God assures us there is more than enough for all

  • July 28, 2009
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) July 26 (2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15)

Many have attempted to separate the Old and the New Testament and even to build a barrier between them. But both testaments speak to each other for they both witness to the action of the same loving God. Each of the testaments is unique, as is each individual book within them. And Christians can in no way expropriate the Old Testament for themselves and claim to be its only legitimate interpreters.

But we see the Old Testament mirrored in the New, for both witness to the continuing drama of humanity’s redemption and spiritual empowerment. The Elijah/Elisha cycle that recounts the ministry of two of Israel’s great prophets is a fine example. The authors of the Gospels deliberately portrayed Jesus as a powerful Elijah-like figure, drawing on themes and stories found in I and II Kings. By doing so they anchored Jesus firmly within Israel’s salvation history. In the story from 2 Kings, Elisha instructs his servant to take their meagre supply of food and feed a large crowd of people. In response to the servant’s panicky protests, Elisha assures him on God’s behalf that not only will there be enough, there will be abundance — leftovers! And that is exactly what happened.

The message clearly witnesses not only to the power of God, but to God’s compassionate care. God is a God of abundance, not want. Good “food” for thought during a time of economic hardship and uncertainty.

This is made possible if we remember and practise the spiritual principles in the passage from Ephesians. It can be summed up with the word “one.” “One” describes the reality of God, faith, human community and humanity itself. If we remain bound to one another in humility, patience and love, there will be more than enough for everyone and we will be at peace. When fear and selfishness tempt us to separate and divide, then the beauty and harmony that is God’s world and God’s people begins to unravel. Division is the first act of violence. We are one — period. Everything else flows from this principle.

The power of the same caring God was manifested during the feeding of the 5,000 in the Gospel of John. The Elisha miracle comes to life again in the ministry of Jesus. Using similar language and dialogue, the same interplay of challenge and doubt is played out in the miraculous feeding. The disciples are captivated by fear and lack of food so Jesus has to take control of the situation. Taking what little they do have He offers thanks — the Greek word eucharistein that gives us our word “Eucharist” — and He begins to distribute or give away all that they have. Again, not only is there enough but plenty left over.

Just as God provided for His people during their journey through the wilderness with manna, so God now provides for those in need.

In early Christian literature, the scattered fragments that are gathered up and preserved symbolize the scattered children of God whom the Son of Man seeks out and saves. But as with most revelations of God, the people misunderstand and begin to twist this miracle to their own ends. They want to make Jesus king but He makes good His escape. The Israelites struggled with fear and doubt during the wilderness experience. They were never quite sure of God’s continuous and faithful love and care. In other words, they shared the doubts that haunt most people today and fuel this age’s crisis of faith and hope.

Our own Eucharist should be more of a celebration of thanksgiving than it often is. It is intended for more than an injection of grace for the individual — it is meant to foster community and a sense of interdependence. And there should be an expectation of God’s kindness and generosity. Eucharist is a way of life, not merely a ritual, and it should never be used to exclude or divide. Lived out in this manner, it is a good antidote for fear and a sense of being cut off and alone.

Elisha — Jesus — and countless other spiritual teachers all are telling the same story: when we are in harmony with one another and with God the miraculous is commonplace.

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