SUNDAY GOSPEL REFLECTION FROM VATICAN RADIO
(English version exclusive to this website)
Translated and summarized from the homily by Fr Fabio Rosini
July 25th 2021. Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
GOSPEL John 6:1-15
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio
Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading . . .
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GOSPEL John 6:1-15
Jesus went off to the other side of the Sea of Galilee or of Tiberias and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick. Jesus climbed the hillside, and sat down there with his disciples. It was shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover.
Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, ‘Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?’ He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, ‘There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to all who were sitting ready; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted. When they had eaten enough he said to the disciples, ‘Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted.’ So they picked them up, and filled twelve hampers with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves. The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, ‘This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, who could see they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself.
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ
SHORTER HOMILY . . . In the first reading, the servant of Elijah asks how they can expect to feed such a large group of people with just twenty loaves. Something similar happens in the Gospel. It is interesting that the multiplication happens at the time of Passover, the very time when God brings wondrous goods from a desperate situation. The people are satisfied by the food Jesus provides, but it is the disciples alone who are in a position to appreciate the significance of what has happened. Firstly, Jesus presents them with the challenge of how to find food for such a crowd. When the Lord puts us to the test, it is always for the reason of prompting us to grow. Andrew replies that a boy has five loaves and two fish, but how can that suffice? Now Jesus begins to operate, asking the disciples to get the crowd to sit down. This sitting down on the grass recalls the psalm which describes the Lord as a providential shepherd who makes us lie down to rest in green pastures. The miracle that follows shows us that there are two ways we can live life: according to our own capacities and our own calculations (“What is such little food among so many?”); or according to the providence of God. Another essential point is that the Lord feeds thousands of people, but only does so using the little that the disciples offered him. The act of placing our meagre offering in the hands of God is something that occurs in every celebration of the Eucharist. The Lord operates upon the bread and wine that we offer him. This is the secret of a fundamental synergy where the power comes from God but he still requires that we provide something that is ours. The works of God usually involve our contribution, even if what we provide is relatively miniscule. This is our great dignity. Christ fed this multitude, but it is also true that the disciples fed them. Let us open ourselves to the works of God which pass by way of our things. The will of God is not extraneous to our lives and our impoverished things. To experience Easter is not to search for something that is alien to us. It is our bread that the Lord multiplies! Our choice is either to give these loves to the Lord or to hold them back. For so long as we continue to live lives calculating on our own capacities, we will live a mediocre existence, but if we entrust our little offering to God, then we will experience the extraordinary.
LONGER HOMILY . . . The multiplication of the loaves and fishes occurs at the time of Passover and just after Jesus crosses the sea. These references to the great events in Jewish history are no coincidence. The multiplication of the loaves is an event of similar significance. Jesus enters into a dialogue with the disciples regarding what they should do about feeding such a large crowd. He knows what he intends to do, but he wants the disciples to come to the realisation that they are up against the wall of human limitations. Too often, when we find ourselves in difficult situations, we throw up our hands and say “There is nothing that I can do here”. This is a mediocre response. The Church is not the place of mediocre responses because we do not merely talk about what is possible. Instead we speak about what is impossible, what is extraordinary. Our sacramental life involves the eruption of God into our existence. If the church confined itself solely to what is possible, then it would not speak of the resurrection. It would confine itself (as unfortunately sometimes it does) to speak of a set of ethical principles. Instead, in the context of the Eucharistic celebration where the bread becomes Christ, we point to a reality that goes beyond what we can accomplish with our good intentions. If our marriages, our priestly vocations, our ecclesial lives are measured solely in terms of our own capacities, then these efforts are sure to fail because they do not leave space for the power of God. The Gospel recounts how a boy gives the little he has, an amount that is clearly insufficient, but he places it into the hands of Christ. When we try to keep things in our own hands they remain mediocre! We need someone who will offer to the Father the five loaves and two fishes. We need to cease being the manager of things and instead become the deliverer of things into the hands of the Lord. If we let go of the steering wheel and hand over to God all that we are, then we will see the meaning of true abundance! If things are as small as we are, then they will indeed be disappointing, but if we consign them into the hands of God, then the sea opens before us, and we experience Easter.
The multiplication of loaves occurs at the time of Passover and just after Jesus crosses the se. This evokes the most important event in Jewish history, the exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea.
The first reading presents the account of the multiplication of barley loaves by the prophet Elisha. The prophet’s servant has only twenty loaves to be distributed among one hundred men, but the Lord is able to produce great abundance from this small offering. The reading is a perfect key for approaching this Sunday’s Gospel – the multiplication of the loaves and fishes in Chapter 6 of St John’s account. This description of events has much in common with the accounts presented by the other Gospels, but there are two peculiarities of St John’s version. Firstly, John tells us that it is around the time of the Passover and that they go to the other side of the sea. Passover and the crossing of the sea are highly significant references that should not be ignored. The event of the multiplication of the loaves is placed in this very special context. The Passover (with the memory of the subsequent of the Red Sea) is the feast of feasts for the Jews.
Jesu wants to disciples to see that they are confronted by a problem that cannot be solved by human means
Secondly, John’s description of the multiplication of the loaves has a different approach to that of the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptics, the disciples are the ones who present the problematic situation to Jesus. “Let’s disperse this crowd. They are hungry. We have nothing to give them.” In John’s version, however, it is Jesus who takes the initiative. Before anything happens, he himself knows exactly what he is going to do. He enters into a dialogue with the disciples with the intention of teaching them. Firstly, he asks Philip where they are going to find bread for all of these people. Philip is a Greek name, and, as such, represents the world of human intellect and the capacity of reason to resolve problematic situations. Philip, true to his name, measures the situation rationally and declares that two hundred denarii would not be sufficient to buy bread for everyone. Andrew points out that a boy in the crowd had five barley loaves and two fishes, but then - with a collapse of enthusiasm – remarks that this is of no use for such a great crowd of people. This is exactly the same phrased used by the servant of Elisha in the first reading and it is exactly hear that Jesus wants to bring the disciples: to measure themselves against that which is greater than them, that wall which marks our limits, that point which sometimes we even seek to arrive at.
When we are in a difficult situation, we can throw up our hands and say that there is nothing to be done, or we can believe in the power of God to work marvels in our lives
Often, when we arrive at this limit, we feel that our problems are no longer our responsibility. When things get to this stage, we say, “In any case I am unable to solve this problem. There is nothing I can do here”. Phrases like these are the mark of a mediocre response, the mark of one who wishes to abdicate responsibility for the situation confronting him. Sure, such responses are natural given the situation, but when we are talking about the Lord Jesus, are we talking merely about what is possible or are we talking about what is extraordinary? Is our attitude as Christians content to limit itself to what is possible? Do we not celebrate in the sacraments the eruption of God among us? Our departure point is our identity as children of God and our call to enter into a life that has been transformed by the incarnation of God made man. We are the people of the extraordinary, the people of the impossible, the people of the glory of God that erupts into human life! The events of this Gospel occur at Passover time, the time when God manifests himself. If the church confined itself solely to what is possible, then it would not speak of the resurrection. It could confine itself (as unfortunately sometimes it does) to speak of a set of ethical principles. Instead, in the context of the Eucharistic celebration where the bread becomes Christ, we point to a reality that goes beyond what we can accomplish with our good intentions. We point to those things which, by the grace of God, manifest the divine to the world. If our marriages, our priestly vocations, our ecclesial lives are measured solely in terms of our own capacities, then these efforts are sure to fail because they do not leave space for the power of God.
If we hand what little we have and are over to the Lord, then we will see how he can bring about abundance
The Gospel recounts how a boy gives the little he has, an amount that is clearly insufficient, but he places it into the hands of Christ. Often we are in the community of the Church, in marriages, in the religious life, in pastoral work with the youth, and we find that things fail or come up short because we are trying to control things with our own hands. It is for that very reason that things are mediocre! We need someone who will offer to the Father the five loaves and two fishes. We need to empty our pockets into the hands of Christ. We need to cease being the manager of things and instead become the deliverer of things into the hands of the Lord. We must entrust, abandon things into the hands of the Father so that Christ will become the director of how things proceed. If we let go of the steering wheel and hand over to God all that we are, then we will see the meaning of true abundance! If things are as small as we are, then they will indeed be disappointing, but if we consign them into the hands of God, then surprises and solutions appear. The sea opens before us, we experience Easter, we see life being snatched out of the hands of death, we see what is little become great, sparsity becoming abundance.