Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. This week we see in the first reading a miracle by the Prophet Elisha in multiplying of the loaves to feed a large crowd. Later in the Gospel lesson we see Jesus doing something similar but on a larger scale in the feeding of the five thousand. We also study Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians and see some godly behaviors to which God calls us to walk as His true followers.
This month I was able to take an extended holiday to the south of France along with my wife. During this time I was able to unplug from my work in the IT industry and to meet up with a couple who is involved that country. This loving couple epitomizes the calling given by Paul that we will see in the second reading today “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1c-2). In spite of their many hardships they have endured during their forty years of ministry in France they have persisted and seen many people grow in their faith. They are an inspiration to me when I too encounter difficulties in helping people to grow in their faith.
Introduction to the First Reading:
The first reading is from Second Kings in the section where Elijah’s replacement Elisha ministered during the time of a great famine. Elisha was a great prophet who provided for the people in a similar way in which Jesus did in the feeding of the five thousand which we will read later in the Gospel lesson. Elisha performed this miracle right after he raised the son of the Shunammite woman and the rendering of a poison pot of stew into healthy food.
2 Kings 4:42-44 NAS95 42 Now a man came from Baal-shalishah, and brought the man of God bread of the first fruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And he said, "Give them to the people that they may eat." 43 His attendant said, "What, will I set this before a hundred men?" But he said, "Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the LORD, 'They shall eat and have some left over.'" 44 So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the LORD.
Here Elisha multiplied through God’s power some twenty barley loaves into a quantity sufficient to feed one hundred men and most likely their women and children. God used Elisha in many such ways to reveal His power and to call the people to follow the One True God. In a similar way, Jesus used signs to reveal the source of His true power and to point the people to faith in Him (=God). Elisha was different though because he rightly didn’t claim to be God or the Messiah but rather pointed the way to Him through the revelation of His power through signs and miracles.
Introduction to the Second Reading:
The second reading is from Ephesians 4. The context is following Paul’s stating of the revelation of the mystery of God that the Gentiles were fellow heirs with the Jews in the kingdom of God (Ephesians 4:6). Paul explained that he was a minister to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:8) and how he prayed that the Ephesians would understand the riches of God’s glory and to “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (3:19).
Ephesians 4:1-6 NAS95 1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
God calls us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called” (v. 1). What is this calling? The key lies in the adverb “therefore.” As we have seen in previous editions of Mass Notes we have to ask “what is it there for”? In this case it links this passage to the previous doctrine described in chapter 3: “8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; 10 so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:8-10). God is making a point to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places (the supernatural realm) about Who He is through the church (you and me and fellow believers). It’s not just about me and what I get out of my church experience. Instead, my life becomes about walking in a way that reflects God’s glory to the observant supernatural realm. What does this look like? Paul said it includes attitudes of humility, gentleness, having patience, “showing tolerance for one another in love,” and working to preserve unity “in the bond of peace.”
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
The Gospel lesson is Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. This chapter of John marks the beginning of a series of turning points and especially the one we will study in future weeks in an easy to remember chapter and verse: 6:66. These turning points come about as the people begin to determine in their hearts whether they are true followers of Jesus. One of these turning points occurred in the previous chapter. “For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18). This is where the rubber meets the road; the true followers of God are those that recognize Jesus as God in the flesh, the Messiah, rather than just a miracle doer who they though would deliver them from their Roman oppressors.
John 6:1-15 NAS95 1 After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias). 2 A large crowd followed Him, because they saw the signs which He was performing on those who were sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near. 5 Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?" 6 This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do. 7 Philip answered Him, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little." 8 One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to Him, 9 "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?" 10 Jesus said, "Have the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted. 12 When they were filled, He said to His disciples, "Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost." 13 So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. 14 Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, "This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world." 15 So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.
As the story progressed, Jesus asked Philip (who was from this region) to provide for the crowd. Philip responded to Jesus showing that he had resources in the amount of 200 days wages, a significant amount but worthless that far away from the city and in light of the huge size of the crowd. Evidently, the disciples two by two ministry in the preceding weeks had been fruitful in terms of donations. Nevertheless, the people had followed Jesus some distance away from the city and saw Him as One Who would provide for them, so it was natural for Jesus to accommodate their needs through His disciples. In this case, the people found out that God was the true multiplier of things. The people did indeed recognize Jesus as a Prophet, seemingly the One prophesied about in Deuteronomy 18:15. However, they misunderstood the role of the Messiah (vv. 14 – 15). The people saw in Jesus a political ruler Who could free them from their poverty and Roman oppression. In the end, twelve baskets were left over corresponding exactly to the count of Jesus’ disciples. Each disciple was left with one basket to highlight Jesus’ ability to provide in the midst of impossible circumstances. God provided the food regardless of the people’s faith and used this sign to point to the True Messiah Jesus.
We too may have misunderstandings about how Jesus’ power should be used in the world. Though we should ask God to provide for our circumstances we have to recognize that like the people of the biblical era we often want God to use His power for our comfort, security, and advancement. We need to careful to let God be God and not expect Him to be our personal “Genie in the bottle” performing miracles on demand. Nobody stands above for His is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and His purposes are beyond understanding. Even though the people in this story wanted Jesus to become their civil King, instead Jesus ministered to them to meet their spiritual needs. One day Jesus will return to rule and reign on the earth and fulfil the expectations of a perfect ruler.
1. In the second reading we read God’s calling for us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called” (Ephesians 4:1). List some ways in which you may walk in a manner worthy of a heavenly calling. What are some specifics things to which God may be calling you to change in your life?
2. In the Gospel lesson Jesus called upon God’s miraculous power to perform a miracle to provide for people’s basic needs and at the same time to confirm Himself as the Messiah. It is evident from reading the synoptic Gospels that His disciples didn’t understand the miracle until Jesus explained it to them some time later after feeding a second large crowd. What ways have you missed understanding the miracles of God in your own life? List two or three ways in which God has recently provided for you that you may have taken for granted. Tell God your thankfulness for His provision and ask Him to point out to you ways in which He continues to do so.