More than enough

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17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: July 29, 2012
2 Kgs 4:42-44; Ps 145; Eph 4:1-6; John 6:1-15

The account of Christ miraculously feeding the 5000 is found in all four Gospels. And after one of these passages was read one Sunday at my last parish, a man came up to me and said, “The Scripture says that there were 5000 men, plus women and children. But it’s obvious that there weren’t any teenagers there.” “Why is that?” I asked. “Because there was food left over!”

The Scripture readings that we hear at each Sunday Mass come from a three-year Lectionary cycle. And each year, during Ordinary Time, we hear from a different one of the three Synoptic Gospels: Year A, Matthew; Year B, Mark; and Year C, Luke. Right now we are in the middle of Year B, which is Mark. But did you notice that our reading today came from the Gospel of John? That is because the Gospel of Mark is the shortest and so we get a little summer interlude: 5 weeks going through Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John. Those 5 weeks start today and last through the Sundays of August.

But why John chapter 6? Some of you know already. And if you’re not quite sure, then I urge you to pay close attention over these five weeks. Because this is a key chapter for every Catholic: to be able to speak of the faith to friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow students; and to be able to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist every time you come to Mass. You might even read ahead in a Bible at home: John chapter 6.

And as we read this beginning passage from that chapter, did you notice the words sign and signs used twice? This happens often in the Gospel of John, which speaks of the miracles our Lord worked as “signs.” And this is not just for variety. For what is a sign? As we know, whether a sign are letters or symbols written on a piece of paper, or an octagonal red piece of metal on a pole, or any other kind of sign—a sign is what it itself is, and yet it also points beyond itself to something else. When the crowd saw this sign of the multiplication of the loaves, they said, “This is truly the Prophet,” and they wanted to make him king. This shows that they sort of grasped what Jesus was pointing to—but mostly not; and we will have to listen to his words later in the chapter to learn what he was really pointing toward with this miraculous sign.

It all starts off when Jesus with his disciples goes around the Sea of Galilee, goes up on a mountain, and raises his eyes and sees that a large crowd was following him. And he asks one of his disciples, Philip, a question: “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” We notice that the Gospel says that he said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. I think Jesus was intentionally, though subtly, pointing Philip down the wrong mental path: for he uses the word “buy.” “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” And he sends him down the path of thinking about money: earning it, saving it, spending it. And food: growing it, harvesting it, selling it. Of jobs and wages and employment; and physical means to solve a physical problem. And Philip assesses the situation and says, quite correctly, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” And soon Andrew will chime in: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?”

Philip and Andrew live in our world. They perceive the problem; they measure it. They are sympathetic to the problem and would like to remedy it. They check their resources and measure those. And they find that their resources are far, far too small to solve the problem. They have come up short. Their hands are, essentially, empty, in the face of this human hunger and need. When it comes to buying and selling, earning and providing, their resources, humanly speaking—our resources, humanly speaking—are not enough.

But Christ’s power is more than enough. For his power is not merely human; it is divine. True God and true man, he is able to miraculously multiply the loaves and fish and satisfy the hunger of this large crowd. Whereas the prophet Elisha some 800 years earlier had fed 100 people with 20 barley loaves, our Lord Jesus Christ now feeds 5000 men, plus women and children, with 5, and 2 fish. And not just with a little, but with as much as they wanted—so that the leftover fragments that were collected, twelve wicker baskets worth, were what was more than they could eat.

How glorious! How memorable! That this unknown power should have poured out of this one ordinary-looking man, Jesus, standing right in front of them! Clearly this was a sign that pointed to much more—but to what?

The crowd had an idea—and so they were intending to come and carry Jesus off to make him king. And in this they had it exactly—backwards. They saw Jesus as a power source—like a great battery or nuclear reactor—that they could take and plug into their system to make it run better. But they had it wrong; they had it backwards. Christ is not someone who can be co-opted into fulfilling our plans and achieving our goals!

Rather, he is the King of kings and Lord of lords, before whom we kneel down and hand over our plans, our goals, and all the resources we have. It is not the crowd who has the right idea, but the boy with the five loaves and two fish—who, however meager and insufficient his resources were, handed them all over to Jesus. Andrew asked, “What good are these?” In Christ’s hands, they were all that was needed—and far more.

Our Lord Jesus Christ does not ask for a room in our house or a slot in our schedule; he asks us to hand it all over to him: the key, the title, the password. It’s a lot to ask; it’s everything! But when we get to know his infinite love and power, why should we hesitate? If he could feed that large crowd with the boy’s five loaves and two fish… imagine what he could do with you!

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