity and firing their zealous hearts to think that if He could perform miracles of providing the people with food, then most surely He could perform greater miracles than these, even commanding the very Finger of God to strike at the enemies of the Lord has He had done in the ancient past, crushing Rome under His heel and drowning them in their own blood has He had done to Pharaoh and his charioteers so very long ago…
But Our Lord, knowing the hearts of men and women, and fickle ways they can misunderstand the words and actions of God, rightly departed from their company, allowing ambitions of national liberation and all too human desires for prosperity and power to dissipate, knowing full well that the next day He would offer them a teaching that would shock them to the very core and compel them to decide whether or not they would follow Him, for He will declare with certainty and authority, that to be His disciples is to believe He will give you His Flesh and Blood to eat and that one must consume them if they hope to obtain Eternal Life.
Today, Our Lord and His people relived the day Elisha feed God’s people and saw in the much grander miraculous feeding on the shores of the Sea of Galilee a fulfillment of God’s promise to feed His people both physically and spiritually in the gift of the Holy Eucharist.
Let us too take time to consider the ways in which God is providing us with the nourishment we need to be His disciples. If we feel like we are running on empty, then we should consider very seriously why this is taking place. Has our life of prayer and charity begun to falter? Has our Love for God and the Holy Eucharist run cold? Or have we begun to think of God’s presence in our lives in all too worldly terms, demanding God to help us achieve our goals and ambitions but without taking the necessary time to ask the Lord whether this really what God wants for us?
Our Lord withdrew from the crowds that day, in part to allow them to think and reconsider if what they were asking of God was just and true. May we each have the humility to go and do likewise…