Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 29 July 2012
2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-11, 15-18; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15
Several of Jesus’ miracles echo those performed by the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Elisha fed one hundred men from twenty barley loaves, with some left over at the end. Jesus feeds five thousand with only five barley loaves and two fish, with twelve baskets left over. Both of these miracles are expressions of generosity and hospitality. Sometimes generosity isn’t giving out of our own abundance. Elisha and Jesus gave away the little they had been given, and God made it more than enough.
Jesus gave the people bread in abundance, but he did not give to them the power to dictate his mission. When they wanted to make him king, he slipped away. Their true need set the agenda, not their own plans for Jesus. “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.”
The Old Testament ideal of shalom underlies Paul’s vision for the Christian community. Shalom is more than just peace; it is wellbeing in its fullest sense and has a strong communal element to it. There can be absence of conflict which is not yet shalom. Paul calls upon his readers to build a community characterised by peace and harmony, where justice and righteousness serve the common good and human flourishing. That takes love, humility and patience, with each person concerned for the good of the other. Sound impossible? I wonder how often we do not do the little that we could because we think that the challenge is so great that our puny efforts won’t even make a dent in it. Or sometimes, because peace is our goal, we do not speak out when we should. Do we acquiesce to other people’s agendas for power and take the easy way out? The community of love seems so out of reach, an unrealistic dream. But if there truly is one Spirit at work, then all our little efforts can amount to something big. We need to be like Elijah and like Jesus, offering the little that we have been given, and trusting God to multiply its effectiveness. We aren’t supposed to have the resources on our own anyway. God is over all and through all and in all. Our little acts of generosity and humble service, of overlooking slights and insults, of hospitality, of embracing the ‘other’, of working for peace, may be like a few loaves and a couple of fish among five thousand, but that’s enough for God.