Opening reflection (taken from Magnificat magazine, www.magnificat.com): When “the people saw the sign” of the multiplication of the loaves, they exclaimed, “This is truly the Prophet.” “God gives Himself to us through the gestures of life, hence, it is through them also that we are to give ourselves to Him. … It is not a matter of running away from life, but of entering it down into its depths, down into the encounter with the divine Source in the transparency of the act” (Maurice Zundel). As the Psalmist expresses it, in front of the signs of God that grace our life, we are to “call upon Him in truth.” That is how we “live in a manner worthy of the call.”
(This weekend’s Scripture readings are available in the New American Bible translation – the one used in U.S. Catholic parishes – at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072912.cfm or the Vatican’s English website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM.)
First Reading: 2 Kings 4:42-44 (Revised Standard Version)
A reading from the second book of Kings.
A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing to Elisha, the man of God, bread of the first fruits, twenty loaves of barley, and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And Elisha said, “Give to the men, that they may eat.” But his servant said, “How am I to set this before a hundred men?” So he repeated, “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the LORD, `They shall eat and have some left.'” So he set it before them. And they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the LORD.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: Elijah, not his aide and successor Elisha, probably would win the title of the most famous Old Testament prophet in Jesus’ time based on his constant association with John the Baptist (even by Christ Himself). But in the early chapters of 2 Kings in particular, the dominant figure clearly is Elisha – anointed a prophet by Elijah himself (at God’s direction via His “still small voice”), witness to Elijah’s dramatic ascension to heaven via a fiery chariot and heir to Elijah’s power from the moment he put on the cloak of Elijah that fell back to earth as his mentor arose.
Elisha inherited Elijah’s mission as “thorn in the side” to the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, pushing and prodding them to return to God and even anointing the soldier Jehu (another directive of the “still small voice”) to wipe out the hopelessly pagan house of Ahab. Jesus would recall Elisha’s miraculous healing of the leprous Syrian general Naaman. Most significantly for this weekend’s readings, however, it fell to Elisha to perform several miracles that directly foreshadowed our Lord’s most profound signs of His divine power.
One can almost miss this evident precursor of Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fish. It comes at the end of a chapter relating miracles of Elisha in a rapid-fire format. Evidently the man bringing the loaves and grain came upon Elisha either as he had stopped to teach or was walking in an entourage from one northern city to another. We have 100 men, not 5,000. Still Elisha’s servant (most likely Gehazi, who also figures in the Naaman story) despairs of feeding the crowd. Elisha’s answer comes from God’s lips. All ate their fill, and there were leftovers. Stories such as this were well-known to the Jews of Jesus’ time. No wonder they reacted as we will see them react to the events of today’s Gospel.
Second Reading: Ephesians 4:1-6
A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians.
Brothers and sisters: I, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: Paul’s “one faith, one baptism, one God and Father” passage remains one of the best-known expressions of the desire and the hope of Christian unity. We sadly know, as we look at the many thousands of Christian denominations, how far away we are from that reality. We can even look within our own local faith communities and witness distances and divisions among us. Even so, there is a unity among believers in Christ that cannot be denied. Paul reminds us of important elements of that unity. But he also implores us to ever seek a more perfect union and shares the indispensable elements to achieving it.
Are we proud? We must be humble. Are we driven and impatient? We must adopt the opposite attitude. Consider the next element carefully. We must “forbear one another in love.” Are any of us perfect? Only if we are could we even possibly claim the right to dismiss our less perfect brothers and sisters – and Jesus, who is perfect, never did. So let us live the lives to which God called us. Only to that extent will people see the reality that we are “one body in Christ.” Only by living out our call will lost humanity be drawn to its Savior.
Gospel: John 6:1-15
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John. Glory to You, O Lord.
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a multitude followed him, because they saw the signs which he did on those who were diseased. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place; so the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: Last weekend’s Gospel reading from Mark brought us with Jesus and the Twelve to the mountain where so many lost sheep had rushed to arrive ahead of him. All four Gospels record the feeding of the 5,000, but the Catholic Church typically sets Mark aside at this point in Year B to let John tell the story for the next several weeks. Why? Because this miracle leads off the sixth chapter of John, which features Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse and the “hard teaching” – His teaching about the Eucharist to come – that proved too much for many of His fellow Jews to swallow.
The story itself is familiar, so some comments on the details follow:
Alone among the four Gospel writers, John notes that the Passover was at hand. One year remains at this point before “Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us” – so the miracle of the loaves and Christ’s preview of the Eucharist serve as effective foreshadowings of what will happen at the next Passover.
From an earthly perspective, Jesus must perform a far larger miracle than Elisha, who had 20 loaves for a hundred men. Since Elisha was accompanied by a band of prophets, it’s unlikely there were many women in his entourage. Here, however, the number of “5,000 men” almost certainly included at least that many women and children (who unfortunately were not deemed worth counting in those days). Five loaves, two fish and 10,000 or more human beings! And yet when Jesus gives thanks, breaks the loaves and fish and gives them to the disciples, all present eat their fill. If our Lord can do this, how could the multiplication of His body, blood, soul and divinity in every Mass everywhere, at every hour of the day, possibly be beyond Him?
Remember also that this is not the only occasion on which Jesus multiplies food for a large crowd. Neither John nor Luke records the second occasion, but Matthew 15:29-39 and Mark 8:1-10 both note that Jesus took seven loaves and “a few little fishes” and divided them to feed 4,000 men at another location on the Sea of Galilee somewhat after the more famous feeding. At the first miracle, 12 baskets of leftovers were collected; at the second, seven baskets were filled. Both are holy numbers. Both times, Jesus not only fulfills Elisha’s sign but does so in such spectacular fashion that the crowd is stunned: Perhaps this is the Messiah!
But Jesus’ time has not yet come. He is the King, but not the king the crowds have in mind. Besides, He knows what is coming next. When He next sees this multitude, He will tell them of the living bread that came down from heaven and of the flesh and blood – His flesh and blood – that they must consume so that they may live forever. So He withdraws to pray to the Father and sends the disciples across the sea on a boat. They will see Him … walking on the water … before the physically satiated crowds see Him in Capernaum. Stay tuned.
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be