July 26, 2015 — Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“For thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and there shall be some leftover’.” We might conclude from that passage from Holy Scripture that a reference is being made to Jesus’ miracle of feeding the multitude. However, that is taken directly from our First Reading today from the Second Book of Kings in the Old Testament, a precursor to Jesus’ miracle, which is reported in today’s Gospel reading from St. John.
Originally one book, the Book of Kings, now divided into two parts, is the history of Israel and Judah from King David right up to the defeat and exile at the hands of the Babylonians. Our First Reading recounts a similar happening to what we have heard in today’s Gospel: a large group of people are fed by what is apparently a small amount of food, in this case 20 loaves of bread made from barley. We need to note a couple points from the reading, however. Specifically, these loaves were “made from the first fruits.” This is noteworthy to our complete understanding of this passage. Stewardship calls us to give of and from our “first fruits.” That was a central concept to the people of the Old Testament — everything comes from God, and it is appropriate that the first results of all our labors should go back to God. This is also a fundamental part of our understanding of stewardship. Although not stated, there is an implication that by giving of the first fruits, a gift, these loaves for example, may have more power and force. God can take any gift and multiply it many times over.
If our First Reading from 2 Kings indicates to us the possible strength of good stewardship, our Second Reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians gives us vital traits of a good steward. Paul calls on us to live “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love.” We may know someone who lives that way, but we also understand how difficult that is to do. Yet those are exactly the attributes which we understand we are to strive for, all motivated and based upon love.
Imagine what was going on at the time of Jesus’ ministry. Just His healing presence might have been enough for a multitude to gather. Nevertheless, there was something about this Man that definitely attracted people. We may also have walked some distance, as they did, to see Him, hear Him, and experience His presence. This is the same multitude for whom the Lord had compassion in last week’s reading. He feeds them first spiritually. Then He feeds them literally.
Interestingly, Jesus knows what will happen, and He also does not need anyone’s help to accomplish this miracle, but He turns to His Apostles for help and advice. As is the case many times with us, they do not think in the Lord’s terms. They are concerned about the cost of feeding the crowd, and about the feasibility of feeding them. We may at times run into the same uncertainty when trying to accomplish the Lord’s work by being good stewards. We often think “Where will the funds come from?”, or “This will not work.” The point is that if we turn to the Lord and if we rely on the Lord “all things are possible.” God is the all-powerful Giver; we are His helpers. If we perceive things that way, and if we do everything in His name and with the recognition of His support, we cannot fail.
There are numerous stewardship messages in this Gospel, but we must remember that it all starts with one little boy’s willingness to share what he had. Jesus does the rest. This is not about a huge and generous gift; it has to do with a simple and small gift, given with no thought of a return, and what the power of the Lord can accomplish with that offering.