These days we can pray with our readings for this weekend which are about miraculous abundance; where there was little, now there is much. Both the First Reading and Gospel SPEAK OF God’s “providing” literally, “looking forward”. There is a need and behold, something is distributed for satisfaction.
We pray these days for trust in our times of need. We pray with faith for the grace to receive the Eucharist as a pledge of Jesus to “com-pany” us, that is literally, “bread-with” us. We can pray with our letting what we consider small and insignificant, to be placed in his hands and distributed to those in need. We can pray also with the histories we have of God’s abundance in being faithful, provident and nourishing in our lives.
Elisha is a “holy man” and, in the chapter from which our First Reading is taken, is on a roll. He has promised that a woman who has welcomed him often to her house will have a longed-for child. He has cured another child and provided needed oil for a widow and her sons to use and sell.
The story right before our reading is quite interesting too. Elisha went back to his home and there was a great famine there. His fellow prophets were sitting around hungry. Elisha asked some servants to make a soup for them all. The servant went out and while gathering herbs picked a wild vine which he put in the soup. Upon eating some, they all began to experience sickness because of the poison herb. Elisha ordered that some grains be brought and he threw them in the pot and all was well.
Today we hear of a multiplication of twenty barley loaves to feed one hundred people suffering from the famine. He has to insist that his servant take the loaves and share them even though they do not appear to be enough. Elisha promises that there will be more than enough and there will be leftovers as God has promised. Elisha had received his blessing from God and walked around sharing it in plenty.
Five thousand people reclined and had their fill of bread and fish, so there were fragments to be collected. Because of this sign of abundance, the people wanted to promote him as king so that they would never have to search for satisfaction and fullness again. Jesus, desiring to keep them searching in faith, slipped away and left them to experience hunger which is a tension for them, leading to faith or distraction.
There are many themes in this one story, which reflect John’s Theology of Jesus. We will be hearing in the next three weeks much of Jesus as the “bread of life”. This story begins a long discussion about just who Jesus is. This whole chapter is not specifically about Jesus as Eucharist, but Jesus who has come to be consumed totally as the one who has been “sent” as the source of true life. Bread is a wonderful medium with which Jesus presents himself. He is nourishing, available, familiar, and a biblical reminder to the Jews of the abiding gift of manna when they were wandering in the desert. John uses other familiar images such as “light”, “Water”, and “Shepherd” to offer to his listeners and readers ways to come to believe him and believe in him.
There will be more of the image of “bread” in weeks to come. I am moved to ponder briefly the mention of the lad who had the five loaves and two fish. “What are these among so many”? Jesus takes the lad’s meager provisions and does something great with them. If there is something of the Eucharist in these verses it is that Jesus takes our gifts, or rather that he takes the gifts we have received from him, which we experience as so limited and insignificant and gives thanks through his perfect offering. He then empowers us to receive again our lives as gifts, and our gifts as forms of “bread” or that which is meant for the nourishment of others. What is any one of us among so many? There is a tension then within us about inferiority of image or self. Who am I to speak of God, or teach, or do anything in God’s name? The tensions of self-image and availability for doing his labors are solved by our belief that he did so much with so little. He took the breadliness of human flesh, of simple human companions, of the women and men who have carried on the faith before us. It is our breadliness now for which he gives thanks and which He now distributes us to those who await his coming in our own simple doings.
“O bless the Lord, my soul, and remember all his kindness.” Ps. 103
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