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Ordinary Time 17 (B)
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Readings for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1. II Kings 4, 42-44

  • I hear a very short report of one of Elisha’s wonder works.  Only the broad outline was preserved.  I will use these remaining verses, as I imagine the original context for the assembly. 
  • A man came from Baal-Shalishah with twenty barley loaves made from the firstfruits.  This was more than an act of respect toward the prophet, because firstfruits belonged to the Lord.  I hear not only a liturgical act but an act of political defiance.  It reminds me of those who reserve their church donations and tax payments for a cause that they can accept in conscience. 
  • He brought the loaves to Elisha, the man of God.  I want to remind the people about this gift, similar in nature to the gifts we bring with us to church. 
  • Give it to the people to eat.  The prophet, entirely in keeping with the liturgical context, gives the loaves over to the people.  He will act in the same spirit of generosity as God.  He orders his servant twice.  I will make sure my listeners hear and remember, placing more emphasis on the second repeated command.
  • In liturgy we put aside the human plane so prone to doubt and limitation on judgment – How can I set this before them?  We have come into God’s presence, and so we interpret this meal in the light of the manna in the desert.  They shall eat and there shall be some left over.  We have entered God’s space, where promises of generosity are made and fulfilled.  Are we up to the task?  Because “God’s work on earth must truly be our own.”
  • Climax: Thus says the Lord.  It cannot be a formula in my mouth but a sharp reminder to the assembly that we are standing on holy ground now.
  • Message for our assembly: How many connections between our lives and the sacred liturgy can we find?  This reading and the Gospel that follows can help us recognize them.
  • I will challenge myself: To open our congregation’s horizons in a few short sentences that lift us with the prophet to the place of abundance and sharing where God awaits us.

 

2. Ephesians 4, 1-6

  • One Lord, one faith, one baptism.  As I hear the words I begin humming a tune on this theme that was popular 30 years back, or perhaps another that has since replaced it.  Some of my listeners will be doing the same.  What I have to do now is awaken us all from our private memory lanes, into the present-day living assembly.  Let our music ministers find the right song for the occasion.  My ministry will serve for us all to ponder more deeply the words we celebrate.
  • The apostle is calling us to community.  Bear with one another through love, preserve the unity of the Spirit, called to the one hope.  North America was created and settled (and inherited certainly) by people who want to settle matters in their private spaces and on their own terms.  Count the diverse churches in any city.  Our nation’s Constitution protects individual rights and not communal responsibilities.  But the Christian tradition we inherited from the apostles leaves no room for breakaways and sectarians, and commands love of neighbor.  Again, bearing with one another through love.
  • You were also called to the one hope of your call.  The servile rendering of the Semitic repetitive style sounds awkward to my ear.  If I read without under-standing our congregation will be bewildered as well.  Here’s what it means to me.  We are called to unity in the body of Christ and in his Spirit, and we are also called to share one hope in Christ.  Sometimes the original Greek is awkward, too, being dictated on the run as it was.  Whatever I do, let me not forget the apostle’s prayer of unity that inspired the passage.
  • One God and Father of all.  That is why we pray for unity!  We believe in one God, and if we do that how can we separate ourselves from others?
  • Climax: The litany of ones: body, spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, God, Father.
  • The message for our assembly: Are we striving as best we can to preserve unity where it already exists, and to build bridges where hostility has taken its place?
  • I will challenge myself: To evoke the humility, gentleness and patience that we need to practice in abundance for our journey together.

 

Gospel. John 6, 1-15

  • The early church treasured its Jewish heritage (while it increased in hostility to its Jewish neighbors).  It remembered vividly the story of the manna in the wilderness.  Jesus also took part in meals, just as Elisha before him, and in the same way those meals were taken into the wonder tradition.  I now listen to the last example in the Gospels, as only the community of John could tell it.
  • Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee, went up on the mountain and sat down with his disciples.  We heard about such a scene in Mark’s Gospel last week.
  • They followed him because they saw the signs.  That is another theme from Mark, along with the focus on seeing (not believing).  They would miss the point of the meal, too: They saw the sign and were going to come and carry him off. 
  • The Jewish feast of Passover was near.  I will just say it and then leave a brief pause, so that my listeners can make the connection between the two meals.
  • He himself knew what he was going to do.  We involve others in what we are doing, and the church grows in knowledge and good works. 
  • Gifts come from unexpected people, in this case from a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what good are these for so many?  I repeat some of the sense of futility in the disciple’s voice, but also add my own sense of irony: What good indeed!  Another pause at this point will help the irony build.
  • Let me remember to declare clearly all the numbers in the story.  There are five thousand people sitting on the grass, and two hundred days’ wages could not buy the food they would need.  A boy gave five loaves and two fish.  The disciples collected twelve wicker baskets of fragments.  Finally, one sign.
  • Climax: The echo of our Eucharist: Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks and distributed them.
  • Message for our assembly: Will we ever live our lives as if we truly believe that God cannot be outdone in generosity?
  • I will challenge myself: To echo some of the connections of wonder-working between this meal and the others cited in the Bible.

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