Sunday Scripture Readings

SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, JULY 27 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15 OUR GOOD NEWS: Most generous of gracious hosts, God is unstinting in giving us the bread that confers fullness of life. Found in all four Gospels, today’s story of a miraculous feeding by Jesus was associated, in early Christian tradition, with the Eucharist (most obviously, catacomb art). In comparison with the other Gospels, John’s version heightens eucharistic allusions. It takes on further depth and meaning when read alongside today’s first reading, the miraculous feeding of 100 men by a prophet. John presented Jesus as completely in charge. He, rather than anxious disciples (Mark, Matthew and Luke), expressed concern for the hungry audience in a question that put Philip to the test. Like every other disciple, Philip must look to the Old Testament for a precedent, a model illuminating the deeper meaning of Jesus’ words and especially deeds. Philip should have recognized the situation in our first reading and intuited another multiplication. Jesus by contrast "knew well what he ought (rather than intended) to do." Andrew had been one of the first two called as Jesus’ followers. Nevertheless, he too failed to grasp what was going on, even though his industry in commandeering available foodstuffs set the stage for Jesus’ great "sign." Jesus began by inviting the people to a grand dinner served in open air, no exclusive gathering of favored few but an enormous banquet — only heads of families counted for a quick estimate ("vast crowd," "men numbering about 5,000"). Words describing the actions of Jesus the host, seemingly mundane, reproduce the sacred language of the Church’s eucharistic liturgy from earliest times: "He took ... gave thanks (blessed) ... gave." No less essential to the "sign" was Jesus’ final command, resulting in a symbolically impressive amount of crusts collected from the hands of all who had eaten to satiety. Participant reaction was immediate, unanimous and unequivocal. The people interpreted the sign by acclaiming Jesus with three Messianic titles: "The prophet," he "who is to come," ranked with Moses in authority, "returning like Elijah or Elisha to herald arrival of the final age. "A further nuance is evident in John’s telling: a deliberate allusion to the "man of God" in today’s first reading. There God broke with the normal procedure to provide food in abundance rather than sufficient for the day. Unlike the prophet in today’s first reading, Jesus assumed the divine role, feeding His flock with eschatological plenty. The second stanza of today’s psalm develops effects of divine "glory" in our midst, visible blessings bringing happiness to individuals and community. God’s saving personality is personified as servant-messengers. "Kindness" (persistent graciousness) and "truth" (abiding goodness) bump into each other on our streets and in our neighborhood. "Justice" and "peace," the way things ought to be, greet each other with a "kiss" (our handshake). How fortunate are we to live where goodness "springs up" from the ground like flowers and "looks down" like bright sunlight! The psalm concludes with a description of the Lord, like an eccentric millionaire, walking around town giving away gifts carried by attendants.

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