Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Apostle St. James - Sunday 17B: Miracle of the Loaves & Fishes



Saint Jacques le Majeur, fils de Zébédée et de Salomé, était frère de saint Jean l’Évangéliste. On le surnomma le Majeur, pour le distinguer de l’apôtre du même nom surnommé le Mineur qui fut évêque de Jérusalem.  

Il était de Galilée et vint au monde douze ans avant Jésus-Christ, Octave-Auguste étant empereur. Il exerçait la profession de pêcheur, ainsi que son père et saint Jean, son frère. Un jour qu’ils nettoyaient leurs filets dans une barque, sur les bords du lac de Génésareth, Jésus appela les deux frères, et à l’instant, quittant leur barque et leur père, ils se mirent à Sa suite et furent bientôt agrégés au collège des Apôtres. Le divin Sauveur leur donna à tous deux le surnom de Boanergès, enfants du tonnerre, sans doute à cause de l’activité de leur zèle.

Le choix que Jésus fit des deux frères pour être, avec saint Pierre, témoins de Sa transfiguration, et plus tard de Sa prière au jardin des Oliviers, montre assez l’affection dont Il les honorait. Ce fut apparemment ce qui les enhardit à Lui faire demander par leur mère les premières places dans Son royaume. Le Sauveur ne leur promit que la souffrance, et du reste, eux-mêmes, après la Pentecôte, n’eurent plus d’autre ambition.

Après la dispersion des Apôtres, saint Jacques le Majeur vint en Espagne, dont Dieu le destinait à faire la conquête. Il la parcourut en tous sens et la féconda de ses sueurs ; mais il ne put convertir que neuf disciples. N’est-ce pas un sujet de consolation pour les prédicateurs dont les efforts ne sont pas toujours couronnés de succès ? Dieu Se plait ainsi à éprouver Ses envoyés ; ils sèment, d’autres recueilleront la moisson.

Du reste, saint Jacques eut une grande consolation : la sainte Vierge, vivante encore, lui apparut et lui demanda de construire, en son honneur, une chapelle qui serait une protection pour l’Espagne. La sainte Vierge a maintes fois prouvé depuis aux Espagnols qu’ils étaient sous sa sauvegarde : ce peuple si fier a trouvé dans la fermeté de sa Foi le courage indomptable qui fait les héros.

Saint Jacques revint à Jérusalem, y prêcha la Foi de Jésus-Christ et convertit beaucoup de personnes. L’Apôtre gagna à Jésus-Christ deux magiciens qui avaient cherché à le confondre par les pratiques de leur art diabolique. Un jour qu’il prêchait, une émeute, préparée à l’avance, se souleva contre lui ; on le conduisit au gouverneur Hérode, en disant : « Il séduit le peuple, il mérite la mort. » Hérode, homme sans conscience, visant avant tout à plaire, commande de trancher la tête au saint Apôtre, l’an 44, saint Pierre étant pape et Claude empereur romain.

Le glorieux martyr appartenait à l’Espagne, qu’il avait évangélisée. Sa dépouille mortelle y fut conduite par quelques disciples. Il n’est peut-être pas au monde un ancien pèlerinage plus célèbre que celui de saint Jacques de Compostelle. En diverses circonstances, saintJacques a été le défenseur de l’Espagne contre les Sarrasins.

* * *

Almighty ever-living God, who consecrated the first fruits of your Apostles by the blood of Saint James, grant, we pray, that your Church may be strengthened by his confession of faith and constantly sustained by his protection. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
* * * * * *

Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year "B") - July 29, 2012
JESUS FEEDS PEOPLE WITH BREAD, HIS WORD, HIS FLESH
[Texts: 2 Kings 4.42-44; Psalm 145; Ephesians 4.1-6; John 6.1-15]



This Sunday's telling of the miracle of the loaves, with reflection on Jesus' extended discourse for the next several Sundays, offers an extraordinary opportunity for believers to meditate on Jesus' teaching about the gift of himself as the Bread of Life.

The whole of the sixth chapter of John features bread. Beginning with the bread that Jesus gave abundantly to crowds on the mountaintop, Jesus went on to speak of a mysterious bread that he would give them to “eat”—his very own flesh. This was such a “hard saying” that it led some disciples to abandon him. Others, including the Twelve led by Peter, were moved to cling to Jesus' teaching, confessing that Jesus possessed and shared with them “words of eternal life”.

The transition from the “little” that lay at hand prior to the miracle (“five barley loaves and two fish...but what are they among so many?”) to an overflowing abundance afterwards (“they were satisfied”), even with loaves left over (“they filled twelve baskets”), parallels Elijah's miracle in the first reading.

Elijah took “20 loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain” and fed 100 people, fulfilling God's word that “they shall eat and have some left”.

Jesus' gift of the bread (“he distributed to them ... as much as they wanted”) took place on a mountain, the traditional place where God is encountered. The number fed—“about 5,000 in all”—and Jesus' command to the disciples that they arrange them in groups (“make the people sit down”) parallels the organization of God's people in the wilderness (cf. Exodus 18.25 and Deuteronomy 1.15).


Afterwards, Jesus contrasted two kinds of food, the perishable and imperishable (“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you”). With anxiety about the necessities of life comes the personal temptation to trust in both the bread from heaven—a free gift from God—and the bread of this earth, which one earns by the sweat of one's brow.

In keeping with the irony that is so frequent in John's gospel, the crowd misunderstood Jesus' words about “working for” imperishable food. For Jesus, the only necessary work is to believe in the one on whom God “has set his seal,” the one sent into the world by the Father. “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent”.

The Hebrew words “man hu” for “manna” literally mean “what [is] it?' Moses offered the correct theological interpretation, “it is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat”.

Citing the manna story, Jesus reinterpreted it several ways. The giver of manna, he argued, was not Moses but his Father. And God's giving heavenly food was not merely a past event, but a reality continuing up to now.

By contrast with the earlier manna, the food Jesus spoke about is “true” bread and it is his hearers, not their ancestors, who are the true beneficiaries of God's gift (“it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven”).

When the crowd asked Jesus for this bread, his startling answer was, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never thirst”. The deeper meaning of this truth will become evident in Jesus' further instruction in coming weeks.

All of Jesus' teaching will be a call to go beyond the miracle of the loaves in order to believe in the gift of life found in his words and the gift of himself in Communion.

The challenge to believe also undergirds the summary of Christian life in Ephesians. Through Christ's saving deed, disciples live a unity of mind and heart. For “there is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one LORD, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all”.

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