Pentecost 9

First reading: 2 Sam. 11:1-15; Ps. 14
Alternate: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Ps. 145: 10-19
Eph. 3:14-21 • John 6:1-21

Elisha is a kind of sacrament of life in the midst of Israel’s “barren land.” God has cursed the land because of the idolatry of its rulers. Death runs down the mountains and sprouts anew in every valley. The streams and plants are poisonous, the wild animals ruthless. Drought, famine, and plague crowd in on every side. But where Elisha speaks, there is life. God works to sustain him and his little band of prophets. Healing, peace, and provision spring up around them. The presence of God overshadows Elisha like in the temple, and he embodies the Psalmist’s words: “I am like a green olive-tree in the house of God; my trust is in the tender mercy of God for ever and ever.”

The man from Baal-shalishah brings his offering to Elisha — a first-fruits offering in the wilderness rather than the temple of the corrupted priests. There are just 20 loaves for 100 people, but by the prophet’s words the Lord multiplies the loaves and all are fed, with something left over.

Jesus takes the barley loaves in his hands as well, trusting in God’s power to feed his people. John tells us it was near the time of Passover: just before the harvest, when food is still scarce, the people are reminded again that God alone is Savior of Israel. There are far fewer loaves this time, and the crowd is many times larger. The meal not only marks God’s provision for a faithful remnant, but provides a foretaste of the promised banquet — bread for the world.

It is an abundant feast. Each eats his fill, John tells us, bread to the full and fish “as much as they wanted.” God’s power to multiply food for the hungry has been demonstrated before, but never by a divine person incarnated, himself fulfilling the confession of faith in today’s Psalm, for all to see: “the eyes of all wait upon thee, O Lord, and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thy hands and fillest all things living with plenteousness.”

John Chrysosotom contrasts the prophet’s work and Jesus’ miracle at the lakeside as the “difference between the servant and the Lord. The prophets received grace, as it were, by measure, and according to that measure performed their miracles: whereas Christ, working this by his own absolute power, produces a kind of superabundant result.” He works with the power of “the maker of our frame and all.”

Look It Up
Read Eph. 4:16-19. How much “undigested fare” is in your heart?

Think About It
Jesus orders the crowd to sit down, distributes the bread, and commands that all fragments be gathered up. Like the sacramental system he commanded us to continue, he tends to order and form.