17 Sunday B #110
2 Kgs 4, 42-44
Eph 4, 1-6
Jn 6, 1-15
Saint Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
July 26, 2015
Deacon Tom Cornell
Jesus went off to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick. Jesus climbed the hillside and sat down there with his disciples. It was shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover. Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, “Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?” He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip answered, “Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give of them a small piece each.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, “There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?” Jesus said to them, “Make the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks and gave them out to all who were sitting ready; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted. When they had eaten enough, he said to his disciples, “Pick up the pieces left over so that nothing gets wasted.” So they picked them up and filled twelve hampers with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves. The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, “This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus 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. (JB trans.)
Those of you who follow the readings in the misssalette notice that I read a different translation of the Gospel reading. Our bishops allow us to use the Jerusalem Bible translation at Mass, and I’m very grateful that they do. The new NAB translation is simply awful. The translators may have been fine theologians, but they needed an English major. Now let’s take a look at the readings.
Our first reading from the Second Book of Kings has the Prophet Elisha feed one hundred men with twenty barley loaves, “and when they had eaten there was some left over.” That clearly foreshadows today’s Gospel story from John. Since the beginning of Advent we have been reading from the Gospel according to Mark. But today and for the next four weeks we will be reading from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus’ “Bread of Life Discourse,” beginning with the multiplication of the loaves and fish to feed the five thousand. There are those who say that the real miracle wasn’t a physical multiplication but a moral miracle, that the men had hidden bread on their persons and, under the influence of Jesus’ teaching, they opened their secret stores to share freely with all around. Personally, I prefer to think it was a real, physical multiplication, but you can take your choice. Or maybe it was both. “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” I know it. That’s my story.
The first time I heard Dorothy Day speak was in the spring of 1953, sixty-two years ago, at a Friday Night Meeting at the Catholic Worker headquarters down in the Bowery when the Bowery was the City’s skid-row. I don’t remember who the speaker was that night or the topic. All I remember is that someone got up to say, “As Catholics we all believe in the right to life. If we believe in the right to life we must also believe in the right to the means to life, food, clothing, shelter and the like. People should have a sense of security that these needs will be met.” That proposition is still debated in this country today, but even then, at the Catholic Worker, it was a settled question. But Dorothy Day didn’t like what she heard. She stood up to pitch the conversation to a higher plane: “Security, security! I don’t want to hear any more about security! There are young people here tonight. And there are great things that need to be done, and who will do them but the young? And how will they do them if all they are thinking about is their own security?” Then she started stringing Bible quotes together: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They do not toil nor do they spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these…; think not on the morrow, what you shall eat and what you shall put on; your Father has care of you” She ended with, “Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it remains alone. But if it falls into the ground and dies it bears a great harvest.” By then she had me. I took up my sleeping bag and followed her.
I learned from experience that the hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs. I cannot doubt that the Lord performs miracles for my life has been a string of them, beginning with Monica who consented to be my wife and to take the chances, the risks that come with a life dedicated to practical nonviolence. Many of you know, some may not, that I was a civil rights activist down in Alabama with Father Dugan as well as here, arrested in Selma. I was arrested I don’t know how many times for peace protests. And I was imprisoned for five months during the Viet Nam war. The average sentence of those convicted under the Selective Service Act at that time was three years; the maximum was five years. God and Judge Thomas F.X. Murphy were good to us, giving us such a light sentence, just half a year. So was my boss. He kept me on at half-pay. And The New York Times commissioned me to write an article for the Sunday magazine on my prison experience. That brought in the rest of my lost income. That seemed like a miracle. Then Jimmy Carter gave all of us who had been convicted of nonviolent offenses in protest against the war full pardons on the very first day he was in office. That means, on a job application, if I am asked if I have ever been convicted of a crime or a felony, I can legally answer NO! Another miracle.
And we did accomplish great things. We tore down the legal structures of racial segregation in this country through nonviolence. We held the military back from the use of the nuclear option in Viet Nam through nonviolence. General Curtis LeMay was urging President Johnson to nuke North Viet Nam back to the Stone Age. Johnson pointed out a White House window, to us! We can’t get away with it, he told the general. And we reintroduced nonviolence into the mainstream of Catholic and Protestant moral theology. And then there is the family, our family. Monica and I have seven descendants. They are all practicing Catholics, healthy, happy and bright. How blessed we have been! How can I doubt?
Now the miracle we are all about to witness and partake in is the Eucharist, what the Bread of Life Discourse is all about. Jesus so loves us that he gives himself to us as food and drink in bread and wine consecrated by his priest upon this altar. When we eat his body and drink his blood we fulfill a desire planted deep in our souls and we become, or begin to become, what we eat and drink. “Man ist wass man isst” is a German proverb that means, “One is what one eats.” John tells us in his First Letter, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed; but we know that when he appears we shall be like God, because we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3,2). We shall be like God, for we will see him as he is! In the meanwhile, we have the Bread of Life and the blood of the Risen Lord. Let us all eat and drink worthily in faith.