Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Making Sense of Sunday: 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B), July 26, 2009

This series, Making Sense of Sunday, is meant to be an aid both to lectors and the people in the pews. To that end, I will try to cover both the First Reading and the Second Reading. More attention will be given to the Second Reading, since it's usually omitted from the homily and only rarely topically related to the First Reading and the Gospel.

First Reading: 2 Kings 4:42-44
The prophet Elisha was the successor of Elijah. Chapter 4 of 2 Kings records several miraculous acts at the direction of Elisha. First, he helped a widow save her two sons from slavery (for failure to pay a debt) by causing a single jar of oil to fill numerous vessels, thus providing her to sell the oil to pay off her debt and live off the remainder. (2 Kings 4:1-7) Then, in Shunem, he received lodging from a woman with no child an aging husband; for her hospitality, Elisha prophesied that she would have a son in a year. (2 Kings 4:8-17) When the boy had grown, he died suddenly one day, and the woman sought Elisha, who came to her house and brought the son back to life. (2 Kings 4:18-37) On another occasion, Elisha countered some poisonous substance in a stew. (2 Kings 4:38-41) The last vignette in the chapter is the one we hear at Mass, where Elisha multiplies bread to feed a hundred people. (2 Kings 4:42-44)

[42] A man came from Baal-shalishah
bringing to Elisha, the man of God,
twenty barley loaves made from the firstfruits,
and fresh grain in the ear.
Elisha said, “Give it to the people to eat.”
[43] But his servant objected,
“How can I set this before a hundred people?”
Elisha insisted, “Give it to the people to eat.
For thus says the LORD,
'They shall eat and there shall be some left over.’
[44] And when they had eaten,
there was some left over, as the LORD had said.
This short vignette is not situated very clearly in time or place, but some scholars assume it took place in Gilgal (where the previous miracle took place). This miracle is a clear prefiguring of the multiplication of the fishes and loaves which we hear in the Gospel. It does not appear that Elisha is quoting a former word of the Lord, although it does seem a bit reminiscent of the statements God made regarding the abundance of manna and of quail in Exodus; rather, Elisha's message that "they shall eat and there shall be some left over" seems to be a word given to Elisha at this time for this occasion.

Note that the man presenting the bread was offering the first-fruits. This was the customary practice: the first and best was offered, trusting in God's generosity to repay abundantly.

Baal-shalishah is pronounced Bah-ahl-shal-ee-shah.

Second Reading: Ephesians 4:1-6
In Ephesians 2, St. Paul re-affirmed the unity of Jew and Gentile in the one body of Christ, his Church. In Ephesians 3 (which begins with a reference to Paul's being "a prisoner for Christ Jesus"), Paul explains his ministry to the Gentiles, affirming once more that, through a mystery made known only in these later times, "the Gentiles are fellow heirs [with the Jews], members of the same body [the Church], and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." Then, in Ephesians 4 (also beginning with a reference to Paul's being a prisoner), he repeats once more this call to unity.

Brothers and sisters:
[1] I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
[CCC 2219; Col. 3:12-14][2] with all humility and gentleness,
with patience, bearing with one another through love,
[CCC 814][3] striving to preserve the unity of the spirit
through the bond of peace:
[4] one body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
[5] one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
[CCC 172-173][6] one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.
  • Live worthily of Christ (vv. 1-3)
  • Unity; oneness (vv. 4-6)
St. Paul writes in his letters on many occasions about the need of living worthily of the gift we have received. It is clear he sees grace as a gift we do not deserve... but as one which we can disqualify ourselves of after having received it. Thus, here as elsewhere, he admonishes these Christians to be humble, gentle, patient, and loving; he challenges them to strive to maintain unity through peace.

The second half of the reading is Trinitarian in nature: one Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father. It also lists seven ones, seven being a number signifying completion and perfection: one body (the Church), one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father.

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