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EMBRACING GOD’S TRANSCENDENCE. A reflection for 17th Sunday of the Ordinary Time, Year B
By Fr. Modestus Mgbaramuko
Sat, 24 Jul 2021

Readings: 2Kgs 4:42-44; Eph 4:1-6; Jn 6:1-15   

For more than four Sundays on the trot, our Gospel messages will all come from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. Today, we began with the first fifteen verses, with Christ providing an excellent meal for countless people. Today’s Gospel, joined especially with the first reading, invites us to embrace and share in the economy of God’s providence. The miracle of God’s love cannot be bought, sold, or supplied out of any human reserves. That one demands trust or reliance on God through faith.

 Indeed, the word of God and the hand of  God feeds us.  In Jesus, God’s eternal Word became flesh to abide with us and supply for us. The stable of bread – the counted “barley loaves” (twenty pieces, 2kgs 4:42; five-plus the two fish, Jn 6:9) should remind us of the sum of our human need. This world of flesh, fragility, and limitation must never lose sight of God’s providence. We must come to God’s word, turn to Christ, and join Christ for the thanksgiving so that the hand of the good shepherd can answer all our needs. But coming to Christ also means doing what the apostle, Paul, implores each one of us to do today: “lead a life worthy of your vocation” (Eph 4:1).

To listen to the voice of God as Elisha demanded, or to come to faith in Christ as he invites us today, we must come with deep trust in God. Openness to the transcending love of God calls us to family and community, fraternal love, solidarity, worship, and action in the work of the renewal. In the context of today’s Gospel, it means “making” the people sit down with Christ Jesus, whom God has sent. It entails giving thanks to God with whatever little that is available to us. Indeed, recovering from the pandemic in our world of fragile human security should remind us now to look up to Christ Jesus as he looks on to see us and welcome us. And Jesus himself “knows what to do” (Jn 6:5-6).

The four Gospels all report this incident in related but different ways. Their collective testimonies prove that this was a wonderful thing that would have genuinely happened (Mk 6: 32-44; Mt 14: 13-21; Lk 9:10-17). However, John’s account also drops the hint that despite the provision of God’s abundance, Jesus’ audience still missed the sign that he gave. In the minds of many, this Galilean giver-of-bread could make a good king as a philanthropist. The first Moses who led Israel out of Egypt mediated the manna eaten in the desert. So, why not Jesus remained around to only fill in the same gaps? In other words, Jesus as the new Moses can also lead the social revolution, support social inclusion, preach conformity in society, and forget about “lives worthy of our vocation.”

Yes. Why not religion solve social needs and nothing else? Thus, several people do not open their hearts to Jesus in faith. They prefer the social provider but resist the spiritual reformer. Today that is still our problem: a religion that serves for the entertainment or faith void of any spiritual encounters with God. The sign of “the hand of the Lord” to feed us and answer all our needs is still missed. Religion for national political advantage is still cherished, and a certain sense of Jesus as a welfare-giver is welcome. But do we have to cut the more profound spiritual truth of God’s presence in Jesus? Do we still try to take Jesus by force and make him a bread-king? Maybe Jesus still leaves us. Perhaps some of our churches are becoming empty because Jesus has retreated alone into the hills (Jn 6:15).

Feeling drawn only to our friends or only to pleasant things is, after all, a tendency available to everyone. But loving when it hurts, caring when it pains, and sharing God’s truth with a not-so-nice neighbor, for example, demands something extra. It demands the courage to speak the truth and requires that our very lives be exemplary as our convictions. It is the kind of “bearing with one another” that St Paul writes. He mentions gentleness, patience, and following through with willingness. Paul also says there must be co-operation with the Spirit of God – through one’s witness. Born from the bonds of baptism, this witness is nourished in a living faith in God and sustained in our Christian hope (Eph 4:5).

The seeming impracticality of serving twenty barley loaves to a hundred people frames today’s gospel concerns about how a mere five barley loaves could feed five the thousand people. This uphill task, including all the ideas around it, dissolves in recognition of God’s hand. Christ stands ever ready and re-iterates God’s goodness to us. Our needs are important to God. But why do you still worry?



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