A reading from the Second Book of Kings
Hunger and poverty were rampant in the ancient world. Very few people were well fed, and in times of drought many starved. This is the society that we hear about in today’s reading from the second Book of Kings. Elisha was a great prophet, the successor to another great prophet, Elijah. One of the signs of a great prophet sent from God was the power to feed hungry people. Elisha had that power and so did Jesus; however, it was not that they would feed all the people all the time. That was the responsibility for the whole society, starting with the leaders. It still is today.
“The hand of the Lord feeds us, he answers all our needs.” We do not think of God as the one who feeds us. We buy our own food, and in emergencies others help us. But there is a fine line for most of us in continuing our self-reliance. More than half of all workers in America make less than $30,000 a year, and an unexpected illness or job loss brought on by an event such as the COVID pandemic can drop formerly self-reliant people—even those making much more than $30,000—into hunger and poverty. When we buy our food and eat it we need to remember that God gives us the strength to feed our families and also to help feed those in need.
A reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians
Paul writes about “the call you have received” and adds that “you were also called in the one hope of your call.” Have you ever thought of yourself as called? Over the years people have used the word in a very narrow sense as in “he has a calling to the priesthood” or “she has a calling to religious life.” The term “calling” referred to those chosen few.
Here the word “call” refers to the whole community. You and I have each been called. Just as we all have different gifts but the same Spirit, so too we all have different callings in the same Spirit. What is your calling to serve as part of the Christian community? Is it within the community or outside in the everyday world or both? Sometimes you and I can become passive to the call or deaf to it. We may not think of ourselves as worthy or we may feel overwhelmed with the challenges of everyday living. “Please God, don’t add another burden to my already busy life.” But suppose your calling does not mean additional tasks or obligations. Suppose it simply means approaching your life and the people in your life with a different spirit, the Spirit of God that lives within you. Suppose you allow yourself to be led by that Spirit and share the love of the Spirit with all around you. Suppose that is your real calling, nothing dramatic but something that leads you deeper into your Spirit so you can share the joy of the Spirit.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John
This story of Jesus feeding a multitude is the only miracle story that appears in all four gospels. Why is it so important? It certainly establishes Jesus as a great prophet in a tradition that goes back to Elisha, but it does much more. All the gospel writers connect it to the Eucharist in which people are fed not only in body but in spirit.
When we are baptized, we are given the Spirit of God, but that Spirit needs to be nourished or we may lose touch with it. That is one of the main reasons why we come to celebrate the Eucharist each week, to strengthen us in the face of our own challenges and heartaches. Let us think of that as we approach the Eucharist. We are being nourished. We are being fed with the Bread of Life to lift our spirits as the Spirit within us is renewed. That is why we want our children and family to join us and why it is so painful to us when they turn away or have been turned away. Part of our vocation is to call them back, not just to fulfill an obligation but to renew their relationship with the Spirit of God that dwells in each of us.
Painting: "Feeding the Multitudes," Bernardo Strozzi, 1581-1644.
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 Ayers was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.