Ninth Sunday After Pentecost Study

9TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST   07-25-2021

FIRST READING:   2 Kings 4:42-44

Elisha the prophet was the successor to Elijah the prophet… in Chapter 2 you can read about Elisha being “doubly blessed” with God’s Spirit, the Spirit that had empowered Elijah. From a collection of miracles performed by Elisha comes today’s brief account of the feeding of a hungry crowd with but a few limited resources. Elisha trusts God, who provides enough and even more to satisfy the need.

When have you hesitated to share because you thought that there might not be enough? When have you trusted that God will provide?

 

SECOND READING:   Ephesians 3:14-21

In prison because of his faith and faithfulness, Paul offers prayer for the (Gentile) Christians that he is writing to. He prays “for this reason” or “for this cause”, which takes us back to the basic idea of the letter: In a world of chaos, with so much discord and division and brokenness in creation and between nations and among individual people and within a person’s inner life, Christ has been sent to bring everything back together in unity and harmony… and it is the Church, Christ’s Body, that carries that message, that bears that love, that helps bring forth all that unity and harmony to everything else.

So Paul prays for the Church, that we will be empowered by the Spirit… that we will comprehend with our minds the fullness of God’s boundless love… and that, through Christ, this love will be rooted and grounded in our hearts and our community… so that we, in turn, may love the world with a truth and a power far beyond what we might imagine.

In verse 17 Paul prays “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”. Does Christ have a permanent house in your heart? Do you find your home, your foundation, your roots in Christ? 

We have no greater identity to hold onto and no better direction to go than “in CHRIST”!

 

GOSPEL READING:  John 6:1-21

If we had continued in the Gospel of Mark from last Sunday’s reading, we would be reading that account of the feeding of the crowd of 5,000; but today the lectionary shifts us to John’s telling of the event. For five Sundays we will be in John, Chapter 6. It will take us to many places.

Today Jesus feeds thousands of people with five loaves and two fish! John’s account includes the timing of the event near Passover (verse 4); Jesus’ test of Philip (verse 6); the boy (verse 9); the specification that the loaves were barley (verse 9), the bread of the poor; Jesus’ command to save the leftovers (verse 12); and the acclamation of the crowd (verses 14-15).

How do we, like Philip, survey the scene, do our calculations, and deem God’s task as an impossible undertaking based on what we think we totally understand? How do we, like Andrew, undervalue the seemingly “too small” resources we have available?

In these early verses of Chapter 6, we especially focus on physical hunger and physical need. See the compassion of Jesus for those who are hungry and in need! See the power of Jesus revealed! See the generosity of Jesus unfolding! See the miracle of God’s love in action! Who can understand it, who can explain it – it’s a miracle! We ought to understand that Jesus does not want people to be hungry.

Is it possible we can cooperate with the love and the power of Jesus by helping to create miracles of feeding here in our world? People are suffering, people are dying – every day. Chances are you do not have to look far to find someone who is truly hungry, someone who is facing ongoing “food insecurity”. The hungry multitude of JOHN 6 and the five other stories in the four Gospels remind us of the hundreds of millions of people on this planet who are in need of the most fundamental elements of physical existence. We who follow Christ should never

 

think that we are not called TO BE AWARE, not challenged TO CARE and not expected TO SHARE of our abundance and blessing with those who are in famine, poverty, and scarcity. I honestly believe that, in this world composed of “haves” and “have-nots” God has more than enough for all “to have”. I honestly believe that, in global terms, there is no food problem, that production continues to be greater than population. But we probably must learn to share. And we have to continue to find the better ways to feed those who are in need. And we ought to reflect critically on the huge amount of wasted food that some of our personal lifestyles and shared cultures and government regulations have created. How much food do you usually throw away? And why is it that some restaurants and caterers choose not to pass their leftover food on to feed the hungry, even to the point of literally destroying what they place in their dumpsters and trash bins to prevent the homeless and the poor from reaching in to get something to eat?

Note that in verse 15 the crowd wants to make Jesus their king. Now we’re moving a bit away from physical hunger and physical need, but there’s still a connection. The people in today’s reading may have included some Jews, but many in that area – from the city of Tiberius in the region of Galilee – were perhaps not Jewish. And they probably were also not just “hungry-for-the-moment” people. They were poor people, freed slaves and released criminals and rural people who had been forced to settle and live and have children in a city that had been recently built by Herod Antipas [yes, the same “King” Herod who had John the Baptist beheaded!] on top of a sacred burial ground where no Jews ever wanted to live for religious reasons. So Tiberius was a poverty-stricken city with little employment, a high crime rate, unstable life, frequent shortages, and occasional food riots. Whenever Herod sensed that the people of Tiberias were about to revolt, he would set up temporary bread distribution centers to pacify the hungry multitude.

We can guess that those people who go out to see Jesus are a multitude, a mob, a rabble, a bunch of mostly nobodies, a mass of disenchanted and poverty-stricken and frustrated, suffering, desperate people, not just for a day but for a lifetime, tired of being poor, tired of being hungry, tired of being beggars dependent on Herod’s handouts. They wanted to be a people, their own people, their own nation with a sovereign, a king.

But Jesus was not willing. Remember, he did not seek or claim the title, privilege, or luxury of ordinary worldly kingship. Here, on the mountain above Tiberias,  Jesus refused to become their earthly king, Jesus refused to be their cosmic vending machine, and he went away from them.

In today’s closing verses, after witnessing and participating in this miracle of feeding 5,000 people – the disciples are back in a boat / on the lake / in the dark / in a strong wind / in rough waters when they see Jesus – who had gone up into the mountain by himself to pray – now walking towards them on the water… and they are terrified! Jesus reminds them – reminds us – not to be afraid, not to panic so quickly, when something unfamiliar, when something challenging, comes along. Let us continue to call on Jesus, to follow Jesus, to trust him with our lives, our faith, our gifts, and our obedience.

This Gospel continues next week.

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