17th Sunday of Ordinary Time – God Feeds his People

In the forth century, the emperor Diocletian issued an edict demanding that Christians no longer gather for the Eucharist.

In the small town of abitina in northern Africa 49 men, women and children along with their pastor were caught celebrating Mass.  They were captured, tortured and killed. During their torture one participant was asked “Why did you meet? You knew it was a crime – you knew the punishment was death –but you did it anyway? The Christian replied “Without Sunday we cannot live.“

Without Sunday we cannot live.  The Eucharist was so important to this group of Christians they were willing to risk death in order to be part of it.   Is the Holy Eucharist just as important to us? Would we risk our lives to celebrate the Holy Mass?

Without the Eucharist we cannot live.   These next five weeks we will hear from the Gospel according to John chapter 6 in which Jesus identifies himself as the Bread of Life.   These next five weeks give us an opportunity to reflect deeply on the mystery of the Holy Eucharist and it’s central place in our lives. For this reason I am planning to preach not just one homily on this theme, but a series of four homilies over the next five weeks.

Our Gospel today is the Multiplication of the Loaves. Jesus feeds fives thousand with only five loaves and two fish. This is an amazing miracle, yet for a Jewish man or woman of Jesus time it had an even more powerful impact. It would have reminded the Jewish people of other important events in their history.

Jesus miracle would have reminded them of Elisha’s miracle from the first Reading – Elisha multiplies the bread to feed a hundred.  It would also have reminded them of how God fed the Isrealites while wandering in the desert after having escaped from Egypt.  Each day, God sent a special food from heaven called “mana.” This flake like substance would rain down from the sky each day – everyone would eat and be satisfied. We will hear that Reading next Sunday.

Moses told the people that in the future God would send a new and greater prophet and that this prophet would feed them with a new Mana.   In our Gospel today some of the people remember this and say “this is the prophet!” They want to make Jesus King. Our Gospel teaches us that Jesus is indeed the prophet, the messiah who comes to feed his people with a new mana. Over the next few weeks he will teach us that this mana is the Holy Eucharist – his body and blood.

God feeds us today through the Holy Eucharist.   We are in many ways like the Isrealites – living in a spiritual desert – wandering, searching for the promised land.   There is so much we need to live a genuine Christian life – we need faith and hope to trust in God and his promises, prudence to know what God is asking of us in a particular situation, courage to do so, patience when we fail to do so, we need a mountain of charity to be kind good to our enemies, to difficult people, we need to persevere in all these things until death.   It is a tall order and often we can feel exhausted, spiritual starving.   Jesus nourishes us – he gives us all these graces through the Holy Eucharist.

There are three aspects of the Holy Mana that can help us to understand the Holy Eucharist.   First, there is always enough, even when it seems there is not enough.   In First Reading the servants say to Elisha – there is not enough bread.   The Isrealites in the desert complain to Moses – “we have no food”   The disciples tell Jesus “there is not enough bread for this crowd”   But in every case God provides enough for everyone. God feeds his people today in the Holy Eucharist. Whatever grace we need, God provides us enough in the Holy Communion.

Second – God gives enough food for each day. The Israelites could not save up the mana for the next day – it would instantly spoil. They had to trust that God would provide new food each day.   In the same way, in the Holy Eucharist God gives us the grace we need today, for the challenges we are facing this week. We cannot in a sense “save up” grace. We must come to the Lord anew each and every Sunday.

The final interesting tradition about the Mana was that it adapted to the taste of each person. For one person it would taste like a lamb chop, to another honey, to the third a pomegrante.  What ever each needed, he received.   It is the same with the Holy Eucharist – when we come the Mass our needs are very different.   Some may be mourning and need encouragement or consolation. Others may be doubting and need conviction. Others patience, others courage. Whatever we need, God gives in the Holy Eucharist.   It is the perfect food.

Without Sunday we cannot live.  We cannot live a Christian life, we cannot meet the challenges of everyday life, we cannot persevere in virtue without the nourishment of the Holy Eucharist. Ask God to nourish you today.   Ask him for the special grace that you need today.   Whatever your need, the Eucharist can satisfy.

What makes Holy Communion is the perfect food for our souls?   What is the special ingredient? You’ll have to wait two weeks because we have a mission speaker next Sunday.   We will answer that question the following Sunday.