17th Sunday of the Year (B) July 29 2012
The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
First Reading (2 Kings 4:42-44).
This brief text on the miraculous feeding by the prophet Elisha (successor to the prophet Elijah) of a hundred men with bread from twenty barley loaves, first fruits and fresh grain, is chosen for this Sunday’s liturgy to go with the miraculous multiplication of five barley loaves by Jesus to feed as many as five thousand. In its original setting in the Old Testament it forms part of what is known as “The Cycle of Elisha” (2 Kings 2:19-8:15). This collection of stories and legends tells of Elisha’s involvement in political affairs (not always edifying) and the wonders worked by him. This Elisha Cycle, like that of Elijah (1 Kings 17-19; 21; 2 Kings 1:1-2:18) probably circulated as independent units before being taken up and inserted in their present position by the editors who have given their present form to the Books of Kings. The activity of both Elijah and Elisha was mainly in what was the Northern kingdom of Israel (as distinct from the southern Davidic kingdom of Judah). The Baal-shalishah in the text was about ten miles south-west of the capital Samaria (near present-day Nablus).
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 144). You open wide your hands, O Lord, and grant our desires.
Second Reading (Ephesians 4:1-6).
The writer of this letter, with the spirit of Paul the apostle, has opened it by reminding his readers of the dignity that is theirs. The mysteries of the kingdom have been revealed to them. The essence of the mystery is God’s plan to bring everything together under Christ as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth. Through the death of Christ God had broken down the division between Jew and Gentile, to unite all humanity together through faith in Christ and in the Church. This letter to the Ephesians, written in the apostle Paul’s name, was addressed to the Church at a time when divisions between Jew and non-Jew were a thing of the past, and the Church faced a new age in which unity in essentials, in faith and in Christian practice, was essential. The Church was now conscious of its world mission, of being the universal sacrament of salvation. Christ’s saving work, the revelation of God’s great mystery, can be forwarded only through the response of believers in a truly Christian life. Paul uses the entire weight of his apostolic authority and sufferings in bondage to implore his readers to do just this, first listing desirable, indeed required, qualities of Christian community life, making for unity in the Spirit. All in the Church calls for unity, for being one. There is one Lord – Jesus Christ. There is one faith and one baptism. Faith is here to be understood not as the theological virtue of faith, but as belief, in the teaching to which all members of the church subscribe. A little later the letter will speak of building up the body of Christ, coming to the unity of faith, no longer blown about by every wind of doctrine (4:13-14)
Gospel (John 6:1-15).
In the Sunday Mass liturgy this is really the year of Mark. All the Gospel readings, with one exception, are from Mark’s Gospel. Last Sunday’s reading from Mark’s Gospel (Mark 6:30-34) told of Jesus’ pity for the crowds because he saw them as sheep without a shepherd and he began to teach them many things. In Mark’s gospel this is the setting for the narrative of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves (Mark 6:35-44; worked in Jewish territory). Mark’s Gospel will have a second account of multiplication of loaves (Mark 8:1-10; worked in non-Jewish, Gentile territory), followed soon afterwards (Mark 8:14-21) by a passage recognized as cramped and allusive and rather obscure for modern readers. The passage concerns a misunderstanding by the disciples on the real significance of bread and loaves and the significance of loaves in the multiplication narratives. Jesus severely criticizers his disciples for their lack of understanding of the bread and loaves. It is the only place in Mark where the term “bread” is used outside of Mark 14:21 when Jesus pronounces that the bread is his body. Mention of bread and loaves in the passage probably includes a reference to the Eucharist, and may in the first instance for Mark’s original reflect a hidden debate within Mark’s community where some failed to understand that Jesus is the true bread who will bring Jew and Gentile together. It may possibly be evidence that for some within Mark’s community the Eucharist was regarded primarily as a celebration of the power and presence of God rather than a memorial of Jesus’ suffering and death. In any event the text seems to show that from a very early age in the Church the significance of the Eucharist, the bread, was a matter of reflection, a reflection to which Jesus himself invites us.
Thus with regard to Mark’s accounts of the multiplication of the loaves. In this year’s liturgy the Church invites into similar reflection. Instead of giving us the text of Mark’s Gospel, with its fifteen verses, the Gospel reading change to the multiplication of the loaves and its interpretation as presented in John’s Gospel (John 6:1-71), with seventy-one verses. Over this and the next five Sundays the Gospel readings will give us Jesus’ discourse on himself as the bread of life
In what looks like a simple introduction, today’s Gospel reading sets the scene for Jesus’ discourse and the following chapters. What is meant by ‘the other side’ of the Sea of Galilee is not clear, whether the west or the east to us, as no indication of place is earlier given. The motives of the large crowds following Jesus (his earlier miracles, “signs”) will be taken up later by Jesus. The hillside and being seated are keeping with other teaching sites in the Gospels. The reference to the nearness of the feast of Passover is not just a temporal indication. It is part of this Gospel’s plan to indicate Jesus’ reinterpretation of the Jewish feasts and religious days: earlier the sabbath (5:1-18), here Passover, in the first Jewish month; later Tabernacles (John 7:1-10:21) in the seventh, and then Dedication (John 10:22-42), in the ninth. Passover recalled the Exodus from Egypt, the desert wanderings, the manna, the giving of the Law, all with the figure of the leader and lawgiver Moses. John’s account of the multiplication has echoes of the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist: taking the loaves (bread), giving thanks, distributing the food himself. (In the other Gospel accounts it is the disciples who do this.)
The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day
The Eucharist: A Multifaceted Memorial, Remembrance, of what Jesus is
In St Paul’s account of the institution of the Eucharist, after the consecration of both the bread and the wine Jesus says: “This is my body … This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians11:23-25). Given these words, the remembrance in the first instance would be, and has been, of Christ’ death, resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand. The faithful recall these, and in each Mass after the consecration the celebrant recalls them in a prayer to God the Father.
However, the Eucharist also recalls all that Christ’s life and death stands for: his meals with the marginalized, the multiplication of the loaves to feed the hungry, his concern for the crowds lost in he maze of life, his teaching intended to give meaning to the individual’s human existence, his concern for community living and all that is required to make it a reality.
The Eucharist is very much about Christ’s presence, his real presence. Catholics stress his real presence in the Eucharist, as reserved in the tabernacle. The Eucharist recalls his real presence in any crisis or situation, as he was with the apostles, in the boat, during the storm, after the multiplication of the loaves and other occasions.
The Eucharist is, and recalls, that Jesus is true bread of life, true life. He came as bread of life, to bring life and bring it to the full.
The Eucharist is about community living, communion with Christ and with one another — to recall the theme of the last International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin.
The Mass has been the centre of Irish life over the centuries. May it continue to be so, being the occasion where through the Sunday readings we can have Christ present with us to bring his saving message, as in his ministry in Galilee teaching us at some length so that we have direction in the world in which we live, not like sheep without a shepherd.