Gospel Lectio Divina for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 25, 2021
Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat. When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.
A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs
We’re not supposed to expect signs from God to sustain our faith. So why did Jesus give the people in the Gospels signs? He even said, “Only a wicked and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah” (Matthew 16:4). Clearly he gave signs that he was the Messiah, though. And clearly these signs made people want to follow him. But they followed him for superficial reasons. They followed him because they simply wanted something from him, like the healing of a sickness. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, Jesus granted the request of many sick people who came to him. But it was because they also had a deeper faith in him, a faith not only that he could heal their sickness but that he could also heal their souls and lead them to eternal life.
“Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.”
Philip conveys with his answer to Jesus that he is thinking as man thinks and not as God does. His response lacks faith. He is thinking of how he and the disciples could possibly fulfill Jesus’ request. He’s not thinking of how God can feed the 5,000 men, not to mention women and children as well. How do I react to daunting, overwhelming situations like this? When I have a long list of tasks for the day or a big project before me, do I say, “How in the world am I going to get all of this done?” I should say, “Lord, I have faith in you. Multiply my energy, my resolve, and anything else I need to do what I need to do.”
“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?”
Philip’s answer lacked faith, but Andrew’s shows at least a little faith when he speaks of the boy who does have some food. You could say Andrew has faith as small as a mustard seed, and that is enough, for “if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from hence to yonder place,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you” (Matthew 17:20). Jesus doesn’t just speak pithy sayings. He backs them up with his actions because his words are truth. Jesus is demonstrating the power of faith, but he needed at least a little from the disciples to demonstrate it. This hearkens back to his visit to Nazareth when he could only perform small healings because of the people’s lack of faith. There is a mystical relationship between God and our faith, or lack thereof. One thing is for certain though: the more faith we have the more we will witness the wonders of God’s handiwork.
Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them
The connection to the Eucharist and the Mass here is clear. However, the feeding of the 5,000 and Communion are connected to more than just each other. They are glimpses into the mystery of the economy of heaven. Jesus is showing us how heaven pays a very high rate of compound interest on even the littlest acts of faith. Give God a chance, and he will prove your trust in him to be worthwhile. Sometimes the dividends are not realized for a long time. Sometimes we may even have to wait until heaven to see them. But store up treasures in heaven and your returns will be a hundredfold, and will last for eternity. That’s Christ’s promise. Going up to Communion may just seem like a simple act of piety to some, or even just an obsolete ritual. But every time we walk up to receive Christ in faith, he notices. When we acknowledge him as Lord, he acknowledges us before the Father. That loving relationship is worth more than anything in the world.
They … filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.
You may have heard it said that Jesus didn’t really miraculously multiply the loaves, and that the crowd just somehow became full from the original five loaves and two fish. Perhaps their appetites were just satiated by their elation in being with Jesus. We’ve all had that kind of excitement before, where we are so ecstatic about what we are experiencing at the moment that we forget our appetite, and a few peanuts seem to satisfy us just fine. Is that what the Gospel is talking about here? Well, no. And we know it’s not because the Gospel says the leftovers were enough to fill twelve wicker baskets. Unless the five loaves were gigantic to begin with, or the baskets were extremely tiny, it makes no sense for the leftovers to fill twelve baskets unless the original amount of food was actually multiplied. How can this be so, though? How did Jesus do this? We can start by admitting that he is God and can do anything. But perhaps a small example that we are all familiar with can help demonstrate the economy of heaven. When there is a disaster like a tornado, for instance, at first the community the tornado hits is devastated physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, you name it. Then a few people decide they are not going to give in to despair. Or a small group from a neighboring town decides they’re not just going to look the other way. They decide to do something about it. They start to rebuild. People from out of town start to donate and pitch in. Slowly the charity of other people multiplies. What began as small acts of faith and charity from a few people became a movement to rebuild the town. What Jesus did here is much more miraculous than that example, but if we mere humans can multiply our own faith and charity, think of how much more God can do.
“This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world”. Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.
I just love this description of Jesus. He is not just a prophet. He is the Prophet that all the others prophesied about, the one God promised, the promised Messiah. Jesus eludes the designation of “the prophet” because the timing is not right, but I cannot help but think of some other popular stories here. I’m reminded of Bruce Wayne’s Batman, Peter Parker’s Spider-Man, Clark Kent’s Superman, and many other superheroes who hide their identity. It’s as if every superhero took their cue from Jesus, hiding the fact that they’re superheroes until they could hide it no longer, and even then only revealing it to those they trusted. Sometimes we get it backward and think, “Oh, he’s like Superman, hiding his identity,” but Jesus lived at least nineteen centuries before all of these superheroes. Perhaps this can help us notice that all superhero stories have some element of the one true superhero story that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, you are God of the universe. Thank you for your abundant providence. We praise you for making something amazing out of our tiny bits of faith. You truly are an awesome God, and I wouldn’t want to worship anything or anyone else. Help us to choose you over doubt and sin. Help us to see that you are always the better choice; not just the wiser choice, but also the more provident choice, the more hopeful choice, the choice that in the end is filled with the greatest joy we could possibly have. If I had one wish, all I would ask is to become everything you made me to be. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Jesus is waiting for us to reach out to him in faith. The stores of graces that await us are like the loaves he multiplied. Sometimes we try so hard to do God’s will that we forget to let God do his part. Now that you have reflected on God’s word, have given him thanks, and have asked him to answer, let go and let him answer.
David Kilby is a freelancer writer from New Jersey and managing editor of Catholic World Report.