17th Sunday of the Year, B – July 24, 2021.
Readings: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Ps 144:10-11,15-18; Ephesians 4:1-6; Gospel – John 6:1-15.
Theme: Being a Eucharistic People!
The first reading reveals how the Prophet Elisha’s fed 100 men with the loaves and ears of grain which were donated by a man from Baal Shalishah and there were leftovers as the Lord promised. In the second reading, St. Paul urges us to bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience while preserving the unity of the Spirit. The gospel reveals that through the generosity of a little boy, Jesus multiplied 5 loaves and 2 fish among 5000 people who ate and were filled. Our liturgy challenges us to be a Eucharistic people who are moved by charity to affect the lives of others especially the poor through unparalleled generosity.
Friends in Christ, our liturgy presents us with the practical demands of our faith namely, caring, sharing and living for others as encapsulated in the African Spirit of Ubuntu which means, “I Am Because We Are.” With the miracle of barley loaves in both the first reading and multiplication of five barley loaves and two fish in the gospel, we shall draw appropriate lessons.
The Ubuntu Narrative
Many years ago, a Western Anthropologist came to Africa to study the social behaviour of an indigenous tribe. He saw a group of children and proposed a game for them. The children were excited and so obliged him. He kept a basket filled with fruits under a tree and told them that whoever reaches the basket first would win the whole basket and have the fruits all by himself. After lining them up, he raised his hand and said, “Ready, go!”
Surprisingly, instead of attempting to beat each other in the race, the children took each other’s hands and started running together. They all reached the basket at the same time, sat in a big circle and enjoyed the fruits together full of laugher and smiles. The anthropologist who could not believe what he saw, asked the kids why they held each other’s hands and went as a group, when each one could have reached first and enjoyed the whole fruits alone? In reply, the children shook their heads and said: “Ubuntu, how can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?” This story sets the tone for our reflection, titled: “Ubuntu and the Spirit of Liturgy.” But first, let us peruse the readings.
Background & Summary of the Readings
Our first reading (2 Kings 4:42-44) reveals how a man from Baal Shalishah brought twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain from the first fruits to Prophet Elisha. It also discloses Elisha’s miracle of feeding a hundred men with the loaves and ears of grain. It tells how the people ate and there were leftovers as the Lord had promised. First fruits were produce from the first crop of the season. They were desirable because they tasted better than old crops and were a sort of movement from shortage to abundance.
For the Israelites, offering the first fruits to God was a sign of acknowledging their dependence on him (Exodus 23:19; 34:26). Although the first fruits were to be given to the priests (Leviticus 23:10; Numbers 18:13), the man in the first reading brought it to Elisha, the prophet of God at the time of famine. This shows that the gift of food represents a sacrificial offering on the part of the giver and a life-giving gift to Elisha. This miracle like others authenticates Elisha as a worthy successor to Elijah. It also reveals the power of God to provide for his people.
In the second reading (Ephesians 4:1-6), St. Paul urges us to bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience while preserving the unity of the Spirit.
The gospel (John 6:1-15) reveals how Jesus multiplied five loaves and two fish among five thousand people who ate and were filled. It tells how the generosity of the boy who willingly gave out his five loaves and two fish made the miracle possible. Accordingly, the disciples picked up twelve baskets full of broken pieces.
1. Revive the Spirit of Ubuntu: Just as the man from Baal Shalishah offered barley-loaves and fresh ears of grain to the Prophet Elisha, we are charged to shun selfishness by being available for others even as we embrace generosity with our resources like the little boy in the gospel.
2. Be Selfless: While it is disheartening for the oppressed to relate with oppressors, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist prepares a common entry point for the two to share from the same chalice and eat the same Body of Christ which is why St. Paul instructs that we bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience and to preserve the unity of the Spirit.
3. Care for the Poor: In a society where the rich scandalously spend money on pet dogs and ornamentations while the masses die in Internally Displaced Person’s (IDP) camps, we are called to have a rethink by embracing the spirit of Ubuntu which obliges us to do the needful for those at the margins of society.
4. Shun Waste, Care for the Earth: God does not like waste and environmental degradation that is why both the first reading and the gospel indicate that leftovers were collected – As such, we must shun waste and care for the earth in the light of Pope Francis’ second encyclical Laudato si under the subtitle “on care for our common home.”
5. Embrace Poverty of the Spirit: We are charged to embrace poverty of the spirit which disposes us to share the little we have with others like the little boy whose generosity fed over 5000 people bearing in mind that it is those who have nothing that are often prompted to give more.
6. Overtake NGOs: The Church is challenged to give Non-Governmental Organisations a run for their money by shunning the avarice of Gehazi (2 Kings 5:15-27) and Ananias and Sapphira (Cf. Acts 5:1-11) through outdoing the world in acts of charity.
1. Our first reading …discloses [about] Elisha’s miracle of feeding a hundred men with the loaves and ears of grain.
2. In the second reading, St. Paul urges us to bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience.
3. The gospel reveals how Jesus multiplied five loaves and two fish among five thousand people who ate and were filled.
4. It tells how the generosity of the boy who willingly gave out his five loaves and two fish made the miracle possible.
5. The disciples picked up twelve baskets full of broken pieces.
Our liturgy charges us to focus our energies on helping others around us. This should not be left to St. Vincent De Paul or ministers of hospitality. Like St. Basil the Great would say: “When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”
In conclusion, the feeding of the five thousand prefigures the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist which evokes some thoughts on caring, sharing and living for others as encapsulated in the African spirit of Ubuntu. As such, helping someone to secure a job or sponsor a life-changing trip, pay children’s school fees or hospital bills and provide food or shelter, might just be that miracle the person needs from you to make it in life. May God so help us through Christ our Lord!