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Hear the Word by Bill Ayres: Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


A reading from the Second Book of Kings
(Chapter 4:42-44)
 
This reading, in which a hundred people are fed with 20 barley loaves, obviously is here because of its connection to today’s gospel passage which describes Jesus feeding thousands of people. In the Old Testament episode, a man brings the prophet Elisha twenty barley loaves in the midst of a famine. The man can’t believe it when Elisha tells him to give the bread to the people. Elisha insists, “Give it to the people to eat. For thus says the Lord. ‘They shall eat and there shall be some left over.’ ” Remember how God fed the Israelites in the dessert with manna from heaven and the many times God fed people who were in need. The message is clear: God takes care of his people.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 145:10-11,15-16-17-18)
 
“The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” Do you believe that? There are times in our lives when we may doubt that God is present, taking care of all our needs. But think about times when times when you thought yourself in dire need but, somehow, made it through. Do you think God was present then? It may just be that God sees more than we can possibly see and knows what we really need in the long run.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians
(Chapter 4:1-6)
 
Paul and the other apostles had a major problem integrating gentile converts into a religious tradition that included Jews who had been told for centuries that they were God’s chosen people. That was their identity, their heritage, their gift from God. Imagine how difficult it was for them to abandon many of their practices and find common ground with folks who had been pagans. Paul, “a prisoner for the Lord,” knows he does not have long to live, and he wants to “urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and patience, bearing with one another through love striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
 
That is it. That is his message and the message of Jesus and the message for us today. As different as we may be from one another, as many different views as we may have about all sorts of issues and events, we must “preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” We have significant divisions within our Church throughout the world, throughout our country, and right here in our own community but they are not as strong as what binds us together, “one God and Father of all.” Somehow, our Father is there for us—all of us—in the most joyful of times and the most challenging of times.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 6:1-15)
 
Jesus was aware of images, in the history of his people, of God feeding the people in time of need. We saw an example in the first reading today. In the incident described in this gospel passage, Jesus continues that pattern. He shows divine power disguised in the simple act of a boy being willing to share his meal. Notice that he has the people recline. That means that this is no quick meal but rather a banquet at which people take their time, celebrate in the Jewish tradition, and gather up what is left over, a Jewish banquet tradition. There are six variations of this story in the gospels, so obviously the early Church thought this was a big deal—not just feeding people but inviting them to a feast. It was a sign that the Kingdom of God had actually come in the person of Jesus.
 
You and I come to the feast of the Eucharist each week, but because we do it so often it can seem rote, a variation of something we have heard and seen before. But the Eucharist is really always new, because Jesus is inviting us to a feast, a celebration of the Kingdom of God in our midst, the presence of our Brother and Savior right here in our community. That is why we call it the celebration of the Eucharist not just “going to Mass.”
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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