9 Pentecost, Year B: Human Need and Divine Generosity

SUNDAY’S READINGS | July 25, 2021

2 Sam. 11:1-15 (or 2 Kgs. 4:42-44)
Ps. 14 (or Ps. 145:10-19)
Eph. 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

With divine power, the prophet Elisha turns a jar of oil into a vast supply, the sale of which delivers a woman from debt and the loss of her two children into slavery. Next, the prophet declares that a barren woman will give birth, and when the child falls ill and dies, the prophet stretches his body over the child and revives him. In a time of famine, the prophet commands that a stew be prepared, and when it proves poisonous, he makes it healthy by adding some flour. Finally, the hero-prophet feeds 100 people with 20 loaves of barley and a few fresh ears of grain.

And what is our Lord’s meaning? Poverty, desperation, and nothingness are the raw material of miracles, the stuff upon which supernatural mercy brings forth increase and growth. We come before God in our weakness and need. We are, as St. Augustine reminds us, “some [tiny] portion of creation, carrying about our mortality, carrying a testimony of our sin and the testimony that you resist the proud.” We have, to be sure, gifts of memory, reason, and skill, but they are not sufficient to nourish a genuinely human life. Burdened with our mortality and sin and knowing that we have no strength within ourselves to help ourselves, we are a pit of endless need.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus says, and “Blessed are those who mourn,” and “Blessed are those who hunger” (Matt. 5:3-6). There is an emptiness and void that ought to be exposed and over which the Spirit of God moves. “For God alone my soul in silence waits; from him comes my salvation” (Ps. 62:1). “The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature” (Ps. 145:16-17).

Jesus beholds our need. “Jesus went up on the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to eat a little.’ One of the disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’” (John 6:9). This question speaks to us. What are they — our resources — in the presence of our gaping need, in a world of want and suffering?

With compassion and power, Jesus takes the little we have and transforms it into nourishment. “Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ … Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost …  they filled twelve baskets” (John 6:10-13).

What is the food Jesus offers? Barley bread and fish represent a kind of Eucharist. He took, he blessed, he distributed, and all were satisfied. In sacramental communion and the innumerable sacramentals of creation, Jesus gives himself, the riches of his glory, to strengthen our inner being. He dwells in our hearts so that we are rooted and grounded in love. Our emptiness becomes the fullness of God.

Look It Up: Ps. 145:15

Think About It: Fallen and bowed down, you are ready to be raised up and nourished.


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