Change of mind and heart about ourselves takes more than a good idea. There is tremendous power in relationships for good or not so good. Parents do worry about what kind of friends their children will be influenced by, who will be instruments of their changes. In Germanic Milwaukee, where I went through the growing and changing years, there was a familiar statement highlighting this. “Come by my house so my Ma can see who I hang by!”
For the most part, conversion is of the self-image. African/Americans began their rise in society when they began meeting themselves by being met by the women and men of their race who had risen themselves above displacement, segregation and prejudice.
Conversion of self-image leads to changes in behavior. Jesus invited others to allow Him to meet them and for those whom He met, change of their actions just felt like the right thing to do, because they felt just right about themselves.
This fourth chapter from Second Kings is full of Elisha’s delicious presentations. We hear of such a miracle in our First Reading, but there are some interesting other ones. In one such, a soup is made from various grains right handy, but when tasted, people cried out in pain. Elisha threw some other grain into the pot and all was way better for all.
Elisha is a “Holy Man” who walks with God and relies on God to fill in the empties. Today there is a limited amount of bread and a large crowd. Twenty loaves for one hundred people. The servant of Elisha objects and Elisha does too, so the servant begins the bread-line. Because of God’s fidelity to the Servant of God, there were leftovers. Elisha should be the patron saint of food pantries.
The Gospel is John’s presentation of how Jesus revealed Himself in the sharing of the bread. Five thousand men were fed from five loaves and two fish. The spreading of the news presents the context for the discussions Jesus will have with the Jewish leaders in the verses which complete this chapter and about which we will hear in the Sundays to come.
It is very helpful in reading and listening to accounts from John’s Gospel that there is always more going on than is going on. There is always the importance of “signs” such as changing of water into wine and multiplying bread and fish. “Signs” are these actions of attraction which assist others to believe. At the closing of John’s Gospel, Jesus will tell Thomas the Doubter, that he believes, because he saw. The “signs” in a sense lead to knowledge, so Jesus affirms that to believe without seeing “signs” is even more the relationship Jesus is offering.
Grant me here some poetic and scriptural imagining. When I pray with this text I vision that John has put this in a liturgical setting. Jesus as presider takes His position of centering His disciples, (the community). Almost a side remark states that it is near the Jewish feast of Passover, not insignificant at all. The crowds who have heard about the “signs” come in some degree of faith, or searching. After the feeding many come to believe, because they have seen. They claim Him as the Messiah, but it is not yet “His time”. He has offered them invitations to be nourished by their faith as they were nourished by the bread and fish. They, naturally, want to be nourished by more “signs”. Jesus withdraws where we find Him, in the mountains of mystery and faith. Next weekend we will hear Him tell the folks that they were looking for Jesus, not because they saw “signs”, but because they ate well of the bread and fish.
This liturgy ends with the people preparing to “have Him in hand.” They have been invited, as beginners, to live a little signlessly. It is too bad that today’s Gospel does not include the story of what happens to the little community of believing disciples which follows what we hear. It is dark and in John’s Gospel’s stage directions, lights go down when something not-good is about to happen. They get into a boat to cross the lake and of course, a storm arises, the disciples are frightened and Jesus comes walking on the water saying the Eucharistic phrase, “It is I. ” This more clearly forms the liturgical frame of this section of John’s Gospel. The main theme centers around Jesus’ inviting humans most free act, that is to believe beyond knowing. God does attract without forcing belief. God comes to us according to our human ways. In today’s Gospel, Jesus adapts Himself to the basic human experience of physical hunger, but there’s more going on, always.
We too, literally, take Jesus into our hands and lives. We become “signs” as we go off like the disciples into our boats on the waters of life and try to live the faith to which Jesus invites us. We are missioned to row, to labor, even in the dark and stormy hours. Faith is more than we understand; it is how we live and move and have our being, blest and broken and sent.
“Bless the Lord my soul and never forget all His benefits.” -Ps. 103, 2
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