July 25, 2021
Revised Common Lectionary
2 Samuel 11:1-15 or 2 Kings 4:42-44
Psalm 14 or Psalm 145:10-18
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
2 Kings 4:42-44
Psalm 145:10-11, 15-16, 17-18 (see 16)
When my husband and I are planning a party, we usually have a lengthy discussion about how much food to prepare. As the American son of Filipino immigrants, he proudly embraces a cultural value learned in his family: A good host not only provides a sufficient quantity for guests to eat at the party, but also prepares enough for them to take home and enjoy the next day. Celebration always calls for an overabundance of food.
The Lectionary today serves up two biblical stories dealing with food, abundance, and generosity. In the reading from 2 Kings, the prophet Elisha, upon receiving a gift of first fruits from an unnamed donor, instructs his servant to give it to the people to eat. The servant questions how such a relatively small amount could possibly feed one hundred people, but the prophet pronounces God’s word: “They shall eat and have some left” (2 Kgs 4:42). When God is the host, there’s way more than is needed.
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus and his disciples are facing a much larger number of people with even fewer resources—five loaves and two fish for a crowd of five thousand. In some other versions of this story, it is the disciples who are anxious about the hunger of the people and suggest sending them away. In John’s account, however, it is Jesus himself who raises the question about providing bread for them to eat as he sees the crowd approaching. While the disciples appear to throw up their hands, Jesus takes the food that is available—the loaves and the fish—and gives thanks. Without enlisting the assistance of the disciples, he himself distributes the food among the people.
Only after everyone has eaten does he invite the disciples to take part by gathering up the leftovers. In light of their initial skepticism, one can only imagine how amazed they must have been to fill twelve baskets with the remnants.
Jesus once again manifests a heart that is attentive to human need, a vision that sees beyond apparent scarcity, and a trust that is expressed in thanksgiving. He engages in a eucharistic action—taking the gifts that God has provided and giving thanks for God’s generosity, breaking the bread to share among the people, and distributing it so all may be filled. He welcomes everyone to eat with no preconditions and demonstrates God’s compassion that overflows in abundance.
As we look around the world today, we know that the human family has an abundance of resources that could easily feed everyone living on our planet. Yet food scarcity in poor countries has in recent years become worse rather than better. The World Bank estimates that “the number of undernourished (including those with chronic and acute hunger) increased from 624 million people in 2014 to 688 million in 2019,” and that the situation has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What would the world be like if our hearts were moved by the desperate need of our siblings, if rich communities and nations could share their abundance? Jesus commanded his disciples to gather up the fragments “so that nothing would be lost.” There are always more to be fed, yet God has provided more than enough for all. Our resources are not too meager to deal with hunger in the world.
A Hymn for Today: “They Came, a Milling Crowd”
The feeding of the multitude is the only miracle story to occur in all four of the canonical Gospels, with two separate instances recorded in Matthew and Mark. Herman Stuempfle, Jr., draws on these different narratives in this hymn that connects them to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, in which Christ the Shepherd feeds the flock with the Word, the bread and the cup, and indeed with himself.
They came, a milling crowd,
And gathered round the Lord,
He loved them with a shepherd’s heart
And fed them with his Word.
And then, when evening came,
They hungered and were fed
From offered loaves he blessed and broke
And made their living bread.
How great the mystery!
The loaves were multiplied,
And still we feed upon the crumbs
And still are satisfied!
Come, friends, and share the feast;
Here drink the wine supplied
By him who is both guest and host;
For us, the crucified.
All praise to you, O Christ,
By whom we now are fed.
Our Host, again you share with us
Yourself, the living bread.
Text: Herman G. Stuempfle, Jr., 1923-2007, © GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857
Tune: FRANCONIA (König), ST. THOMAS (Williams)
Image: Feeding the multitude. Armenian manuscript. Daniel of Uranc gospel, 1433.
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.
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