This past week I attended the 50th anniversary conference celebrating the reinstitution of the diaconate in the Catholic Church and the U.S. One of the speakers told a story about a mom, dad and their young son coming out of Mass one Sunday. The dad was complaining about the homily and the mom about the singing. Topics that we know cause consternation among many today. Their young son looked at them and said “well what do you expect for a buck?” Now this is NOT- I repeat NOT- in any way a talk about donations to the church. This is about our expectations. What do we expect when we attend Mass? Do we expect to receive more than what we are willing to invest? Do we expect a return on the investment of time we spend at Mass? Do we see it? Do we feel it? Why are we here? I am sure there are other things we could be doing but none of them can be as good for our souls as being here is. Why were the crowds drawn to Elisha in today’s first reading and Jesus in today’s Gospel reading?
In today’s first reading from the book of Kings we hear that the prophet Elisha instructed his servant to distribute 20 loaves of barley among a hundred people who had come to hear him. The servant told Elisha that there was not enough food to feed the crowd. Where was the event planner for this gathering? Why would a hundred, or hundreds, of people come together without provisions for eating or drinking? Elisha told the servant to do as instructed because the Lord had said “They shall eat and there shall be some left over.” The servant did not put aside his doubt but he did as he was told. All the people were fed and there was food left over. Just as the Lord had said there would be. People realized Elisha had performed a miracle based on his faith in the Lord.
So who was Elisha? He was a follower of the great prophet Elijah. He took up where Elijah left off after Elijah was “miraculously transferred to heaven”. Elijah was one of the three Old Testament leaders, along with Abraham and Moses, who appeared to Jesus, Peter, James and John at the miracle of the Transfiguration. Elisha, like Elijah, had a very strong faith in the Lord. The servant, and the people who had gathered, saw that the Lord had fulfilled His promise to them. They were hungry and they were fed. They were physically nourished but that is not why they gathered. They did not come together for a meal because no meal had been planned or prepared for. So why were they gathered there? What were they really hungry for? Stay tuned. Elisha performs four miracles in this one chapter. They are all precursors of miracles performed by Jesus hundreds of years later.
In the Psalm today we are given the first answer of what the Jewish people were hungry for. We read “all eyes look hopefully to you, and you give them their food in due season; you open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” The food that they are hungry for, that the Lord provides, is spiritual nourishment. They came hungry for God’s word and they were fed. The first reading uses the story of a limited amount of barley loaves feeding more people than should be possible. That miracle demonstrates how much the Lord loves, and nourishes, the people who desire Him. He provided them what they needed through the miracle of the barley loaves. Their faith was strengthened and they came to believe in God. Their bodies and souls were nourished. They saw His works as a fulfillment of His promise to care for His flock. Those who were curious saw the miracles, found faith and believed. That is similar to Thomas in the upper room after seeing the wounds Jesus suffered on the cross.
Today’s gospel is a New Testament reenactment of Elisha’s miracle in the first reading except that in this case the main players were Jesus, His disciples and a crowd of 5,000 men plus women and children. Why were they there? What were their expectations? It is again almost a certainty that curiosity drew many. What was this man Jesus all about? Why was there such a fuss about Him? Why were the Pharisees, the Rabbi’s and the Sadducees all afraid of this carpenter’s son? He is preaching and teaching the word and law of the Lord better than them! The crowds gathered to hear Jesus. Many came to believe that he was more than a prophet and was the Messiah. The one sent to save the Jewish people. Two thousand plus years later we are still learning and talking about this man- the Son of God.
Once again there is no event planner. There are no preparations in place for food or drink for the crowd. Jesus tells the disciples to feed the flock. They point out that there is no food or enough money or a place to buy the amount of food needed. They do not understand that the food Jesus will feed them is not the kind you grow. They find a young boy who has five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus takes the food, gives thanks and then instructs the disciples to pass it out to the crowd. There was plenty of food, spiritual and physical, for the crowd plus leftovers. In just a few short minutes we will see the priest raise the host, give thanks and many of us will partake in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
You see, these miracles by Elisha and Jesus were not about the food. The food was just the tool the Lord and Jesus used to teach the crowd and bring them into communion with God. It was a demonstration of God’s love for His people. Those people responded with love and a desire for more. After they had been fed Jesus knew that they would not leave Him alone. They would want more miracles and words of wisdom so he left them to go off and be by Himself. The people would depart these places and go and spread the word about what they had seen and Jesus had done.
That is what we are called to do. We are sent forth to “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord”. How do we do that? I am not suggesting that you stand on street corners but if that is what you are called to do go for it. I am suggesting that you open your hearts to the Lord’s call. We do not know how it will come but like the crowds thousands of years ago we do know it will come. Maybe we have a friend or friends who are not Catholic or have fallen away. For those who are not Catholic and are curious about our faith we have the RCIA program where they can discern if that is their call to join our faith. It starts in just a few short weeks. If they are fallen away Catholic friends we can talk to them about our joy of being fed at Mass. Spiritually. Here at Mass we are those crowds we read about today in 2 Kings and John. We come to be fed. Jesus wants us to leave here craving more of Him just like the crowd of 5,000 did. We can do that. It sounds simple and it really is. We just have to open our hearts and souls. We have to listen to and desire Him.
Jesus the son, God the father and the Holy Spirit, the three-in-one, will feed us everything we need now and forever more. We get to partake in the miracle of transubstantiation of bread into His body and wine into His blood every time we go to Holy Communion. It is why it is such a reverent sacrifice and the reason for attending Mass. Jesus wants us to bring others to the same joy that we experience.
I will close with another comment from a speaker at the diaconate conference- His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo. He gave us a charge and that charge is applicable to all of us.
“WE ARE FISHERS OF MEN. NOT KEEPERS OF THE AQUARIUM”
God Bless you as you go forth doing good works