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The Athenaeum of Ohio

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati

By Father Timothy P. Schehr

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2 Kings 4:42-44; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15

 This time of year we can all do with a little refreshment, something to provide us with a little break from the heat. In the readings for this Sunday, God provides refreshment for a people who are weary.

The Gospel reading is the familiar miracle of the loaves, this time as told by John, who begins and ends his account with a striking contrast. At the beginning of the text, Jesus is on the mountain with His disciples. But, by the end of the reading, Jesus is on the same mountain alone. We wonder what happened to the disciples? Why are they not with Him at the end? The answer can be found in the central portion of the reading.

While on the mountain with His disciples, Jesus must have taught them about the kingdom of God, stressing, as He does throughout the fourth Gospel, their need to look at things with the eyes of faith. As long as they continue to see things only "from below," they will never under­stand. They must learn to see things "from above."

After His lesson, Jesus gives Philip a test, asking him where they can buy enough food to feed the large crowd around them. Has Philip been listening up there on the mountain? If he has, his response will in some way demonstrate he has learned to appreciate the resources available to him through faith in God. He should say something like, "I'm sure, with God's help, we can provide these people with some­thing."

But Philip does not do so well on the test. His answer includes nothing about the power of God. Instead, he has been busy calculating the amount of money it would take to feed all these people. It is clear that this apostle is still thinking in terms of earthly resources only.

Andrew does not do so well either. He does manage to find a boy with five barley loaves and two fish. But he cannot imagine how they can be of any help at all.

Jesus is so patient with His disciples. He could have berated them for their lack of faith. Instead, He gives them still another sign of God's power to care for the people. Those five loaves of bread feed well over 5,000 people. And what is more, there are 12 baskets of leftovers. If the disciples are observing carefully, they should get the message.

But they do not! Apparently they share the crowd's interest in making Jesus a king — one more example of thinking in earthly terms. Only at the end of the Gospel will the disciples be ready to preach about the kingdom of God rather than the kingdoms of earth.

The first reading offers an early parallel to the miracle of the loaves. Someone brings the prophet Elisha 20 loaves of bread from a place that carries the same of Baal, a title for a foreign god. Elisha makes it clear that the Lord God of Israel is the only true God. By the word of God, 100 people are fed with those loaves, and there is some left over. Elisha's own servant did not believe it was possible. We are left wondering if he ever changed his mind.

(Father Schehr is a member of the faculty at the Athenaeum of Ohio in Cincinnati.)