Nourished by Christ: 17th Sunday
Sermon by Emmanuel Suntheni OSB
SERMON AND CHRISTIAN ACT IN THE WORD
Theme: Divine Nourishment-Nourished by Christ: Jesus Christ the Bread of Life
Point of reflection: where do I go when I lucky something? Today’s Biblical readings are telling us that there is Divine Providence-God provides and does not want us to go hungry. Hence, our nourishment and a person to go to always when in need must be Jesus Christ. The Scriptural readings of today remind the Christian faithful to nourish one another in Christ name.
First Reading: 2 Kings 4:42–44
Psalm: Psalm 145:10–11, 15–18
Second Reading: Ephesians 4:1–6
Gospel: John 6:1–15
Sermon (Reflection): Quite reflective to note is that in the next consecutive five Sundays, the liturgy of the word will follow a sequence of readings based on the “bread of life” discourse from chapter 6 of the Gospel according to John. The unifying theme of this part of the liturgical year is that of Jesus, sustaining believers through the provision of special nourishment. Today’s readings introduce this sequence with the subject of nourishing one another.
As Christians, we can ask ourselves, do we nourish each other?
A very significant episode of an act of nourishing one another is reflected in the first reading of today (Cf. 2 Kings 4:42–44) from the life of the prophet Elisha.
A certain farmer brought barley loaves and some grain to a sanctuary in a small Israelite town, intending to offer them as a first fruits offering. Such offerings were intended as expressions of gratitude to God for the blessing of the harvest. The fruits of the harvest were placed before God in the sanctuary, and later consumed by the priests or prophets who served there. Elisha received the farmer’s offerings, but instead of placing them before God, he commanded that they be given as food to other worshipers present.
His actions must have come as a shock or a scandal to many, as it was understood that the bread and the grain rightfully belonged to God alone. Not surprisingly, one of the sanctuary attendants objected. Still, Elisha insisted, and the food was handed to the crowd of one hundred people. Miraculously, they were all fed to satisfaction from the very small amount of available food.
As Christians, do we really feed one another? We thank those Christians who are generous in such a way that they feed the hungry and provide for the needy.
Worthy noticing in the passage of today’s first reading is what prophet Elisha spoke in God’s name when feeding the people, quoting the scripture passage, “they shall eat and have some left”. This shows that God is always concerned for the people in need of bodily nourishment. As God’s people, it is a divine calling today for all of us to share the little we have with those less privileged. God is inviting all of us to have divine nourishment and share with one another.
Jesus Christ who was both human and divine exercised the act of divine and human nourishment. The “bread of life” discourse in chapter 6 of the Gospel of John begins with the miraculous feeding of the multitude. This story functions as the starting point for the entire discourse in two major ways.
First, providing bodily nourishment for the hungry crowd, Jesus acts in a manner consistent with God’s actions in the OT. There, the feeding occurs in the context of the Passover feast, and the feast of Unleavened Bread. These two Israelite feasts commemorated the Exodus from Egypt and the entry into the Promised Land. God fed and sustained his people, starting with the Passover in Egypt, through the gift of manna in the desert, and ending with the gift of the land, where the Israelites lived off the bounty of the Promised Land. In the Gospel, feeding the crowd gathered to him, Jesus acted in a familiar, God-like, manner.
Today as Christians, we need nourish each other in God-like manner: we need to feed each other.
Second, the story makes it obvious that food provision is not Jesus’ chief concern. There is no indication that the crowd was, in fact, hungry. Jesus himself took the initiative asking Philip “where” to buy food to feed the crowd. Philip responded, thinking not about “where”, but “with what”, to buy the bread needed.
In response, Jesus performed the miracle in a Eucharistic fashion, first blessing and then breaking the bread. Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, where it was the disciples who distributed the bread and the fish, Jesus himself fed the people. This demonstrates that He is both the source and the giver of food.
The disciples’ task is limited to gathering up what remained after the people had finished eating. The twelve baskets of leftovers are symbolic in number, suggesting a community of believers created by Jesus’ action.
The crowds, like Philip, misunderstood Jesus and his intentions. At first, they identified Jesus with a Moses-like prophet, citing Deuteronomy 18:15: “the Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me”. Subsequently, they attempted to make Jesus a king. They thought of Jesus as one of the Old Testament prophets or kings who provided for the people. Jesus refused to accept these honours. He fled from the crowd because his intentions were far beyond what the crowd, and the disciples, could understand at that moment. While Jesus did feed the crowd, a careful reader anticipates that this feeding is only a prelude to something different and far greater.
Nourishment of the body is the most fundamental human concern. God provided the Israelites with bodily nourishment on various occasions, which will appear in the first readings of the next four Sundays.
In today’s first reading, God placed the needs of the people before cultic and sacrificial duties, offering the hungry worshipers food through the prophet Elisha. In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul discusses the nourishment necessary to sustain the Church. The Christian community finds nourishment through the virtuous lives of its members, as they sustain one another by acts of care and kindness.
St Paul names five essential relational virtues which serve the community (Cf.Ephesians 4:1–6): Humility, Gentleness, Patience, Forbearance and finally, love which seals all community bonds through empowering and fostering others’ lives in every area, and in every possible way. These five virtues sustain the unity of the community.
Bodily nourishment is only a prelude to infinitely more significant sustenance which God provides through His Son; the nourishment for eternal life. This is shared to every baptised Christian, hence, the need to be nourishing one another in our communities.
Christian Act in Word of God “Nourishing one Another”
St Benedict in his rule for monks and nuns, has drawn up two tables for nourishment. First, the table of spiritual nourishment which is the table in the Church. Second, the table for physical nourishment is the table in the dining (reflectory). Fr Boniface KamushishiOSB, the Inkamananovice master, often used to say that the way our holy father Benedict described the tables in the rule they cannot be separated, the more you take one and leave the other one, then you are on the death trap, hence you need both tables.
This is the same with the theme of today’s Scriptural readings, you cannot separate spiritual nourishment and physical nourishment in our Christian life, we need both.
God who is the creator of all life, continually sustains our life. This sustenance extends to this earthly life, but also goes beyond it, and into eternity, thus, the table of spiritual nourishment and table of physical nourishment. God’s ultimate concern is to nourish His faithful, so that they may share eternally in the immortal never-ending life brought through His son Jesus Christ.
Today’s readings make it clear that God takes the initiative in providing for his people. He cares for us before we even ask for help. This shows that God’s care for us is constant and profound.
It happens that sometimes, as we are preoccupied with our needs, we suddenly discover that they have already been taken care of. This is how the grace of God operates – it anticipates our requests and actions.
The people in the story of Elisha and those fed by Jesus were fed to satisfaction even though the food initially available was not enough. This teaches us that the scarcity of our means, be they material, or our gifts and talents, do not prevent us from experiencing God’s bounty. The grace that God gives does not just take care of our immediate needs, but it remains with us in every need and challenge that life throws at us. The loving grace of God is never depleted, and his gift of grace never runs out.
When we receive the grace of God in our lives and unite ourselves with Christ, we become a new creation and our way of life changes. The life of communion with Christ is a transforming experience. When we experience loving grace, we give out love because the grace of God is in us and works in us.
This experience of God’s grace itself humbles us because in many instances we are wise enough to know that we do not deserve the loving care and attention that we receive from God. It transforms us, nourishes us, and gives us the strength to continue our Christian journey so that we do not despair or become weary. We need to be transformed with the spiritual and material food we get.
This experience of God’s bounty obliges us to transmit this bounty to others. Even as we experience the limits of our capacities and means, there are those gifts of God that we carry within us that cannot be measured in any material terms. Thus, we can nourish one another and share God’s bounty out of the riches of our faith, kindness, wisdom, and knowledge. A good word, and an encouraging thought, may well be more significant than material gifts.
Our contemporary society has become very materialistic, and the old values of sharing one’s time and wisdom, have been replaced by a focus on material, money-based gifts. This is most undesirable, because it reduces us to a hungry crowd, looking for Jesus only so that he can feed us with bread. As Christians, we must represent and teach that the true gift lies beyond what we can consume, or amuse ourselves with.
God’s true gifts are found deep in our spirits, and in our relationship to our brothers and sisters. It is for this reason that nourishment finds its reflection in the words of the Psalmist who states, “the eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.”
Action: From today onwards, I will take the initiative to feed the hungry: I will be nourishing other people with my actions and words.
Prayer: Dear Lord, You took the initiative and fed the hungry and You still provide for the needy. Grant me a spirit of sharing that I should always share the little I have with the less privileged, as You sustain me and guide me on this earthly journey. May I use your grace in my life, not for any selfish gain, but for the growth of all who I encounter in my daily life, Amen.