Deacon Cornell's Homilies


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


July 25-26, 2009 Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

The next 5 Sundays take a break from Mark's Gospel and switch to Chapter 6 of John's, the so-called Bread of Life Discourse that follows today's Feeding of the 5,000 story. 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 it is one of the few that have some support in writings outside Church documents. And I have no doubt that it is often used to demonstrate that Jesus was divine. But like the crowds in the story 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. As I mentioned a few weeks back, reflecting on miracle stories takes a lot more hard work and understanding than most Gospel passages. Why did the evangelists include this story and what does it mean to us, here in Stow in 2009?

What does this story really say about Jesus and about the Eucharist and maybe most importantly, about us? 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 shortly after the time of Jesus, it was not uncommon to hear stories of 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.

One way to understand it is to look at the context in John's Gospel. John's community had a tendency to gnosticism. Gnostics saw the world as a duality of good/evil and they associated the body and the earth and things like hunger and sickness with evil while the mind and spirit were associated with good. John keeps reminding them that Jesus was truly human and he paid attention to those bodily needs every bit as much as the spiritual ones. So this story reminds us that our faith calls us to care for one another not just spiritually but in those basic human needs like food and shelter and clothing. Of course the Church has a long history throughout the world, and certainly in the Boston area of providing care for the sick and dying, clothing and food and shelter for those in need.

So we can think of this story as being about God feeding the hungry. But how does Jesus feed those he sees standing before him hungry? In the version we would have heard in Mark's Gospel, when the disciples come and tell him the people are hungry, he tells the disciples that they themselves should provide food for the crowd. In this version, we hear that Jesus did not just make food appear out of nowhere. 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 a poor country boy? 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. We need to hear that even St. Isidore, small as it is, and struggling as we are to pay the parish bills, can make a difference in people's lives. It is a shame that we don't have anyone willing to lead the garden effort. Over the last 6 or years that little plot of land fed a whole bunch of people in need with fresh produce. And now when even more people need the help, it lies fallow, feeding no one.

I would just like to end with a story that many of you have heard, that tells the same kind of story as the feeding of the 5,000 but in a way that focuses on our ability, and responsibility to care for one another.

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 in a very long time, 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