17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Vinner)
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We are taking a side trip, sort of a summer vacation, for the next six weeks and listening to the Gospel of John rather than the Gospel of Mark which this year is dedicated to. And there are significant differences between the two Gospels – the two are probably the farthest apart – in intent, construction and theology.
Mark’s Gospel was the first and it is the shortest, most compact and deals only with the active ministry of Jesus. John’s Gospel was the last Gospel written and is theologically packed as there had been time to ponder the questions of who Jesus was, so this Gospel was more about Jesus himself than his teachings. Not that it doesn’t include his teachings, but they are done in a different format.
Mark uses Jesus’ parables while John tends to have longer discourses. The longest discourse comes while Jesus is preaching to the people on the mountain and is tied into the feeding of the five thousand. And that is some of the discourse that we will be listening to over the next few weeks.
When we are reading the New Testament is if often a good thing to ask two questions of each of the evangelists. Why are they writing their story? and who were they writing to? The answers to these two questions might explain why the four stories differ in some ways in detail, and why some things are more important in them than others.
John is writing at the end of the first century to a group that already has faith in Jesus so he isn’t trying to convert them. Instead, he is looking deeper at some of the teachings of Jesus and is especially dealing with the issue of Jesus as God. More than the other apostles he tends to do this with vibrant characters but also with much poetic and metaphoric language. This is a Gospel explaining in great depth who Jesus was and the Gospel is about him more than his teachings.
John appears to be writing to strengthen the faith of his listeners, to combat some heretical thinking that was going around about who Jesus was, and to give a fresh interpretation to the three Gospels that already existed.
The feeding of the five thousand is recounted in all the Gospels with slightly different details given. In John’s version the feeding becomes a catalyst for Jesus’ running away from the crowd’s attempts to make him an earthly ruler and also to set us up for all the bread images that John will use in Christ’s teaching. He can give them earthly bread, but he is also the bread of heaven as we will soon see.
The feeding of the five thousand had some precedent in early Hebrew Scriptures as we read in the Hebrew reading today from the book of Kings. Instead of five thousand, it was a hundred, but Elisha managed to listen to God and told the young man to bring out his twenty loaves and feed the people. Somehow, miraculously, all the people were fed and there was some left over.
And our psalm today reiterates the idea that God will feed us, that God satisfies all the needs of the people who love him. Food here can be taken literally or metaphorically: God will also give us what we need when we need it, if we continue loving and having faith in God.
The letter of Paul to the Ephesians today doesn’t talk of bread or feeding, but it does talk about the oneness – which is what the image of the bread is also metaphorically about. All the people ate – there was a unity in that. Later, Jesus will talk about that by all eating his body, all will become one with him and each other. So Paul today talks about “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” which John will later incorporate into Jesus teachings on the Eucharist. Remember, in John, the establishment of the Eucharist was more tied to the feeding of thousand than to the Last Supper. It isn’t even mentioned at his last supper which is about servitude and reversing the power structure.
As we begin, then, reading from John for the next few weeks, I want you to think about food and how it sustains life, how it is pleasurable, how eating together creates unity, because these are all themes that will come up in Jesus’ teaching on the meaning of ‘bread’. We pray each day: Give us this day our daily bread. Does this have more connotation than just making sure we are nourished by food each day? When you pray the Our Father, think about what that might mean to you. As we picnic with friends – even with our own picnic – ask how this joins us together. What kind of unity does it create?
Then in the next few weeks, we can apply all this to the bread come down from heaven and what it means to us today.
This is the Good News I ask you to ponder over the next few weeks.
May God Bless us.
FR. S.Vinner HGN