17th Sunday in Ordinary Time reflection by Fr. Matt Litak

It is rare for all four Gospels to contain the same stories. With their varied audiences and focuses, the Gospel writers tend to omit, or summarize, or rearrange stories as suits their purpose. All four Gospels recount Jesus feeding thousands of people, and Matthew and Mark recount Jesus doing it on two separate occasions. Thus, even the most jaded historical scriptural critic is forced to admit that an event like the one seen in the Gospel actually happened, and we the believer see the story’s lasting impact on the Jesus movement and the early Church. Indeed, it is an image that is inherently Eucharistic and thus inherently ecclesial, inherently central to the Church’s identity. The streams of all types of people, united together as one flock by Jesus, coming to Him, being fed by Him has powerful echoes in the communion line. Add to it the fact that Jesus was teaching before feeding and we get the Liturgy of the Word preceding the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Besides informing our sense of the liturgy, the Eucharist, along with the other sacraments instructs our sense of ourselves. As Paul tells the divided Ephesians and we their descendants, we are: “one body and one Spirit” with “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all.” We need to work together with “all humility and gentleness, with patience bearing with one another through love,” while “striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.” The other day I had a sad reminder of just how divided we can be.

I was at an event and was talking to a parishioner, who tended toward social justice. Another parishioner walked up who tended toward a more conservative bent. They hadn’t met and I introduced the pair. We talked for a bit before I got pulled away. Later, I was approached by the conservative parishioner from earlier who was mad at me for introducing the two of them and instructed me not to ever introduce him to another "social justice warrior." He walked away before I could follow up. This is a painful thing, and certainly not what Paul or Christ intended. Whatever one’s spiritual life is filled by, or whatever one’s personal perspective is, if it hinders your ability to be with your fellow Christian, it is wrong. Dialogue, patience, humility, gentleness these are the marks of a Christian.

So often I don’t want to be gentle or patient with my fellow Christians, my fellow humans. We are a tiring and often illogical lot. But, living as a true Christian is the only way to make it better. I have made this point or a similar one before, and I will probably have to make it again. But, sometimes there is power in hearing something again, and being reminded that we are all fed by the same Jesus, made one by Him, and share in His life together.

Can you share a story where listening with gentleness and patience brought greater understanding?

When have you felt truly fed by the Eucharist or in other ways by Jesus?

Have you experienced Jesus taking something meager and bringing great things from it?