Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) 2 Kgs 4:42-44
Psalm 145: 10-11, 15-18
2) Eph 4:1-6
Gospel: Jn 6:1-15
The social isolation of lockdowns and quarantines imposed during the pandemic underscored the simple joy of shared meals with family, friends or neighbors. Sharing food in the company of others is a basic human experience we often take for granted.
Sharing a meal with loved ones is so much more than nourishing our bodies with food. To share a meal is to share one’s life in a way that creates and strengthens close human bonds of family and friendship.
Just as our bodies cannot survive without the food we share with others, so too our spirits cannot thrive without shared spiritual food. Our deepest longings for love and peace, written on our hearts by God our creator, are like the pangs of physical hunger for food that nourishes and satisfies.
Only God can satisfy the spiritual hunger deep within the recesses of the heart and mind. Only God nourishes us with spiritual food that nourishes our desire for eternal life.
From the beginning of creation God has desired to share divine life with creatures created in and for love. Throughout the Scriptures, God feeds his people with food from heaven to nourish body and soul with divine life.
In the first reading Elisha, the man of God, feeds the people with a small portion of food to overflowing, just as God promised. So the psalmist sings, “the hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.”
All four Gospels recount the miracle of Jesus multiplying a few loaves and pieces of fish to feed the hungry crowds on a mountain. Perhaps it is because this miracle is central to Jesus’ earthly mission.
In Jesus, God shared his divine life by becoming one of us. This divine gift of self-emptying, symbolized by the multiplication of the loaves and fish, continues in every age of the church in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
In St. John’s account of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, Jesus takes the loaves, gives thanks and distributes the blessed bread and fish to the hungry crowd. Jesus’ action of taking and blessing bread, giving thanks to God, breaking and giving it to his disciples and followers, continues in our own day in every Eucharist.
Our deepest spiritual hunger is satisfied at the table of God’s word and the sacrament of his body and blood. As the action of the Holy Spirit transforms the humble elements of bread and wine into the sacred body and blood of Jesus Christ, we become what we receive, as St. Augustine once noted. Before this divine gift and mystery of faith, we can only be overwhelmed with “eucharistic amazement,” in the phrase of St. John Paul II.
Just as we need shared food to nourish our bodies, we need shared spiritual food for the journey of faith. God’s word calls us, like the disciples and the crowds who followed Jesus, to the spiritual nourishment of our communal eucharistic feasts as we pray in faith, “speak to me, Lord.”
How does Jesus nourish your spiritual life today?
– – –
Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.