17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B ON JULY 25, 2021 (R. 1: 2 Kings 4: 42- 44; Psalm 145: 10- 11, 15- 16, 17- 18; R. 2: Ephesians 4: 1- 16; Gospel: John 6: 1- 15)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
THREE DAILY BASIC CHRISTIAN STEPS
My dearly beloved in Christ, just a quick reminder that we are still in Year B of the liturgical year for Sundays. The Gospel assigned for Year B is the one according to Mark. But we are taking a break from Mark today. For five consecutive Sundays, beginning today, the Gospel readings will be from the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to John. This chapter deals with the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand and the teaching on the bread of life. This chapter gives a comprehensive teaching on the Holy Eucharist. There is the temptation for me to go straight and preach about the Holy Eucharist today, but if I do that, I may have nothing to preach for the subsequent Sundays. So instead of jumping the gun, I will go at the same pace with the lectionary. In doing so, I will borrow from Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P. by focusing on three sayings of Jesus in today’s Gospel passage. 1. “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” 2. “Have the people recline.” 3. “Gather the fragments left over.”
1. When Jesus saw the crowd coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” The Gospel comments further that Jesus only said this to test Philip because he himself knew what he was going to do. Jesus knew he was going to perform a miracle, but he wanted also to use it as a teaching moment. So, he began by highlighting the human impossibility of the situation. When we don’t understand the problem at hand, we are likely not to appreciate the solution when offered. After pointing at the human impossibility of the situation at hand, it gives the hearer the opportunity to demonstrate faith in the God with whom all things are possible.
2. The disciples then go into an emergency executive council meeting where each disciple tries to proffer a solution. But the same one who proffers the solution debunks it immediately. For example, Philip the economist does some math, comes up with the idea of raising two hundred days’ wages to buy food, but after a rough head count, he figures, “that won’t work.” Andrew, the public relations officer who is always introducing people to Jesus (he introduced his brother, Simon Peter to Jesus in John 1:39-42; he introduced the Greeks to Jesus in John 12: 20- 22) brings a little boy who has five loaves and two fish, but before Jesus says anything, Andrew goes into self-defeat by saying that his suggestion is worthless when compared to the crowd. At this point, Jesus tells his disciples, “Have the people recline.” To recline is to assume the position of eating. There is no food currently for all, yet Jesus instructs the apostles to tell the crowd to assume this posture of trustful expectation; they are to wait for the serving of a meal, which they have no idea of where it is coming from. It is like buying a car insurance before you have the money to buy a car; it is like a lady printing her wedding invitation before any man has even proposed to her; it is like a young man telling his family and friends to save the date for his graduation coming up in four years’ time when he is yet to gain admission to any school. This is a leap of faith.
Jesus gives the command to have over five thousand people recline just because a little boy has five loaves of bread and two fish. This is challenging us to give up negativity, to give up exclusive self-reliance to be able to receive the miracle of the Bread of Life. Do not tell God how big your problem is but tell your problem how big your God is. Never underrate the power of little steps taken in faith. Many of our great dreams are not achieved because we are intimidated by the size of what we are to accomplish. To this effect, Martin Luther King Jr says, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase (stairwell); just take the first step.”
3. After they had eaten as much as they wanted, Jesus said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” Next Sunday, our first reading will be from the Book of Exodus 16, there we will encounter the story of Moses feeding the children of Israel in the desert with Manna from heaven. When we read further, Moses will instruct them not to take more than a day’s portion. For those who disobey, their extra food will go bad. This is different from what Jesus says today, he instructs his disciples to keep the extra. The meal that Jesus provides is superior to what Moses gave in the Old Testament. The provision in the Old Testament was just a scaffolding, a temporary remedy until the permanent one comes. What we receive from Jesus is a special gift of love that must not be wasted but shared. All are welcome to share in this love. There were twelve baskets filled with what was left. Twelve baskets to serve the twelve tribes of Israel in the Old Testament; twelve baskets to serve the twelve apostles in the New Testament; and today, we, from all nations of the earth, are the descendants of the apostles. It doesn’t matter at what point in your life you join the fold, there is something kept for you.
Remember the three statements of Jesus in today’s passage: .1. “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” 2. “Have the people recline.” 3. “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” Someone calls these “the three daily basic Christian steps,” namely identify the needs, have faith, and reap the reward of divine abundant harvest. As we continue our worship today in thanksgiving to God, we pray that the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ may bring us to everlasting life, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.