17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) – July 29, 2018
Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalms 145:10-11, 15-18; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15
I bet that if I told you that all the LORD had really wanted to do since the day of creation is eat with us—you know, sit down and have a meal with us—you would probably look at me like I’m crazy. But throughout Scripture, throughout salvation history, we hear that this is precisely what the LORD wants to do (c.f., Gen. 2:15-17, Ex. 12, Is. 25:6, Ps. 23:5)! Or, maybe a little bit more precisely, the LORD desiring to eat with us, to share a meal with us, is the great biblical metaphor for what God has desired since the day of creation. And all He has desired since day one is to share His life with us, and in turn, for us to share our lives with Him.
When I was growing up, eating dinner as a family was a fact of life. Dinner time each and every night—every. night.—was sacrosanct. To plan something between the time of 6:00 and 7:00p.m. or to miss family dinner was pretty much the capital sin in our house. And eating dinner as a family each and every night was important for many reasons, but above all it was important because that was when we would have time to be together as a family—even though us ten kids weren’t always stoked to be there. But it was during those family dinners that we would talk about our day, we would share our accomplishments and our struggles, joke with each other. Simply put, it was at family dinners that we would share our lives with one another.
Simply put, the LORD desires to share a meal with us, He desires to share His life with us and for us to share our lives with Him. Simple, yes, but not even His closest followers seemed to understand. Take Philip, for instance. Philip was sharp, and from the beginning had known that Jesus was the one of whom Moses and the prophets spoke (c.f., John 1:45). But Philip’s problem—and I think it’s something we can relate to as well—Philip’s problem was that who he seems to think Jesus is and who Jesus actually is are a bit different (c.f., John 14:8-11). Like many other followers of Jesus, Philip follows Jesus with the expectation that Jesus will live up to criteria which he has already determined; like a lot of the people, Philip has preconceived ideas of who Jesus is and what He is supposed to do. I mean, at the end of the story the crowd is ready to “carry [Jesus] off” and make Him king. Literally, the crowd was willing to force their own will upon Him (c.f., the use of the Greek word ἁρπάζω).
This is something which I think we all struggle with to some degree or another: trying to force the LORD to be who we expect Him to be, and not who He actually is. We expect Him to come and solve all our problems, to make the government perfect, to end all injustice, to end all suffering and death, or maybe to help us win the lottery just once, or to get that person we have a crush on to like us! Yeah, we have a lot of expectations for the LORD.
But that’s not what the LORD is offering to us. He is not offering to be some genie who can grant wishes and solve all our problems. Look at the Gospel today. “When Jesus raised his eyes” He saw the people coming to Him. And He didn’t just see people walking toward Him, but He saw people who were seeking the answers to all of their questions. He saw people who were seeking meaning and understanding in their lives, who just wanted to know what it is all about. But even more fundamental than that, He saw people who were hungry. And the first thing Jesus does—the first thing He always does!—is take our humanity into consideration. In this situation, it was the simple human reality of hunger (we gotta eat!). And so He provided a sign of a great overabundance of food for our starving humanity; and all ate and were satisfied. He provided exactly what was needed. He shared a meal with the people.
As I already mentioned, though, the people miss the point and want to make him king. And so He departs, almost in a gesture of, “You still don’t understand” (1). Again, Jesus is not offering to solve all our problems, no! But He is offering to take us and our humanity seriously; He is offering to provide what our starving humanity truly desires: He is offering us satisfaction, He is offering to fill us and provide all we really need (John 6:12). This event in the life of Jesus is a great “sign.” And like all the other signs, it is not meant merely to showcase the fact that He can perform miracles, no! It is meant to point to a deeper reality at work, a deeper reality which is breaking-into our world.
In fact, this is what the Gospel of John has been trying to tell us from the beginning. In the very first chapter of John we hear, “And the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). The Word became flesh; God became man; the LORD assumed our human nature; He emptied himself, took the form of a slave, and was born into humanity (c.f., Phil. 2:7). What the LORD has been doing since the beginning is nothing other than taking our humanity to heart, offering us exactly what we need in order to be truly satisfied, even to the point of becoming human Himself, to the point of dying for us.
Our problem is that we don’t want to recognize or accept that. We don’t want to accept that this is the LORD’s way of responding to our human need. Like the crowd, we have a lot of expectations of who the LORD is and what we think His action in our lives is supposed to look like. But just like the crowd who showed up expecting God-knows-what and were instead provided a simple meal which satisfied them, the LORD is offering to satisfy our human need as well.
When I look back on the meals I had with my family when I was growing up, I don’t look back on the food—even though it was amazing! What I look back on is the companionship that was shared; I look back on sharing in the lives of my family members. And even though I didn’t always like being there, I now look back on those simple meals as some of my best memories.
The LORD wants “to share a meal with us,” to share His life with us! And He is so desperate to do so, that He has gone to the ends of the earth and the depths of the world to make this possible. God became man to make this possible, suffered and died to make this possible. And here and now, at the meal of that Paschal Mystery, we come to share our life with Him and allow Him to share His life with us.
That is what Sunday mass is all about: a renewal of the covenant the LORD made through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son to give us the satisfaction we so desire. And like the crowds, perhaps we come to mass expecting something in particular, expecting the LORD to act in a particular way. But hopefully we come and allow the LORD to give us what we truly need: the satisfaction that comes from a life lived in companionship with Him.
1) N.b., See the Marcan parallel (Mk. 8:1-21) of the feeding of the four thousand which concludes by Jesus asking the confused disciples, “Do you not yet understand?”