Father Donald Senior, CP

July 29: 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

We have to eat

2 Kgs 4:42-44; Ps 145:10-11, 15-16, 17-18; Eph 4:1-6; Jn 6:1-15

Recently our part-time community cook resigned to take up a full-time job elsewhere. I live in a community of nine men and, like most humans, we have to eat. So, while searching for a replacement, we have been taking turns preparing our evening meal. 

Most of us are not in line for the James Beard Award, yet I have not heard any complaints about the food. Each of us knows our turn is coming. Sometimes what you take for granted becomes apparent when you lose it.  

The Bible is fully aware of the necessity of eating. Stories about food appear throughout the biblical narrative, from our first parents snacking on the fruit from the tree of life to Abraham and Sarah serving dinner to their three mysterious visitors to the rations of manna and quail that God provided the Israelites during their desert trek from Egypt. In fact, the Passover is Israel’s central festival and the Eucharist is at the heart of the Christian experience — meals all the way.

Two great feeding stories are part of our readings for this last Sunday in July. The Book of Kings recounts a string of miracles performed by the great Old Testament prophet Elisha.

Elisha, like his mentor Elijah, is presented as man filled with God’s Spirit. Among other things, he prevents a widow and her son from starving by miraculously multiplying a small jug of oil; enables a woman who offers him hospitality and is married to an elderly husband to bear a child (later he brings the boy back to life); prevents his fellow prophets from having to eat poisonous stew (the importance of good cooks); and, in the passage for this Sunday, feeds 100 people with 20 barley loaves. No wonder the people of Jesus’ day compared him to Elisha.

Of course, our Gospel is John’s account of Jesus’ feeding of over 5,000 people with just five barley loaves and two fish. All four Gospels tell of Jesus’ feeding the multitudes and in Mark’s Gospel it happens more than once.  

John underscores the significance of this by noting that this took place near the Jewish feast of Passover. When Jesus sees the “large crowd” coming to hear him, he asks his disciple Philip the key question a lot of hosts have asked when faced with unexpected guests: “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” 

Philip laments that “200 days wages worth of food” would not be enough even to give each of them a little food. Jesus, of course, has something else in mind and transforms those inadequate rations into abundance — so much so that there are 12 baskets of leftovers even after everyone has had their fill.  

In the perspective of John’s Gospel, Jesus is the source of abundant life. In the discourse that follows this feeding story, Jesus declares: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (Jn 6:35). 

Why does the Bible and, in this instance, the Gospel of John give such attention to meals and to satisfying human hunger? Our own human experience of food and meals supplies the answer: the nourishment needed to keep us alive; the experience of our hunger now satisfied; the sheer pleasure of something good and delicious to eat; the joy of sharing life with others we love. 

For Elijah, the Spirit-filled prophet, feeding the hungry was a sign of God’s love for Israel, particularly for those in need. For Jesus, too, feeding the multitudes was an integral part of his life-giving mission. Evoking the feast of Passover, recalling God’s feeding of his people in the desert, anticipating the feeding of Christians through the Eucharist, these stories reveal a God of exceptional compassion and merciful love.   

Through the Bible’s emphasis on the everyday experience of food, meals and satisfying human hunger, we not only glimpse the beauty of God’s love for us but also better understand how we are to care for others.




  • scripture