Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Posted by Father Aaron on Jul 23, 2021

2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15 

Theme: The Eucharist and Service

St Mark´s Gospel, in its brevity, does not provide sufficient material for all the Sundays of Year B. For the next five Sundays, the Church puts before us, on the table of the word of God, Jesus´ promise and explanation of the Eucharist from chapter 6 of St John´s Gospel. God’s people, through the divine plan in salvation history (the manna in the desert, the miracles of Elijah and Elisha (First Reading) – gradually learned to look trustingly to him for the nourishment they need (Psalm). In the Old Testament, there was always enough food – and even some to spare, in the case of Elisha – but the Gospel goes beyond this. With all its similarities and continuity with the past, it is part of a new dispensation in which a superabundant food is given, not by invoking God like Moses or Elisha, but by the word of the One who is God-among-us, and in which grace builds on nature to offer us something completely new and unheard of: unity with and in God, the Eucharistic and the Mystical Body of Christ (Second Reading and Gospel)

John´s reference to the feast of the Passover is not casual; his chronology always has theological import. What is about to happen is the introduction of the new Passover meal, with effects that far surpass the original Passover. It is motivated by Jesus´ abiding compassion for “the crowd” (cf. last Sunday) – a crowd seeking a remedy for its sicknesses and its hunger. A world of barren and desert-like experience (“Not even two hundred days´ wages could buy enough…”) might deem it impossible. But “nothing is impossible for God” and he already knows what he will do.

Always, but with even fiercer insistence since the Incarnation, God works his wonders through the things he has created, and with the obviously insufficient but humble good will of those created in his own image and likeness. All the young lad in the scene has is five loaves and a couple of fish; doubtless he might have thought that he needed them for himself and his family, but he willingly surrenders them, and Jesus does the rest. This is the pattern of God’s dealings with us; when we offer what little we have, he transforms it into something infinitely greater. When Jesus multiplies the loaves and fishes, at first there is nothing extraordinary to remark. The people sat down, and are served by the Lord and each of his apostles. This is the way it will always be: the Eucharist is quite ordinary in appearance, and at the Eucharistic banquet the people are seated at the table while Christ and his ministers (“those who serve”) wait on them. He provides not only “as much as they wanted “for everyone, but too much.

God gives in superabundance, most of all when he gives us his own Son. The apostles, charged with collecting the twelve baskets of remnants must see that God’s generous gift of himself is equally available to the subsequent generations of Christians. This is the only miracle narrated by all four gospels. Both here and in the Synoptics, the structure of the central point of the action (“he took the bread… gave thanks…distributed it”) underlines its Eucharistic signification for the early Christian communities. It is simultaneously an expression of Jesus´ concern for the temporal needs of the people. We always find him genuinely moved by the suffering of the “least one”and in this miracle as well as in the many cures he constantly worked for the people, he shows that this too is part of his mission. However, he energetically rejects being identified as a Messiah who has come to bring his people salvation in and of this world. He fled back to the mountain alone because this was precisely what had entered their heads at this point; and the following day in Capernaum he will reproach them for seeking bread for their stomachs rather than for their souls (next Sunday’s Gospel reading). 

More obviously complementary to today’s homily is the Catechism’s treatment of “the signs of bread and wine” and “the institution of the Eucharist” (1333-40). God’s way of doing things that incorporates material creation and our human contributions into his plans, is operative during the preparation of gifts. The bread and wine we offer him are fruits both of the earth and of the work of human hands (Offertory prayers). Like the boy with the loaves and fishes, and like the apostles, the priest, in order to be at Jesus´ side as a minister of the Eucharist, has given up what he certainly needed for himself: his life – as have all those among the people who have understood what the Eucharist demands of them. To be a priest and become, as it were, Jesus´ hands to distribute the bread of the Eucharist and of the word is certainly a marvelous, unmerited grace, but the ministerial priesthood is primarily and essentially service, not a distinction or something for oneself. 
In sum, when the Lord looks at us with love and sees in us his Spouse, the Church, he makes her sit down while he serves her. The Eucharist requires each of us that we become servants, to offer the gift of ourselves to others as Christ has given himself to us. Here, the priest who acts in the person of Christ and who says in the Mass “… This is my body… This is my blood, must be a true servant to the community. In this way our being fed by the Eucharistic body of Christ leads us to feed his mystical body in the person of those whose hunger is physical as well as spiritual. The mission of the Church is primarily spiritual, following Christ, but it would be a sign that the Eucharist had not nourished us if it did not make us share in his love for the least of his brothers and sisters (cf. CCC 1397).