Sunday Sermon for July 29, 2012, the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: 2Ki 4:42-44; Eph 4:1-6; Jn 6:1-15

In the Book of Deuteronomy Moses told the people that God would raise up a Prophet like Moses whom the people were to obey. From that point forward they sought the One Who was the Prophet. This became more difficult as God began raising up prophets to tell His will to the people. Beyond the true prophets God raised up there were many “wannabe” prophets and many false prophets.

In the Gospel reading today our Lord demonstrates Himself to be a prophet like Elisha who fed 100 people with twenty barley loaves, as we hear in the first reading. However, our Lord is also shown to be greater than Elisha in that he feeds five thousand people with just five barley loaves and two fish. There are a number of events in our Lord’s life that would align with various works God had accomplished through Elisha (like raising the dead) or some of the other prophets.

However, it was not enough that our Lord be a prophet like the others God had given to His people, He had to be like Moses. Even being like Moses was not enough because over time the people had come to understand that the Prophet Moses promised would also be the Messiah. Moses freed the people from the slavery in Egypt and led them into the Promised Land; in this sense he was a kind of messiah figure.

In the passage from the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel we have the clearest evidence of the association of Jesus with Moses. First, we are told that the Feast of Passover was near. The original Passover was, of course, in Egypt, the night the people were freed. In the next line we hear Jesus asking Philip how all these people are going to fed in an out of the way place. Back in the Book of Exodus we hear Moses asking God this same basic question.

In the desert the people of Israel were fed with the Manna God rained down from Heaven. In this instance our Lord multiplies the loaves and the fishes so that the people can eat. After the people saw this they recognized Jesus as the Prophet Moses had promised. Not understanding what that implied, the people wanted to make Him a King, so Jesus flees to the mountain to be alone with God (as Moses had done).

If these correlations are not enough, in the verses that follow we hear about Jesus walking on the water instead of dividing the water as Moses had done. We also hear about the people murmuring against Jesus, just as the people murmured against Moses and against God in the desert. The tragedy in all of this is that the people misunderstood Who Jesus was. Yes, He was the Prophet, but they liked Him because they were able to eat their fill of bread while they missed the deeper meaning of the sign. This allows our Lord to explain the nature of the True Bread from Heaven: the Holy Eucharist.

Having established our Lord as the promised Prophet and the promised Messiah, we now have to take things to the next level. Do we truly believe in Him or are we like the people of His day who saw the sign but missed the meaning? St. Paul, in the second reading, reminds us of our call and the manner of life we are to follow. It all flows from the point he makes that there is one Lord, one faith and one baptism.

We live in a day where people are accepting of just about anything anyone wants to claim as faith and we seem not to be too convinced that Jesus is the one and only Lord into who we have been baptized. If Jesus is merely one way among many then our call is essentially meaningless.

On the other hand, if Jesus is the one and only Lord Who has given us true freedom, Who leads us to the true Promised Land of Heaven, Who has called us and given us the dignity to share in His divine nature, then we have to do as St. Paul instructs us: to live in a manner worthy of our call. He tells us that this manner of life is one marked by humility, gentleness, patience, charity and unity in the Spirit. Each of us can look at our own lives and ask ourselves if my manner of life matches the life to which St. Paul tells us that we are called.

If we profess our faith that Jesus is the one Lord, the Prophet, the Messiah, and that there is only one true faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, then we need to strive to live the life of Christ whose nature we share.

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