The 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 25, 2021
Lectionary Readings: 2 Kgs. 4:42-44; Ps. 145:10-11.15-18; Eph. 4:1-6; John 6:1-15
Theme: Sign of Jesus’ glory

The feeding of the 5,000 is in today’s language a huge headline story that is told in all four gospels.  Only John calls it a sign (semeion), which as used in the Gospel, refers to a work that shows the glory of Jesus that would make people believe that Jesus is the Christ.

John’s narrative as shown in a table of parallels of the four gospels by Vargas (2013) also differs in context, place, characters, the formula of blessings, and results. All these gradually help to reveal who Jesus is. 

While the Synoptics (the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke) place the feeding miracle after the return of the apostles from their mission, John states that it happened at the time of the Passover, the feast that coincided with the feast of the Unleavened Bread. The echo of the Passover recalls the people’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery while that of the Unleavened Bread brings to mind the time of the first harvest in the promised land. Both are feasts of remembrance and anticipation.

John also says that the miracle happened on a mountain which is the traditional place for communion with God. It brings us to the place of the revelation on Mt. Sinai. The questioning of Philip by Jesus recalls the testing in the desert (Exodus 16:4) and Philip’s answer which is similar to what Moses said (Num 11:22) also brings us back to the days in the wilderness and the giving of the manna.

As in the Synoptics, John has the Eucharistic language like “took” and “give thanks”.  He alone tells us that Jesus himself distributed the bread and instructed the disciples to gather up the fragments. In the Exodus gathering, Moses commanded the manna not to be stored and the manna hidden away became foul (Exodus 16:19-20).  The gathering of fragments ordered by Jesus speaks of abundance and of Jesus himself as the giver of bread for future use which has been interpreted to refer to the future members of the gathered community.  The Synoptics tell us that the people all ate and were satisfied, but John tells us more: “the people saw the sign” but they misread it, so Jesus left them and went to the mountains. The significance of the sign is revealed in the Bread of Life Discourse that follows (John 6:22-31) when Jesus declares himself to be the living bread and food for all.

A miracle from this story is that there are so many lessons to learn.  Both the first reading and the Gospel tell us that nothing is impossible with God and that though we may have our means to earn a living and provide for ourselves, it is God who provides for us and that his abundance knows no bounds. We may also have received our share of miracles and may not understand what they mean.  Moreover, in the face of problems, we may doubt our ability to solve them but the examples of the unnamed man in the story of Elisha and the lad who shared the five loaves of barley and the two fish tell us that any one of us, young or old, can give to trigger a big miracle.  This is good to remember in this time of the pandemic when so many are hungry and without jobs and problems seem endless and insurmountable. While we look forward to the banquet prepared for us by Jesus in the Kingdom of God, we may start or continue to share our barley bread and fish now.

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. What are your five loaves of barley and two fish? Who would you want to share them with and why?  2. After reading the Gospel, who is Jesus in your life today?

Bibliography:: Etz Hayim, Torah and Commentary (New York, 2001); Maloney, Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of  John  (Minnesota,  1998); Vargas,  Word and Witness: An Introduction to the Gospel of John (Manila:2013).

This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Minerva Generalao, Philippines, Bat Kol Alumna July 2014


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