In this Year B we are reading Mark’s Gospel. Year A is Matthew, Year C is Luke; John, more festal and less parallel to the others, gets read throughout all of them. But since Mark is short and John 6 is important, we read John 6 during Mark’s year. Last Sunday, Jesus went to a deserted place. The next reading in Mark would be the loaves and fishes – but the Lectionary switches over to John 6, which begins with John’s account of the loaves and fishes. We don’t read all of John 6, but we get most of it; we skip, for example, Jesus walking on the water, on the way from the loaves and the fishes to Capernaum, where he will give the Bread of Life discourse.
Meanwhile, we have been reading Ephesians. The Sunday Lectionary runs more or less continuously through the Gospels, and picks Old Testament readings to match. But the Second Reading, the Epistle, goes on its own cycle; for two weeks we have been reading Ephesians, and we will continue for the next five weeks, as we finish John 6. Since Ephesians is about the divine unity of the Church, it’s not a bad match. We don’t read all of Ephesians on ordinary Sundays, but we get about one third of the verses.
We know the Gospel reading well enough. “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 5,000, five barley loaves, two fish, twelve baskets.
The most important lines in our liturgical context may be the conclusion. “Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king.” The Bread of Life discourse that we will begin next week touches often the problem of consumerist religion. Jesus will begin, “You seek me because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” He will respond, “Work not for the food that perishes, but for the food that abides unto eternal life.”
The Old Testament reading, from Second Kings, amplifies the Gospel. “A man came bringing food from the first fruits to Elisha, the man of God: twenty loaves of barley.” His servant asks, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” But “the servant set it before them, they ate, and had some left.”
This reading brings our Gospel reading into focus. It’s the same barley loaves. But with Elisha it’s 20, with Jesus it’s 5. And Elisha miraculously feeds 100, Jesus feeds 5,000.
The numbers in the Elisha story are small enough to think about. 20 loaves for a 100 people . . . that does seem thin – especially when you realize the thickest loaves they made were just one inch. So here we have a story of how God provides: “for thus says the Lord,” says the prophet, “They shall eat and have some left.” God takes a little and makes it enough.
But Jesus takes the same story, the same principle, and makes it ridiculous. We are beyond mere provision. We are into the divine. Mere provision might still let us think of God as a mere provider. This kind of miracle makes us think about him as God.
The reading from Ephesians helps us apply this to our lives.
“I, the prisoner in the Lord,” says Paul, “beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” The insertion, “prisoner of the Lord,” puts a point on it. We are not called to comfort, but to radical discipleship.
As throughout Ephesians, the emphasis is on unity: “one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” “One body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” Notice there is a repetition here, a formula, something drilled into them. Notice too that all of this unity is divine – we are only one body because of the divine Spirit, divine hope, and faith, and baptism.
We are called “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” Now, there are human elements here. Humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance: those are things we can put effort into.
But our effort is a participation in something divine. Our contribution is not just twenty loaves multiplied to a hundred, but five multiplied to five thousand. We are called to try, to pitch in – but we are called, more, to let Jesus build up the unity of the Church – and of our family, and neighborhood, and parish – with all his divine miraculousness. That is the calling to which we are called: to let Jesus work miracles of love in us.
Where are you being called to let Jesus multiply your love?