Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Sixteenth Sunday: 2015 updated

mbrose: The good Lord indeed whilst He requires diligence, gives strength; nor will He dismiss them fasting, “lest they faint by the way,” that is, either in the course of this life, or before they have reached the fountainhead of life, that is, the Father, and have learnt that Christ is of the Father, lest haply, after receiving that He is born of a virgin, they begin to esteem His virtue not that of God, but of a man. Therefore the Lord Jesus divides the food, and His will indeed is to give to all, to deny none; He is the Dispenser of all things, but if thou refusest to stretch forth thy hand to receive the food, thou wilt faint by the way; nor canst thou find fault with Him, who pities and divides. Bede: For our Lord’s breaking the bread means the opening of mysteries; His giving of thanks shews how great a joy He feels in the salvation of the human race; His giving the loaves to His disciples that they might set them before the people, signifies that He assigns the spiritual gifts of knowledge to the Apostles, and that it was His will that by their ministry the food of life should be distributed to the Church. –Catena Aurea

He is our peace; in his flesh he has has broken down the dividing wall of hostility

Apart from the Resurrection the feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle of Jesus recorded in all four gospels. I seriously doubt that it was the menu  which made the meal especially memorable. It was a decisive moment in which Jesus revealed that he was the King that the people were longing for. In St. John’s Gospel this point is made explicitly: “When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!" Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself”. Because it is also true that this miracle reveals that Jesus was not the King they were looking for.

The Gospels of St. Mark and St. Matthew make this point in a different way: they record two different feedings of the multitude: the five thousand and a subsequent one of four thousand.  The feeding of the five thousand took place in a Jewish region near Bethsaida close to the Red Sea; the feeding of the four thousand happened in a Gentile region around the Decapolis.

The Venerable Bede says that ‘our Lord’s breaking of the bread means the opening of mysteries’. Modern folk may think that the ancient practice of associating numbers with spiritual truth is ridiculous. My own view is that the real superstition is the modern idea that polls and statistics convey important and reliable truths. In any case you will never understand the Bible unless you take numbers seriously because the folks who wrote the Bible certainly did.  

In the miracle of the 5000 Jesus takes five loves and feeds five thousand, which is reminiscent of the five books of the Jewish Law. Not only that, but when everyone had finished eating, twelve baskets of left-overs were collected, alluding to the twelve tribes of Israel.

In this second miracle, the feeding of the 4000, seven loaves are used and seven baskets are collected. The number seven is symbolic of completeness (i.e. not just Jews but Gentiles too) and the number seven is evocative of the seven days of creation when God created all humanity.

The work of Christ the King is greater than the 5000 imagine, not just a King for them but a King for the 4000 as well, the Savior of all men The folks who first heard and experienced Jesus consistently underestimate him. So do we. But Jesus knows. That is why he wishes for a moments rest: he said to the apostles, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.” But the crowd with their own dreams and hopes pursues him and make such claims on him that he does ‘not even have time to eat’.

Ultimately he will have to offer himself as food for these hungry people. He is here not to rest but to be worn out in love, to suffer and die for love of men.

It is in the second reading that we see the extent and the cost of the work undertaken by this King. By giving his life through death in order to unite the people who have been separated into two parts.

‘Now’ St.  Paul says to the Gentiles at Ephesus, ‘in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ’. This is indeed the explicit plan and task of his life, the secret of the feeding the multitudes. ‘For he is our peace, who has made us both one’. It is his torn body itself which is the source of unity for all. ‘in his flesh he has made both into one and has broken down the dividing wall.’ In the Cross and Eucharist he has made himself into the powerless yet all powerful reconciler of all human conflict.

The traditional liturgy of the Church bears this out: the peace was not exchanged before the Offertory, as we do it, but after the Our Father, when the priest broke the Host and said ‘the peace of the Lord be with you.’ Have no fear I will leave it to your next parish priest to move it to the right place.

Why do we come to Mass? There is no better answer that I know of than the hymn by William Harry  Turton:

Thou, Who at Thy first Eucharist didst pray,
That all Thy Church might be forever one,
Oh, may we all one Bread, one Body be,
Through this blest Sacrament of Unity.

For all Thy Church, O Lord, we intercede;
Make Thou our sad divisions soon to cease;
Draw us the nearer each to each, we plead,
By drawing all to Thee, O Prince of Peace;

He is our peace; in his flesh he has broken down the dividing wall of hostility

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