YEAR B: HOMILY FOR THE 17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: BEYOND THE BARLEY LOAF
BY: REV FR ANSELM CHIGOZIE AMADI
2KGS 4:42-44, EPH 4:1-6, JN6:1-15
INTRODUCTION : “The great ocean is in constant state of evaporation. It gives back what it receives, and sends up its waters in mists to gather into clouds, and so there is rain for the earth, and greenness and beauty everywhere”. (J. Robertson, in Bible illustratior of Old Testament). The two miracles of multiplication of loaves that benefitted many people were performed on the “raw materials” of another’s generosity. This shows the universal destination of every world’s good. As many were fed on the sacrifice of others, so will many be saved by the self giving sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. When we sacrifice for the common good, we live out our Christian vocation in a more heroic way.
BETWEEN FAITH AND SIGHT
Faith is described in Hebrews 11:1 as realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. The prophet, Elisha was operating on the platform of faith, while his servant based his argument on sight. It was also the same case between Christ and Andrew. In both cases, sight saw only the evidence of facts available to the senses while faith saw beyond sight to the realization of that not seen.
The man of sight is bound to circumstances while the man of faith lives ahead of his time and circumstances. Faith makes present that which sight places in the future: Hence, realization of what is hoped for. Faith does not wait for the Lord, but waits on the Lord. It does not wait for the promises of God but waits on the promises of God. To “wait for” indicates that the object is not present, it is yet to come. It suggests a state of separation , a passive state solely dependent on the other’s whims without personal contribution. On the contrary, to “wait on” implies both the object and subject are present. Just as waiters in the restaurant are said to “wait on”. They are face to face with those they serve. So it is with the servants of the Lord. He is with us, His promises here and now available for us. This confidence inspires the kind of faith that caused Elisha to command his servant to go ahead and give out the loaves for the Lord says “they shall eat and have some left over”.
The promises of God do not belong only to the future eschatological time. That is only an aspect, the “not yet” dimension . There is another dimension, the “already” dimension of the Kingdom of God. We enjoy at the present life the beatitudes of the Kingdom of God. Hence, the Kingdom of God is in your midst (Lk 17:21). St. Paul added to this faith assurance when he wrote : “now is the day of salvation (2cor 6:2). Sight, therefore, may provide evidence of despire but faith proves otherwise. Faith makes present that which sight places in the remote future.
THE PARABLE OF THE BARLEY LOAF
The barley loaf in biblical tradition stands for that which is of poor and lowly appearance but conveying great potency . Just like the mustard seeds imagery, the barley loaf message was expressed in the book of Judges. Here Gideon was designated as barley loaf. Before the conquest of Midian, a man among their camp narrated his dream, “I had a dream” he said, “that a round loaf of barley bread was rolling into the camp of Midian. It came to our tent and struck it, and as it fell it turned the tent upside down”. To this dream the other replied, “this can only be the sword of the Israelite Gideon son of Joash “. (Judges 7:13).The Gideon in question is the one who had earlier said,” My family is the smallest in Manasseh, and I am the most insignificant in my father’s house “, (Judges 6:15).
The poor little lad, who was rightly represented as a barley loaf, (a common food for the poor) , was the one who delivered Israel from the Midianites.
This shows how God uses little things to show forth his mighty power. Hence, the story of barley loaves from a little boy in the gospel marks the beginning of the great bread discourse in John’s gospel. The great Eucharistic theology of John’s gospel began with an act of a little boy. It was like a progression from the meanest food to the food of Angels.
“HE GAVE THANKS ”
When in the desert the people of old ran out of food supply, they murmured against God and Moses. Even when they had supply from above they considered it insufficient and sighed over the food of Egypt (Num 11:5). This “desert tongue” brought about punishment and death to the community of Israel.
Jesus on his part reversed the desert tongue to bestow life eternal. When there was short supply (five loaves and two fish) for the great crowd, Jesus gave thanks. Here we observe the connection between the desert bread and that of the last supper where he took bread and gave thanks. It was the attitude of gratitude that led to plenitude, both of supplies and of life. The israelites died in the desert for ingratitude. Jesus restores life by act of gratitude.
The Greek word for thanksgiving is eucharisteo from which the English Eucharist is derived. In the attitude of Thanksgiving, the greatest of the sacraments derives its name. The greatest miracle resides in the Eucharist: Thanksgiving. What a great secret! Job discovered this secret, that was why when misfortune rained down on him he gave thanks : The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21) “. Paul and Silas when imprisoned applied this formula by singing praises unto the Lord, then came the miracle of deliverance. Jesus gave thanks when others lost hope so that we may learn to give thanks to walk into the miracle presence of God.
The Israelites murmured and died in the face of short supplies, Jesus gave us life in his Thanksgiving sacrifice so that we may continue to give thanks. In Thanksgiving we find our identity as the Eucharistic community. The reverse is death. We are called to live the life of thanksgiving to God and to our neighbors by sacrificing for the common good. And when there is short supply let us multiple it by giving thanks in happiness and joy.