Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Kings 4: 42-44
John 6: 1-15
I would imagine that many of you have heard this gospel a number of times; for some of you, maybe dozens of times. And so I'd guess that over the years some of you have heard a priest or deacon interpret or explain this gospel along these lines:
What was really going on here is this: you see, many people in the crowd had brought food, but they were unwilling to share what they had brought with those who had nothing. So when Jesus inspired that little boy to give his five loaves and two fishes, that inspired the other people who had food to bring out theirs as well, and to share it. And so the real miracle here is that these people stopped being selfish and shared. This isn't a miracle of multiplying loaves and fishes, it's a miracle of sharing and caring.
Now, I'm curious, how many of you have ever heard something like that in a homily before? (Anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 of the congregation raise their hands.)
Well, those of you who haven't heard this before can consider yourselves lucky, because it's complete nonsense. It's utter hogwash. Now I have no doubt that those who have advanced this interpretation of the gospels meant well, but you can mean well and still be wrong. And to say that the miracle of the loaves and fishes is a miracle of "caring and sharing" is to just plain miss the point.
We can know that the point of this gospel is more than just inspiring generosity by the very words themselves. We're told that the people reacted by saying "truly this man is the prophet". They clearly thought that something extraordinary had taken place. Furthermore, remember that these people were good Jews - they declared that Jesus was "the prophet" because they recalled the incident with Elisha feeding 100 people that we heard about in the first reading. They remembered what the prophet had done, saw what Jesus did, they put two and two together, and realized that a prophet was in their midst.
But, of course, Jesus is even more than a prophet, as we now know. And that brings me to the next point: If you look at this passage in context, you see that it is about something far greater than "caring and sharing". Because what comes just a little later in John's gospel is Jesus' Bread of Life discourse, in which He tells his disciples that He is the true bread from heaven, that His flesh is true food, and His blood true drink, and that he who eats His flesh and drinks His blood will have eternal life.
Jesus' feeding the multitude is a sign and prefigurement of how He will feed us with the Bread from Heaven. Just as He, as the Word of God through whom all things were made, is the source of all our material needs, so He is the source of our deepest need: His life within us. As He provides us with the daily bread that sustains our earthly life, so He provides us with the New Manna, which gives us a share in the very life of the Trinity. As He was the source of sustenance for the multitude, so is He the true source for what we really need: Himself.
There is a word that occurs a couple of times in this gospel: that word is "enough". Jesus asks Philip "where can we get enough for them to eat?" Now, as is so often the case, Our Lord's words are working on more than one level: The first level is the obvious, everyday meaning: "how are we going to feed all these people?" But there is a deeper meaning, a deeper question: Where can we get enough? Where can we find sufficiency? Where will we find satisfaction? And the answer, in this passage, and in the Bread of Life discourse that follows, is that He alone can supply our needs. Only in Christ will we find sufficiency.
Have you ever noticed that no matter how rich some people get, no matter how much money and possessions they have, they always want more? Billionaires like Bill Gates or Donald Trump, although they have more than any of us could imagine, nonetheless continue to try to amass even more wealth, try to expand their fortunes and make their corporations even larger. They'll get an even better private jet, an even larger yacht, another vacation home in the Swiss Alps. Now, we can't be too hard on those billionaires, though, because in reality you and I aren't much different. The difference between us and them is only one of degree and scale, not a difference in kind. For we too, in different and smaller ways, never seem to have enough. We'll get that new pickup truck we've been wanting, and then decide we want to have a bigger boat for that truck to tow. Or we'll get that new boat, and then start thinking about that new snowmobile we want. We'll get the new snowmobile, and then realize that we really "need" a new set of golf clubs as well. We never seem to have enough.
Well, that's because our ultimate need cannot be satisfied by anything in this world. As one of the saints said, we all have a God-shaped hole within our hearts. We have a void in our soul that only God can fill. But one of the effects of the Fall and Original Sin is that we are always trying to fill that hole with other things. And no matter what we try, it won't work. Only God can fill that void, only God can satisfy that deepest desire of our hearts. And Christ Jesus came among us to plug that hole, to fill that void. And He gives us Himself as the true Bread of Life, to give us here and now a foretaste of that satisfaction we will know in its fullness only with Him in heaven.
Jesus asked, "Where can we get enough?" By feeding the multitude, Jesus shows that He is the source of our earthly needs. But this sign points to a much greater reality: that He alone is the one who can truly feed us, He alone can truly satisfy, He alone will fulfill us. While we are on pilgrimage in this world, He will give us Himself as the Bread of Life to sustain and empower us, so that when we arrive at the consummation of all things in the next, we will be able to say, "At last, I have enough".