17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

The New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.  This is what the Catechism teaches us about the relationship between the two Testaments of the Bible.  The First Reading and today’s Gospel illustrate this point for us very well.  Elisha, the Prophet, tells the man who brought him 20 loaves of bread to give it to the people to eat.  Despite the man’s objections, Elisha tells him that not only will it be enough, but there will be some left over and it happened, just as the Prophet predicted.

In the Gospel we hear about how Jesus did a similar thing: only He fed a lot more people with less bread and had more fragments leftover.  The Israelites of the day knew their Scriptures; they knew about the miracle that Elisha had performed.  Knowing something about the Old Testament can help us better appreciate what is happening in the New Testament.  The Old Testament sets the background for what is taking place in the New.  Many things that Jesus did or said came seem a little strange if we don’t know the historical context and the culture in which He lived: and the culture of that day was integrally connected to the Old Testament Scriptures.

The people of Jesus’ day were awaiting the coming of the Messiah and they knew that when He came He would perform great signs as Jesus had just done before their very eyes.  But the Israelites of Jesus’ day had a misunderstanding of the Messiah’s mission.

Israel had been conquered by the Roman Empire: they were under pagan rule and they didn’t much like it.  The Romans heavily taxed the Israelites, they had to follow Roman law and they were forbidden from carrying out some of their own laws, which had been given to them by God through Moses.  They knew from the Old Testament that God was going to send a Messiah; a Savior and they wanted the Messiah to come and free them from their Roman rulers.  They wanted a political Messiah.

The Israelites were awaiting the promised Messiah, the one that the Old Testament said would be a Prophet greater than Moses, and when they saw Jesus miraculously feed so many (as God had done through Moses in the wilderness), they wanted to take Jesus and proclaim Him king: essentially, they wanted to start a revolution against Rome.  Jesus knew what they wanted to do and He withdrew to a mountain.

Over the course of the next three weeks, we will continue to hear about what happens next in the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel.  The sixth chapter of Saint John is often referred to as the “Bread of Life” discourse.  Next week we will hear about how the crowds again catch up with Jesus and He tells them that they don’t understand what He has just done in the multiplication of the loaves.  Jesus tells the crowd that they are seeking Him because He gave them something to eat; but He wants to give them something even greater than a meal: He wants to give them Himself.  Jesus says that He Himself is the Bread of Life, and whoever eats that Bread will live forever.  He did not come to overthrow the Roman Empire: He came to conquer hearts.  He loves each and every one of us so much, that He was willing to become a man and sacrifice Himself for us: to save us from sin and to show us how much God loves us.

Basically, the Old Testament Prophet, Elisha, that we heard about in the First Reading was a sign of the coming Messiah; Jesus fulfilled the sign by multiplying the loaves and feeding the crowd in the wilderness, but He goes on to tell the crowd that what He has just done is itself a sign: a sign that will be fulfilled at the Last Supper.

All that we have is a gift from the Lord.  Health, money, family, whatever it is, it is a gift from the Lord.  There isn’t anything that you have that you haven’t received.  But the Lord doesn’t stop there.  If our Faith were just about the good things we have in this world, it would be kinda nice . . . for a while.  But all the riches in the world PALE in comparison to what God wants to give to us.  Jesus said: “What good would it profit a man to gain the WHOLE WORLD and forfeit his soul?”  God created us to know Him and to love Him.  The Lord provides for our needs, and we should be grateful for all that we have, but He doesn’t stop by simply providing our earthly needs.  He wants us to be happy with Him forever in Heaven.  He made us for Himself: Jesus wants to communicate Himself completely to you.  And He does just that: He will unite Himself completely to you in Holy Communion.

At the Last Supper, Jesus took the bread and the wine and gave them to the Apostles and said:  “Take this: this is My body; this is My blood.”  So great was His desire to be united to the Apostles that He gave Himself to them as food.  He has the same desire to be united to us.  In order that He could continue to unite Himself to His followers in Holy Communion, He gave us the priesthood.  He told the Apostles to do what He had just done at the Last Supper in memory of Him.  The Apostles received the power to effect the Eucharist; and they handed on this power through the laying on of hands.  When a priest takes the bread and the wine and repeats the words of Jesus over them: they become for us the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.  In other words, Jesus becomes really and truly present upon the altar during the Consecration and He allows us to receive Him under the appearances of bread and wine.

The Father didn’t hold anything back from us.  He allowed His own Beloved Son to die upon the Cross so that we might be saved.  Jesus endured torture and death to save us.  How do we respond to Him?  We are asked to love the Lord with our whole heart, mind and strength.  He has done so much for us: He gives us so much.  He gives us Himself entirely.  What do we do to show our love to Him?

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