Sunday Sermon for July 25, 2021, the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: 2 Kgs 4:42-44; Eph 4:1-6; Jn 6:1-15
In the first reading today, the Prophet Elisha orders that twenty barley loaves be set before a hundred people so they can eat. The context suggests the people ate their fill of the bread, but it does not actually say that. One could argue that they broke the loaves into fifths and each person received an equal portion of the bread. One argument, from the Jewish perspective, is that this bread may emulate the qualities of the showbread in the Temple.
New loaves of showbread were made each week and the week-old bread was eaten by the priests. According to Jewish tradition, because this bread was in the presence of the Lord, it was still fresh and still warm after a week of being in the open air, and a tiny bite completely satisfied the hunger of each priest on duty in the Temple at that time.
While there is nothing in the text suggesting either of these possibilities, the Gospel makes very clear that when Jesus fed the multitude of people with the five barley loaves and two fish, that the loaves and fishes were distributed to the people, “as much as they wanted.” In this situation, not only did Jesus feed more people with fewer loaves, but the people ate as much of it as they desired and there were twelve baskets with leftover fragments!
At the beginning of the Gospel reading we are told that a large crowd was following Jesus because they saw the signs He was performing for the sick. People were rightly amazed at what Jesus was doing, but for the most part, His miracles were worked for someone else. With the multiplication of loaves and the feeding of the large crowd, the people not only witnessed a miracle, but they were directly impacted by what Jesus had done. No longer was there simple amazement at His works, but now there was a desire to carry Jesus off and make Him King.
Jesus is the King, but not the kind of king the people were seeking. On the natural level, it would be wonderful to have Jesus reigning as the king. However, His Kingship is in the spiritual realm and the acceptance of our Lord’s Kingship requires grace for a supernatural act of faith on our part.
However, before we can even make that act of faith, St. Paul tells us in the second reading that we were called by God. So, God called us, then He gave us grace to make an act of faith in the Person of Jesus. This is wonderful, but this is not enough. St. Paul encourages us to make an act of faith, which is in the mind or the intellect, and then put that faith into practice in our daily lives. He urges us to “live in a manner worthy of the call you have received.”
After exhorting us to live lives of virtue, St. Paul elevates everything to an even higher level: he reminds us that there is one God Who is Father of us all. What is the call, the grace, and the living out of this call? It is accepting our dignity as children of God and living as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. This seems so obvious. Of course, if we are sons and daughters of God, we should be living in a supernatural manner. Experience shows us it is not as simple as that.
This is where we need to cooperate with God’s grace. Understand, the granting of this grace is a miracle. It occurs daily for us, so we tend to forget the supernatural nature of what God is doing in us. Like the people who followed Jesus because they saw the signs He was doing for the sick, we are now the recipients of His grace. This miracle affects us directly. We need to decide how we will respond.
We could be like the people in the Gospel and want to make Jesus a king on the natural level because we like what He can do for us and, therefore, we can demand that He give us what we want when we want it. Or we can make Him our King by choosing to worship Him and conforming ourselves to Him.
This point of conforming ourselves to Jesus is twofold. First, it is precisely by living the manner of life worthy of our call, of which St. Paul writes. Secondly, Jesus is the Son of God; we are sons and daughters of God. He teaches us by word and example how we are to live as children of God. He will do miraculous things in us, but the most miraculous is transforming us to be like Himself, to live in a manner worthy of our call!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.