Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: The banquet of life

People will forget what you said to them, but they will not forget what you did for them, how you made them feel. Be kind, be gentle, be compassionate, and show love.

Jul 23, 2021

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: 2 Kings 4:42-44
Ephesians 4:1-6; Gospel: John 6:1-15

“Life is a banquet but most people are starving”, said a mystic. Perhaps some may consider this an inappropriate phrase to use at this point of time when many are indeed suffering. Starving is caused by hunger. Food is the only source to satisfy that hunger. But a ‘banquet’ is something far more lavish and sumptuous. We are starving because we are worried sick about our troubles and allow these to overwhelm us and our lives. We are convinced that life is meaningless without the things we used to have. Our heart’s desire navigates us in a life filled with ideas and plans and wants. But when these things fail to materialise, we feel our world has collapsed.

In the context of the Mystic’s words, the above phrase is not about lavish meals, and neither is it about physical hunger. To fully grasp it, listen to the words of St Paul in the Second Reading.

St Paul calls us to practice the virtues of our faith – selflessness, gentleness, and patience. This is the banquet that binds us together in the One Body, one Spirit. And we are assured of the one and same hope – Eternal Life. The banquet of life is joy, happiness and love. We are surrounded by these.

After the disaster of Fukushima due to the 2011 tsunami, a 12-year-old Japanese boy wrote a poem. It is a very short poem, but it shows so much resilience, hope, and life. His family had lost everything in the disaster.

The Poem reads:
I have lost everything I had in my hand.
Can I gain back all that was lost from my hand?
Come, let us hold hands so that we may not
lose what is left in our hands.

People will forget what you said to them, but they will not forget what you did for them, how you made them feel. Be kind, be gentle, be compassionate, and show love. We do not know people’s situation, their sufferings; assure them that we will hold their hands so that nothing more will be lost. They have lost and suffered enough. We will stand by them.

In the Gospel, Jesus laid out a banquet for 5,000 men. When there is nothing to eat, a small meal may seem like a banquet. Jesus fed them to the brim with just five loaves and two fish. The loaves were Philistine bread. One has to eat three of those to be full. So, you can see that the multiplication of the loaves was even greater than it appears in terms of the number of men who were fed. This miracle narrative is very important because it gives us a foretaste of the Eucharist. This miracle is a display of Jesus’ power to institute the Holy Eucharist – the giving of his Body and Blood. In the words of St Augustine, “Jesus continues to feed the world with his body daily.”

This Sunday’s Gospel is the only miracle narrative found in all four gospels. The feeding of the 5,000 took place in Bethsaida-Julias; it should not be mistaken for the feeding of the 4,000 in Decapolis, although some critical writers have claimed that there was only one multiplication of loaves miracle. They are two totally separate miracles. There may be some general similarities, but there are significant points of difference. This story, which we have heard so many times, is not difficult to understand. The miracle comes about from Jesus’ understanding of the crowds’ situation – they were tired and hungry. He knew their needs and the knowledge prompted him to perform the miracle without even being asked. Jesus disciples collected 12 hampers of scraps left over from the meal. Is there a significance to the number 12? Scholars interpret 12 as a social number. This is why there are 12 tribes of Israel, 12 Apostles and 12 baskets of food scraps left over.

In the First Reading from the Book of Kings, Elisha feeds 100 people with 20 loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in a sack. This story is like the one about Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000. There were leftovers collected in both narratives.

Elisha was a disciple of Elijah. The barley loaves and sack of grain were the first fruits of the harvest. They were given to Elisha as an offering to God. Elisha saw the necessity to feed the 100 hungry men instead of offering it to God. God showed his approval of Elisha’s giving the bread and grain to feed the hungry men by multiplying the loaves and grain so that it was more than sufficient for the large number of men there. There were even scraps left over after the meal. Elisha’s actions reflect the context of the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ, “If you do it to the least of these; you do it to me.” “Life is a banquet but most people are starving.”

Deacon James Anthony is a permanent deacon with the Diocese of MalaccaJohore. He is currently based in Melaka

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