17th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Year B.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“So That Nobody May Go Hungry.”
The animators of the Word today run the risk of insisting too much on the miraculous aspect of the episodes presented in the first reading and in the Gospel, thus losing the more important message coming from what Elisha and Jesus did: the bread belonging to one must become “food for all”.
The second reading invites all members of the Christian communities to be united, because they form ‘One’ body.
In the Gospel today, Jesus took the loaves and gave thanks and distributed them and did the same with the fish. At the end of the meal there were twelve baskets of ‘scraps left over’, which shows that the feeding was generous. Jesus continues to feed the community through the Eucharist.
We can have a new world only when people no longer base their relationship on selfishness, competitiveness and search for power; instead they share their goods with the same gratuitous love that God has for all.
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation are from the published works of priests who have by their Divine inspiration become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and generally reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a Prayer are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. We will begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator.
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ‘Ignorance of Christ’.”
2 Kings 4:42-44.
The Elisha narratives in 2 Kings show us this prophet involved with the great political figures of his day (the kings of Israel and Judah and Edom), but we also see him alleviating human distress. In these accounts we see Elisha helping individuals deal with extreme difficulties and sometimes intervening to take care of the guild or community of prophets that had arisen around him. Both kinds of stories are intended to illustrate the on-going care of God for his chosen people.
The backdrop of the Elisha story is a raging famine. The people are going hungry, and some fellow brings an offering of the first fruits of his grain to the prophet. Elisha who sees the matter as clear-cut: God does not need this offering, but the people do. So he orders the servant of the Gilgal shrine to distribute the loaves. We who are accustomed to how bread gets multiplied in the Gospel are not surprised, but the servant is. A food miracle follows the word of the prophet and a hundred people can eat, with bread left over.
Hunger of the poor was often a problem in ancient times. The one hundred members of Elisha’s prophetic guild were reduced to eating whatever they could put their hands on. Just before our reading begins, we hear how they almost died from eating poisoned vegetation, but were saved by Elisha.
The Bible – which reflects the social condition of these “poor of the earth” – refers often to food, banquets, wine and bread. “To eat” is one of the most often used verbs in the sacred books of Israel (almost 1000 times; “to pray” is used much more rarely: only about 100 times).
This may sound surprising for those who think that religion is only interested in things of the spirit; from Scripture we gather, instead, that the hunger of the poor is a very “religious” problem. The readings of today must be seen in the same context. The first one describes the generous act of a man from Baal-Shalishah who, in a time of famine, gave Elisha 20 barley loaves, the first fruits of his grain harvest. The prophet invites the man to share it among the hundred guild members who are with him saying: “They will eat and have some left over”, just as the Lord had promised. This ‘multiplication of loaves” is one of the many miracles attributed to Elisha.
No other prophet worked so many miracles. In the name of Yahweh, he multiplies the oil for a widow, gives a barren woman the capacity to bear children, heals a leper, and even raises a dead child to life. These episodes, in the mind of the sacred writer, should help the people of Israel understand that the life of humans depends on Yahweh and not on Baal, the god of Canaan.
God did not multiply the loaves on an impulse; there is first the generous deed of the person who offers the fruit of his/her work. Then, there is the decision of Elisha to share with those who are in need the gift he has just received. Isn’t this the way we ourselves are expected to resolve the problems of people’s hunger in today’s times?
Count the miracle ‘bread’ stories in the Bible: manna in the desert, Elisha’s barley loaves, Jesus and the 5000, not to mention the “Last Supper’. Bread means more than life, and the bread from heaven means life for all.
God does not need our Eucharist, but we do. That is why the Church continues to hold this supper until the end of time.
Psalm 145:10-11, 15-18.
The psalm is a hymn in praise of God’s universal kingship. The focus of the psalm is the greatness of God and his goodness to all his creation, which should be proclaimed by each generation to the next. The psalm is a call to praise God, because of his care he exercises for his creation in providing food.
In Jewish tradition, it has been used as a prayer several times a day; and Christians use it as a grace before meals.
The second reading makes it quite clear that faith in God does not result in being magically spirited out of all possible difficulties and trials, for the author is in prison, and uses that grim fact, not to arouse sympathy, but to encourage his audience to be united, in response to God’s Spirit ‘in the chains of peace’. The Church must maintain its unity if it is to fulfil the mission that God wills for it.
St. Paul urges all Christians to practice the virtues that will promote and strengthen this unity of ‘one body, one spirit’. Christians are to exercise especially the virtues in which Christ excelled, like the humility hymned in (Philippians 2:3.8) and the gentleness proclaimed in the Gospel (Mt. 11:29) through patience and love for one another.
The virtues of Christ when practiced will break down any barriers that cause disunity among ourselves and those obstacles, which separate us from God. We will thus live in the unity of the ‘One God and Father of all’ who pervades all that exists.
Today’s Gospel tells us about the miracle of loaves and fishes and its meaning. Jesus sees the crowd following him because of the ‘signs’ that he has been working. He takes the initiative and feeds them with five loaves and two fish and there are about twelve baskets full of left-overs after feeding 5,000 men, excluding any women or children. Following the miracle the people recognize that he is a prophet like Moses, who had been promised and they would like to make him king.
Jesus was not the earthly messiah that the people were wishing for and so he withdraws and goes into the mountains to be alone. In the Bible, a mountain is always considered to be a place of God’s revelation. Mount Horeb is called the mountain of God, and on Mount Sinai God reveals the terms of his covenant with his people.
The reference to the mountain in today’s Gospel alerts the reader that there will be a revelation. The first part of the revelation has already taken place in the gift of bread. The second part follows in the message and the teaching of the miracle. The boy agreed to give all that he had therefore a miracle became possible. The boy was small, the bread of poor quality and the fish probably inexpensive. Yet we see what the Lord can do with a humble offering.
There are several elements that are common both to the Elisha narrative and the Gospel narrative. First of all, both stories involve prophets, persons sent by God to bring his word to his people and to reassure them of God’s continued interest in their well-being. John implies that Jesus is the successor of the great Elisha. He is the culminating figure in the long prophetic tradition of God’s chosen people. Secondly, both events take place in a context of need. The colleagues of Elisha, with their leader, are in a time of famine. The crowds in John’s Gospel need to be fed and there is no place for them to get food. Thirdly, both accounts show great results coming from very limited resources. Clearly Jesus’ miracle was the greater because he does more with less.
No talent or moment of time is too small to be offered to the Lord. And that is all that it takes. Once again it is the mustard seed of faith, the grain of wonder that Jesus can use to produce food for a multitude.
God looked on his servant Mary, not in her greatness, but on her ‘lowliness’. Paul, in the welter of hard experience, found that grace worked best in his ‘weakness’.
All our talents are gifts received from Jesus. When used for the benefit of others, they help God’s family grow. We often do not pay enough attention to humble people who possess unspectacular talents. Their presence and participation is essential for the growth and health of the community at large.
Jesus took the loaves and gave thanks and distributed them and did the same with the fish. Jesus continues to feed the community through the Eucharist each and every day.
The difference between Philip’s and Andrew’s responses may seem minuscule to us, but it’s light-years to Jesus. The difference between no faith and mere doubt is earth shaking. Doubt is however still soil in which the seed of faith can take root.
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’:
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B, we reflect on …
Sun. … There is the decision of Elisha to share with those who are in need of the gift he has just received. Isn’t this the way we ourselves are expected to resolve the problems of people’s hunger in today’s times? Like Elisha, do our acts of charity and our efforts in helping others illustrate the ongoing care of God for his people? How much food do we throw away as waste whereas we could have given it to the needy?
Mon. … God does not need our offering, but his people do. When we offer up our tithes on Sundays to the Church, much of that amount is allocated to the poor and needy through the charities that the Church supports.
Tues. … The reminder that St. Basil gives us: “The bread that you store up belongs to the hungry; the clothes that lie in your chest belong to the poor and the money you have accumulated belong to the needy.”
Wed. … Miracles in today’s readings were not performed on God’s impulse; first there was the act of charity: “the generous deed of the person who offers up the fruit of his work,” and the faith and obedience of the prophet in carrying out God’s will in caring for his people.
Thurs. … Let us today resolve to practice in our lives the ‘Divine Virtues’ of faith, hope and charity. These virtues relate directly to God. Through our commitment to these virtues may we become more Christ-like, so that the barriers of disunity may be broken down that separate us from each other and from God. These barriers you won’t find written in legislation, but deeply rooted in the hearts of men and women.
Frid. … Are we like the crowd in today’s Gospel who follow Jesus because of the ‘signs’ that he has worked hoping for some material or personal reward? Are we prepared to pick up our Cross and the Crosses of others and then follow him, fully accepting that his kingdom is not of this world? Do we recognize the Christian responsibilities we have in this world?
Sat. … God looks upon each one of us, not in our strength and our successes, but in our weakness and our failures. It is only in our weakness that our spirit truly calls out to him. It is only in our weakness that we are able to put our pride aside and make God first in our life. When we receive his gift of faith and love, we receive his grace to perform great things. Jesus continues to feed his community through the Eucharist each and every day. Jesus’ gifts and graces given to us when used for the benefit of others, help grow the kingdom of God here on earth. With God’s help, let us perform great things for the benefit of others.
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, open up our eyes to see Your hand at work in the miracle of creation and Your on-going miracles which are signs of Your love. When we attend the Holy Mass may we kneel in awe as the miracle of the Eucharist unfolds before our eyes as Your gift to Your people to strengthen our spiritual hunger and to make us more holy.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.
Compliments: Bible Discussion Group. Our Lady of the Wayside, Maryvale.
“Discovering the Truth through God’s living Word”