17th Sunday Ordinary Time
Year B

One Lord, one faith

Back in 1950, before the Second Vatican Council had urged Catholics to have friendlier relations with their separated brothers of other churches, Catholics were regularly reminded that they should not attend non-Catholic worship except when some duty required it.

That year, Douglas Woodruff, the brilliant and witty columnist of the famous English Catholic journal, the Tablet, told the story of a robber who had lately been arrested for taking money from the poor-box of Westminster Cathedral. (This is the cathedral church located in London of the Catholic archbishop of Westminster.) When the judge questioned him, the "perpetrator" admitted that he had also stolen from the poor-boxes of several other London churches. He ticked off a whole list of them.

"These are all Catholic churches," said the judge, puzzled. "How does it happen that you didn't rob the poor-boxes in any Protestant churches?"

The thief bridled. "Me … go into a Protestant church? That would be a sin. I'm a good Catholic, I am!"

St. Paul certainly did emphasize unity in the Faith: "There is one Lord one faith, one baptism." But something was out of kilter in the interpretation put on Christian unity by this staunch Catholic burglar. (Ephesians, 4:6. Today's second reading.)

-Father Robert F. McNamara

Q538: Two readings today about feeding many with very little (2 K 4:42-44; Jn 6:1-15). Is there a connection?

Notice the parallels with the stories of Moses in the Book of Exodus. Jesus goes up a mountain. The listeners would remember the events on the mountain of Sinai and the teaching that followed (the Law or Torah). Jesus provides food for 5,000 men. the listeners would remember the Manna provided by God to the Israelites in the desert, as well as the story of Elisha feeding 100 men (see First Reading). John’s gospel is demonstrating that the gift of the Law on the mountain to Moses, and Manna to people in the desert, will be perfected in the gift of Jesus Christ himself.

John gives us another clue. He mentions that the “Feast of Passover” was near. Clearly, John is intending to help the listeners recognize that “a new Exodus” is taking place. In fact, immediately after this story and “sign” of the multiplication of loaves, Jesus, the “prophet like Moses,” leads the disciples to safety after walking on the waters and calming the sea.

It is important to remember that each of the seven “signs” in John’s gospel point to something beyond the sign itself. Every sign points to the divine identity of Jesus, and every such event is meant to bring people to faith in Jesus. When Jesus fed the 5,000 there was an abundance left over, and everyone had his physical hunger satisfied. Today Jesus also feeds us at our Eucharistic banquet, and no one goes away hungry. He satisfies all of our most important needs – meaning our spiritual hunger and need for him!

Jesus demonstrates that he can take the “little” that we offer him, and transform it into an abundance that gives glory to God. But first we need to offer ourselves to him – our talents, our time, and our treasure. Only then can he transform us through himself, the very nourishment that our souls need daily.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The “signs” worked by Jesus attest that the Father has sent him, and they invite belief in him. Miracles bear witness to his divinity (CCC #548). Even so, his primary mission was to free humanity from the greatest slavery, sin (CCC #549).

God Will Provide

The miracles in today's readings reveal the extraordinary way God may provide for our needs. Elisha and Jesus had to meet the needs of many people with very little food. As we attempt to follow on Christ's path of charity and compassion, we may find that our desire to do his will seems to be beyond our human abilities. We may wonder where we are going to find the means to accomplish what is good and necessary. In today's gospel Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowd but they thought it was impossible.

Jesus made it possible. The miracles in today's readings reveal the extraordinary ways that God sometimes provides for the needs in the life of the church and in our own lives. In order to sustain our hopes and work we have to trust that God will give us what we need to accomplish his work. The Epistle reminds us that whatever gifts he gives us are given for his work and to build a unified community. We have to use his gifts with humility, meekness and patience.

Lord, guide us in doing your work by helping us to use wisely the gifts you have given us. Help us to remember that in the last analysis it is your accomplishment and not ours.