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Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time B

July 25, 2021

John 6: 1-15

By Rev. John Tran

For five Sundays, beginning today, we will hear the long chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel. It is 69 verses long. It’s length tells us how important St. John finds the events around today’s gospel are. What we will see is the initial event of the feeding of the 5,000 men, and as other gospels say further, not counting the women and children. In fact, this event is recounted or spoken of 5 times in the New Testament.

So, what happens in today’s gospel? This chapter forms the main part of John’s teaching on the Bread of Life. This is the way that St. John teaches about the Eucharist. Remember at the Last Supper, John concentrates on the washing of the feet, rather that the bread and wine and institution of the Eucharist.

Echoing what we read in Mark a few Sundays ago, this large crowd has followed Jesus and his disciples across the Sea of Galilee because they saw all the signs Jesus was performing by curing the sick. Jesus and his disciples had gone up a mountain when he saw all these people coming to find him. And, like in Mark, Jesus saw that they were hungry.

So, Jesus asks, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Now the disciples are thinking how impossible this task would be and how much it would cost; much more money that they could come up with. But then here is a bright light: a young boy has five loaves of bread and two fish. We see the beginning of generosity. But immediately the disciples object that it was not enough to feed that many people. Maybe they were even thinking that it would barely feed the disciples themselves.

Then, when Jesus tells them to hand out whatever food is available, there is enough for everyone; the bread and fish never ran out. And, there are even 12 baskets full of bread and fish left over - much more than is need to feed the disciples.

What has happen thus far in chapter six? First we have the generosity of the young boy. Next, we have the faith of the disciples, even if it is reluctant. Then, there is the miracle of feeding so many people with so little, and have so much left over. Finally, the people are impressed even more that before and say, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.”

But what did those people come away with? What do we come away with? The first thing is that Jesus not only can cure people from sickness, but even more, he can cause a miracle by making enough food out of very little. We notice the miracle. Do we notice at all what Jesus meant by this miracle? Do we notice the generosity of the young boy or the faith of the disciples?

An old monk prayed many years for a vision from God to strengthen his Faith, but it never came. He had almost given up hope when, one day, a vision of Christ’s face appeared in his cell. The old monk was overjoyed. But then, right in the middle of the vision, the monastery bell rang. The ringing of the bell meant it was time to feed the poor who gathered daily at the monastery gate. How could he leave now? What should he do – stay with his Heavenly Visitor, or go to his duty of distributing help to the needy. If he failed to show up with food, the unfortunate people would leave quietly, thinking the monastery had nothing to give them that day. The old monk was torn between his earthly duty and his Heavenly vision. But, before the bell stopped ringing, the monk made his decision. With heavy heart, he went off to feed the poor. Nearly an hour later, the old monk returned to his room. When he opened the door, he could hardly believe his eyes. The room was filled with heavenly brightness. There stood Christ shining as the sun, smiling upon him with Divine tenderness. As the monk dropped to his knees in thanksgiving, the Vision said to him, “My son, had you not gone off to feed the poor, I would not have stayed.”

This is really the message of this gospel so far: that Jesus cares for all people, no matter who they are; that Jesus calls forth generosity, even from the young; that faith not only allows cures to take place, but also nourishment for many, out of nothing. To see Jesus as a good thing to cure all ills and hunger is not the point we are to walk away with.

For us, the question so far, is how can our faith in Jesus and his love for all make us capable of unquestioning generosity and love? Next week, we will learn more of the message of chapter six; this week we search ourselves for measuring up to the love, care, and generosity of Jesus.

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