17th Sunday in Ordinary time, Year B

John 6: 1 – 15

Let us pray

To read the gospel with an open mind is to see beyond all possibilities of doubt that You, Jesus, came to bring us, not only a new life, but also, a new physical power of acting upon our world.

Father, we thank you for the gift of your Holy Word.  May it be a lamp to our feet, a light to our paths, joy to our hearts and strength to our lives.

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Over the next five Sundays our Sunday Gospel readings will be taken from John 6.  We are encouraged to take the theme for each Sunday as a separate event.  On the Fifth Sunday the Gospel is about the Eucharist.  (Jn 6: 51-58)

Our reading today is all about the feeding of a large crowd of people.  This story is told six times in the gospels.  It must have been very important for the early Christian communities.  As we spend time reading, reflecting and praying this text let us try to discover what our ancestors found so important.

John sets the scene for one of Jesus’ must important teachings.  As you read these verses be aware that John is giving us very significant information.

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The setting

1Jesus went off to the other side of the Sea of Galilee – or of Tiberias2and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick.  3Jesus climbed the hillside, and sat down there with his disciples.  4It was shortly before the Jewish feast of the Passover.  5Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip,

Jesus goes to pray

14The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, “This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.”  15Jesus who could see that they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself.

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The mentioning of both the Gentile and Jewish names for the lake suggests that this message will be for all people, Jew and Gentile alike.  There were two groups of people present.  The first crowd followed him across the lake – they were Jewish.  The second crowd were local inhabitants – they were pagan.

Jesus climbed the “hillside”.  In scripture, to go up a hill or mountain means that we go into the Presence of God.  The sense of the sacred is further enhanced when we are told that Jesus “sat down”.  To-day, teachers generally stand when they teach.  In Jesus’ time a rabbi “sat down” when he was teaching.  Clearly we are being alerted to the fact that Jesus is about to deliver a very important teaching.

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Let us now take time to read  “The Feeding of the Crowd”  (verses 5b – 13)

Have you noticed that no sermon has been preached?  The story of the feeding must therefore be the sermon.  The message that Jesus wanted to convey is in the telling of the story.

Here we have two groups of people so fundamentally different that there was no possibility of them associating with each other. There was no way that they could sit down together as they ate their sandwiches.  Nobody would have thought to share!  The Jewish people would never have accepted food from pagans even if it had been offered, and yet this is what happened.  (Fr Albert Nolan op suggests this.)

Surely the healing of divisions and prejudices between people is a much greater miracle than feeding a crowd.  Each person present had to move from viewing the others as unclean, less than human, inferior and certainly not worthy of being part of God’s Kingdom here on earth.  The attitudes of the people that allowed them to oppress others were overcome, first by the little boy who was prepared to share his lunch.  This small act of generosity was taken up by Jesus and swept the whole world, “five thousand men”.

John was writing for his community and they were struggling with the question of allowing pagans to become part of the Christian Community.  This story must have left them in no doubt about the path they should take.  We too, label people as sinful, unworthy, excluded.  We have much to learn from this story.

I give you a new commandment: love one another.

As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  Jn13: 34

Do to others as you would have them do to you.   Mt 7: 12

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