Deacon Cornell's Homilies


2 Kings 4:42-4
Ephesians 4:1-6
John 6:1-15


July 29-30, 2000 Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Is there anyone here who has never asked, “God, why don’t you just show us a few miracles like you did 2,000 years ago?”  Make the waters part; tear down the walls of Jericho. Then it will be so easy to believe in you.” This is not a new question. Even before the time of Jesus life on earth, the Psalmist cried out, “I remember all your great exploits. What bothers me is that you don’t do them any more.”  It is a fairly common human experience to think that the only way God can really prove he is God is by doing something that can’t be explained by the laws of nature.

Unfortunately, that common human experience only causes trouble, as it did in the Gospel story today. If all we see in this story is a supernatural multiplication of the loaves, we miss the wealth of truth the story contains about the Eucharist and who God really is.

There is no question that this story of the feeding of the 5,000 was an important story to the early Christian community. It is the only miracle story that is in all four Gospels. And I have no doubt that it is often used to demonstrate that Jesus was divine. But like the crowds that reacted by trying to make Jesus king, so he could use his magic power to defeat the Romans, we have to be careful not to come to the wrong conclusions about this story.

What does this story really say about Jesus and about the Eucharist? Is Jesus unleashing his divine power to convince the crowds he is God? Is our God simply a magician who astounds us with his ability to break the rules he established? How effective is a little miracle at convincing people one has divine power? If you remember the Exodus story, for the first 9 plagues that Moses unleashed to prove his God was powerful were pretty much matched by the court magicians. And history tells us that at the time of Jesus, it was not uncommon to run across miracle workers, people who went about curing the sick and doing many of the things that Jesus is reported doing.

Was Jesus revealing how God could just whip up some food to feed us if we get hungry? I hope not, because that raises all sorts of questions in my mind. Like, why stop with these 5,000? Surely there were other people in the world that day that were dying of starvation. If God, who is all-powerful and all loving, was in the habit of making food appear, how could he restrict his power to these few? Why doesn’t he do it today, with all the people who are starving today?  And why start with a poor boy’s lunch? Why not conjure up some roast beef and oysters Rockefeller?

No, I think this story reveals quite a different sort of God, and in the process, reveals a deeper, more astonishing truth.

We often think of this story as God feeding the hungry, and it is about that. But how does God do that? In the other three versions, when the disciples come and tell him the people are hungry, he tells them to feed them. In this version, we hear that he starts with a few barley loaves. Barley bread was the bread of the poor; the rich ate wheat bread. Doesn’t this tell us that God has already given us the means to feed all the hungry, even in the most meager lunch of the poor? People are starving in the world today, not because we can’t produce enough food, but because we let politics and wars and selfishness get in the way of distributing that food. 

If we focus only on the miraculous multiplication, we end up thinking that we have to wait around for God’s miracles to feed us, to nourish us, rather than seeing the Eucharist as something that reveals to us that we are the ones called to go feed the hungry, even if all we have is a few barley loaves.

There was a village where the people kept to themselves, filled with mistrust and fear. One day a well-dressed man walked into the village, knocked on one of the doors, and asked for some food. The woman of the house said she had nothing. “That’s quite alright”, he said, “I have a magic soup stone, and if you will just give me a pot of water, it will make the most delicious soup you have ever tasted.” Intrigued, the woman set up the pot, and then went to her neighbor’s and whispered about the magic soup stone. By the time the water started to boil, almost all the small village had gathered in the kitchen. The man pulled out a large dark smooth stone from his bag and dropped it into the pot. Then he tasted the water and said, “It just needs a few potatoes.” One of the neighbors ran and brought some potatoes, which the man cut up and added to the soup. Then he tasted it and said, “Some vegetables would really bring out the flavor”. Someone else ran and brought vegetables. And so he went, asking for some meat, some spices, some sauce, and finally some bowls and spoons. Soon, all the villagers sat around tasting their first common meal, and declaring how wonderful it tasted. No one noticed the man slipping away, leaving his magic soup stone to be used any time they wanted a wonderful meal.

homily index