17th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle B)

Readings:
2 Kings 4:42-44
Psalms 145:10-11, 15-18
Ephesians 4:1-6
John 6:1-15

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Readings: The Hand of the Lord Feeds Us
Sharing a meal is a form of fellowship and an expression of the unity of family.  This is true for sharing meals with friends and family, and it is true for sharing the Church's family meal of fellowship with God in the Eucharist.  The fellowship meal of the Eucharist is a present and future reality, since it is a sharing of the life of Christ in the present in our earthly Sanctuaries and also points the Banquet of the Just at the end of time in the heavenly Sanctuary (Mt 22:1-10; Rev 19:6-9).

For the next five Sundays (the 17th through the 21st Sundays), the focus of our readings will be on miracle feedings and teachings that prefigure the Eucharist.  In the First Reading, the feeding miracle of the prophet Elisha prefigures the miraculous feeding of the Gospel.  Elisha's multiplication of barley loaves is repeated by Jesus in the Gospel Reading.  Both feeding miracles recall the miraculous manna God fed the children of Israel during their years in the wilderness (Ex 16:31-36).  In the Gospel Reading, Jesus, like Elisha, does not have enough bread to feed a multitude, but He organizes the meal and presides over it, as He does at our Eucharistic celebration, when we break Bread together as a family.   And like the manna in the wilderness, Jesus, the new Moses, provides what the faithful covenant children need.  In the Eucharist, it is as we repeat together in the psalm: "The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs."

In the Second Reading, St. Paul exhorts the faithful Christians of Ephesus to preserve in unity within their congregation.  We demonstrate our unity as One Body in Christ when we celebrate the Eucharist.  Our prayer in the miraculous feeding of the Eucharist is: "May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit" (Eucharistic Prayer III).

The First Reading 2 Kings 4:42-44 ~ Elisha's Multiplication of the Loaves
42 A man came from Baal-shalishah bringing to Elisha, the man of God, twenty barley loaves made from the Firstfruits, and fresh grain in the ear.  Elisha said, "Give it to the people to eat."  43 But his servant objected, "How can I set this before a hundred people?"  Elisha insisted, "Give it to the people to eat.  For thus says the LORD, 'They shall eat and there shall be some left over.'"  44 And when they had eaten, there was some left over, as the LORD has said.

The Feast of Firstfruits took place on the day after the Sabbath, on the first day of the week that we call "Sunday", during the 8 days from the Passover sacrifice to the end of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev 23:9-14).  The covenant people were required to bring grain and bread made from the first fruits of the barley harvest to the Temple and to make a profession of faith in front of the altar when presenting their gift (Dt 26:1-11).  The same type of offering was made fifty days later in presenting the first fruits of the wheat harvest in the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost (Lev 23:15-22).  Since the people of the Northern Kingdom had apostatized from right worship as prescribed in the Sinai Covenant and were not allowed to visit the Jerusalem Temple, nor take part in its liturgy, this religiously observant man from the Northern Kingdom may have brought his first fruit offerings to the community of God's prophets and their leader, Elisha.  Elisha commands that the offering be shared with the brotherhood of prophets, but his servant points out that there is not enough bread.  Elisha reveals that he has a "word of knowledge" from God that not only will there be enough for them to eat, but there will be food leftover. 

Elisha's feeding miracle in the multiplication of the loaves prefigures Jesus' feeding miracles of the 5 thousand men and 4 thousand people (Mt 14:13-21; Mk 6:31-44; Lk 9:10-17; Jn 6:1-13; Mt 15:32-39; Mk 8:1-10).  The timing of this miracle is also significant.  It was during the Feast of Firstfruits that took place on the first day of the week after the Sabbath of the Holy Week of Passover/Unleavened Bread.  It is the day that prefigures the greater miracle when Jesus, the "Bread of Life", arose from the dead on the first day of the week on the Feast of Firstfruits in 30 AD (Mt 28:1-8).

Notice the many parallels between Jesus' feeding miracle in Matthew 14:13-21 compared to Elisha's feeding miracle in 2 Kings 4:42-44:

Elisha's Feeding Miracle Jesus' Feeding Miracle
In Elisha's miracle there was only a small amount of food (10 loaves of barley bread). In Jesus' miracle there was only a small amount of food (5 loaves of barley bread and 2 fish).
Elisha's servants protested that there was not enough food to feed so many men. Jesus' disciples protested that there was not enough food to feed so many men.
The small amount of food became enough to feed 100 men. The small amount of food became enough to feed 5 thousand men not counting women and children.
There was some food left over. There were 12 large baskets of food left over.
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015

Elisha's feeding miracle prefigures Jesus' feeding miracles of the 5 thousand men and the crowd of 4 thousand, and all these miracle feedings also prefigure the greater feeding miracle of the Eucharist.

Responsorial Psalms 145:10-11, 15-18 ~ The Lord Answers Our Needs
The response is: "For the hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs."
10 Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD, and let your faithful ones bless you.  11 Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom, and speak of your might.
Response:
15 The eyes of all look hopefully to you, and you give them their food in due season, 16 you open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
Response:
17 The LORD is just in all his ways and holy in all his works.  18 The LORD is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.
Response:

Psalm 145 is a hymn attributed to King David that is written in acrostic form with every verse beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  The psalmist invites all to praise God whose mighty works show forth His divine kingship (verses 10-11).  In God's loving kindness, He provides for our needs and the needs of all living things throughout the seasons of the year (verses 15-16). The psalmist assures us that even when we cannot understand God's unfolding plan, we can have confidence that all His ways and works are holy, and He is near to all who petition Him in purity and truth of heart (verses 17-18).

The Second Reading Ephesians 4:1-6 ~ Unity in the Church
Brothers and sisters: 1 I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, 3 striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: 4 one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

St. Paul, writing from his imprisonment in Rome, urges the Christian community in Ephesus, a faith community he founded composed of Jews and Gentiles, to persevere in unity—united in the Spirit as One Body in Christ despite tensions that threaten to disrupt their unity.  The virtues that Paul lists in verses 2-3 are all different aspect of charity (love in action) which "binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Col 3:14) and is the mark of the true disciple of Jesus Christ (Jn 13:35).  The "bond of peace" (verse 3) that unites Christians is the peace which Jesus brings, or rather, it is Jesus Christ Himself (Eph 2:14).  By having the same faith and the same Spirit, "all find themselves", says St. John Chrysostom, "brought together in the Church—old and young, poor and rich, adult and child, husband and wife: people of either sex and of every condition become one and the same ... However, this unity is maintained only by the 'bond of peace'.  It could not exist in the midst of disorder and enmity" (Homilies on Ephesians, 9).

4 one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
These verses express one of Paul's most profound statements, summarizing our Christian faith in only a very few words, the focus of which is the theological basis of our unity—the Most Holy Trinity.  It is the Trinity who is at work in the Church and who keeps it together—one Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father.  Paul writes that the Church is:

  1. "One body and one Spirit": there is only one Holy Spirit who brings about and maintains the unity of Christ's mystical body; and there is only one such body, the Church, in which we were divinely called to be a part.
  2. 2. "One Lord": This is a profession of our belief in God the Son who as our Lord and Savior has sovereignty over His kingdom of the Church of which He is the head of its mystical body.

3. "One faith" affirms that there is only one faith that Jesus taught and which His Apostles and their successors, as shepherds of His Church, have expressed in clear statements of doctrine and dogma.  Pope Pius XII wrote: "There can be only one faith; and so, if a person refuses to listen to the Church, he should be considered, so the Lord commands, as a heathen and a publican (cf Mt 18:17)" (Mystici Corporis, 10).

4. "One baptism":  There can only be one spiritual rebirth into the family of God through the Sacrament of Baptism to become a member of the Body of Christ.  It is not an "initiation" ; it is a life transformation.  It is a Baptism by which, after making a profession of faith, one joins the other members of the Church as their equals.  Since there is only "one Lord, one faith, one baptism", "there is a common dignity of members deriving from their rebirth in Christ, a common grace as sons, a common vocation to perfection, one salvation, one hope and undivided charity (Vatican II, Lumen gentium, 32).

5. "One God and Father of all, who is over all through all and in all" affirms God's sovereignty and dominion over all of creation and the unity of mankind with God, the creator of us all.
Verses 5-6 may be a quote from an acclamation from an early Christian baptismal liturgy:

We, like the community in Ephesus, celebrate our unity when we celebrate the Eucharist.  We come together as One Body to receive Christ's Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in our sacred meal made present by the power of the Holy Spirit on Catholic altars across the world.  In our miracle feeding, there is always enough, and everyone leaves nourished spiritually by the very life of Christ, which He shares with all who come to His altar-table. 

The Gospel of John 6:1-15 ~ The Miracle Feeding of the More than Five Thousand
1 Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee.  2 A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.  3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples.  4 The Jewish feast of Passover was near.  5 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?"  6 He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do.  7 Philip answered him, "Two hundred days' wages [denarii ] worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little."  8 One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; 9 but what good are these for so many?"  10 Jesus said, "Have the people recline."  Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.  So the men reclined, about five thousand in number.  11 Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted.  12 When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted."  13 So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.  14 When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, "This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world."  15 Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.

The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the feeding of the multitude is the only miracle besides the Resurrection that is recorded in all four Gospels.  But, in John's account it is not only a miracle; it is a "sign" that serves as a preface to Jesus' teaching on the true Bread of Life and points to the greater miracle of the gift of Himself in the Eucharist in the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6:22-66.  There are only two food miracles in John's Gospel: the miracle that involves bread in chapter 6 and the miracle involving wine in chapter 2.  Together they anticipate the Eucharistic liturgy where Jesus, who is both the "new Moses" and the "new manna", gives Himself as food for the multitudes under the visible signs of bread and wine (CCC#1333-35).

Word is spreading about Jesus' miracles.  It is now almost impossible for Him to avoid crowds of people following Him in their desire to witness His miracles.  Although John highlights only 7 public signs/miracles performed by Jesus, here in verse 2, as well as in 20:30 and 21:25, John tells us that Jesus worked many miracles.  John chose 7 public signs as representative of Jesus' many miracles because they illustrate certain facets of the mystery of Jesus the Messiah. 

In verse 3 John tells us that Jesus went up on "the mountain".  The Gospel writers always refer to "the mountain" when Jesus ascends a height to teach or perform a miracle because "the mountain" is an important theological symbol which links the reader to Old Testament imagery, revelations of God, and theological events that took place on mountains.  For important revelations of God and theological events that took place on mountains see the chart on the Holy Mountains of God.

4 The Jewish feast of Passover was near.
It is the spring of 29 AD, a year before Jesus' Passion, and pilgrims from the Galilee and Jewish communities to the north in Roman occupied Syria and Asia Minor are traveling south to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover and the pilgrim feast of Unleavened Bread in Jerusalem.  In Jesus' time the 8 day period was known by both names (Mt 26:2, 17, & 19; Mk 14:1, 12; Lk 22:1, 7, 15).  But in St. John's Gospel it is only referred to as "the Passover", as it is referred to today.  When the annual God-ordained feasts were established at Sinai, the Passover sacrifice fell on Nisan the 14th and the Feast of Unleavened Bread was a weeklong feast from the 15th to the 21st , with two sacred assemblies on the first and last days (Lev 23:5-8; Num 28:16-25).   The Feast of Unleavened Bread was designated by the Law as one of the "pilgrim feasts", which required that every man of the Covenant must present himself before God's holy altar (Ex 23:14; 34:18, 23; Dt 16:16; 2 Chr 8:13).  This feast was so important that those who could not make the trip because of illness or misfortune could celebrate a month later (Num 9:1-14).  God ordained the sacrifice of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread as a perpetual commemoration and reenactment of Israel's deliverance from slavery in Egypt. 

5 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?"  6 He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do.  7 Philip answered him, "Two hundred days' wages [denarii ] worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little."
In John 1:45 Philip identified Jesus as "the one that Moses and the prophets wrote about," the Prophet/Messiah.  Jesus questions Philip as a test to help him to fully understand the dimensions of Philip's first revelation of Jesus' true identity.  All Philip has to do is to petition Jesus to feed the crowd.  He should have been reminded of the miraculous feeding of the multitude in Exodus chapter 16 in the feeding of the manna and the quails by the way Jesus framed His question.  He should have recalled when Moses asked Yahweh a question very similar to the one Jesus asked him in Numbers 11:13: "Where am I to find meat to give all these people....?" In that event Yahweh accepted Moses' question as a petition and provided food for the children of Israel that the people called "manna".  Philip should have understood that the Messiah has the power to do the same miracle, and he should have realized that just as God saw to the needs of the children of Israel in ancient times so too could He meet their needs that day. However, instead of petitioning Jesus to feed the crowds, Philip thoughts are too earth bound and he comments on the vast amount of money it would take the feed all the people.  Two hundred denarii is a great sum when you consider that 1denarii is equal to one day's wage for a common laborer (Mt 20:2).

This miracle feeding recalls another miraculous feed of a multitude in the Old Testament that the disciples might have remembered and which was in our First Reading (2 Kng 4:41-44) when the prophet Elisha also took barley loaves and fed a multitude with some bread left over. Elisha's feeding miracle took place at the same time of year on the Feast of Firstfruits of the barley harvest, which was celebrated during the weeklong Feast of Unleavened Bread on the day after the Saturday Sabbath—the day after the Jewish Sabbath was a Sunday, the first day of the week.

8 One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; 9 but what good are these for so many?"  10 Jesus said, "Have the people recline."  Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.  So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. 
Simon-Peter's brother, Andrew, perhaps remembering Elisha's miracle, offers Jesus the barley loaves and fish that will become the meal that will be multiplied to feed the great multitude of men, women and children.  Wheat bread was more desirable than barley bread, and since barley bread was cheaper, it was the food of the poor.  The same account in Luke 11:5 seems to indicate that the loaves were small and that 3 loaves were an adequate meal for 1 person.  The Greek word used for "fish," opsarion, indicates that the two fish were salted and dried.  That there were 5 loaves may indicate 5 as the number symbolizing grace and power in Scripture, and that there were 2 fish may indicate division between those who will believe and those who will not come to belief even with this sign.  2 is the number of division in the Old Covenant and the number of Christ in His humanity and divinity as the Son of God in the New Covenant.  Together the number of loaves and fish yield the number 7, which is the number that symbolizes fullness and spiritual perfection.  It may also be important that a fish was a sign of the Church in the Old Covenant and will become the sign of the Church in the New Covenant.  Here we have the Old, which will become the nucleus of the New Covenant in Christ: the two transformed into one New and eternal Covenant—one Church in Christ.

Notice that Jesus organizes the crowd.  Luke's Gospel tells us that He organized them into groups of about 50 people (Lk 9:14).  Only the men are counted; there were also women and children; therefore, Jesus miraculously fed well over 5,000 people.  So why does the text mention only 5,000?  5 is a symbolic number and multiples of symbolic numbers indicates abundance.  Since 5 is the number of grace of and power, in this "sign" there is a powerful super abundance of grace, which prefigures the super abundance of the Eucharistic meal that spiritually feeds the multitudes of all races for all generations until the return of the King.

11 Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted.  12 When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted." 
"Gave thanks" in this passage is the Greek word eucharistein from the verb eucharisteo.  It is from this word that the English word "Eucharist" is derived.  It cannot be missed that there is a relationship in this feeding miracle to the most holy Eucharist, which is an act of thanksgiving.  It was the custom of Jews and Israelites to bless the meal before eating.  The act of Jesus in giving thanks reflects the Jewish use of barak/ berakah "to bless/ blessing", but more than a simple Jewish blessing, His words foreshadow the institution of the Sacrament of the Eucharist first received at the Last Supper and the words He speaks and His actions are the same as in the miracle of the Eucharist at the Last Supper: He blessed, He broke the bread, and He gave (Mt 26:26).  His blessing also looks beyond the Last Supper to the blessing of the Eucharistic prayer that prepares the New Covenant Body of Christ to receive Him, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity at every Mass.

13 So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.
The word translated "fragments" in verse 13 is a theologically interesting word.  In the literal Greek translation this word, klasma, but it is not in the plural as in our translation, but in the original Greek it is expressed in the singular form = "fragment left over", indicating one whole.  Notice that John emphasizes the identity of the fragment(s) with the original loaves left over from the meal of the 5 barley loaves.  The unique meaning of this passage was obvious to the early Church as is indicated in the Eucharistic Prayer found in the early Church's first catechism, a document known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, or more simply as The Didache (Teaching): "Concerning the broken bread: 'We give Thee thanks, Our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou hast made known to us through Jesus, Thy Servant. To Thee be the glory for evermore.  As this broken bread was scattered over the mountains and then, when gathered, became one, so may Thy Church be gathered from the ends of the earth into Thy Kingdom.'"  –The Didache, 9: Eucharistic Prayer (written circa 50/120AD).

Since the Didache speaks of the bread as having been first scattered over the mountains, many scholars believe that this Eucharistic prayer originated in the Holy Land. The idea of Israel being "scattered" and then "gathered" was familiar to the Jews (see Dt 28:25; Jer 34:17; Jud 5:23; Ps 146:2; etc).  St. Cyprian beautifully develops this idea to illustrate the unity of Christ and the Church which is "gathered" to Him (see Epistle 63.13; 69.5).  Also notice the plural "We give Thee thanks", which survives from this ancient prayer in the Ordinary of the Mass today and exemplifies St. Peter's characterization of the entire Church as "a holy priesthood" (1 Pt 2:5).

14 When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, "This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world."  15 Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.
The Jews could not have missed the parallels between Jesus' feeding miracle and the feeding miracle of the 9th century BC prophet Elisha.  They could conclude from the comparison between the small amount left over in Elisha's miracle and the abundance of left over bread in Jesus' miracle that Jesus of Nazareth is a greater prophet of God than the great Elisha. 

When the people declare that Jesus must be "the Prophet", they are referring to the prophet like Moses promised in Deuteronomy 18:15-20; the "new Moses", and the one who is to be the Messiah and the Davidic king of Israel also promised by the prophets (i.e., Is 7:14; 9:1-7; 11:1-5, 10-12; Jer 23:5; Ez 34:23-24).  The people were looking for the Messiah who would overthrow the Roman oppressors and reestablish their national independence, which is why they wanted to "carry him off to make him king".  Knowing what they were thinking, Jesus withdrew and went "to the mountain alone".  The crowd's desire for a national, political Messiah was not Jesus' aspiration.  His kingdom is heavenly and spiritual; it will have spiritual dominion over the entire earth.  And the "hour" for Him to be proclaimed "king" had not yet come in God's divine plan- that "hour" will come His last week in Jerusalem (CCC# 439).

Catechism References:
Ephesians 4:4-6 (CCC 172, 249, 2778, 2790); 4:2 (CCC 2219) 4:3-5 (CCC 866) 4:3 (CCC 814)
John 6 (CCC 1338); 6:5-15 (CCC 549); 6:15 (CCC 439, 559)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015