July 27, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (2 Kings 4:42-44) Reading II (Ephesians 4:1-6)
Gospel (St. John 6:1-15)
In the Gospel reading today, we are told that many people were following Our Lord simply because of the signs that they saw Him performing. They saw Him heal the sick. They heard the Word that He was preaching. They figured out that He had walked across the water. Now the Lord had fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. The people wanted to make Him a king, but it was only because they saw the signs that He was working. And it is very interesting what their response is. Their response is that the Prophet has come into the world. Now these are Jewish people who are coming to the Passover.
We heard pretty much the exact same thing two chapters earlier in Saint John, chapter 4, when Jesus was talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. The Samaritans, you recall, believed only in the first five books of the Bible. They did not have any of the rest of the Old Testament, just the first five books, the books of Moses, the Torah. And so when the Samaritan woman tells us that she knows the Prophet is supposed to come into the world, what she is talking about is the person Moses spoke of in the Book of Deuteronomy: “God will raise up a prophet like myself from among your own kinsmen and he you shall listen to.” It is the same Prophet that is being spoken of here.
Yet when we think about it from the perspective of the Jewish people, there is clearly something that is awry. The prophet Elisha, we read in the first reading, did something very similar. He took twenty loaves of bread and he fed a hundred men with that. The people did not want to carry him away; they did not say, “Surely, this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” They knew he was a prophet; in fact, they knew he was the prophet who was chosen by God to succeed Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets. And they did not want to carry Elijah away either. No one suggested that any of the prophets of the Old Testament was the Prophet who was to come into the world. But the tragedy for the Jewish people on the way to the Passover is that they did not recognize that Jesus was the Messiah. They recognized Him as the Prophet, they wanted to make Him king, but they did not understand Who He was. He was not merely the Prophet or a king or even a priest, but He was Priest, Prophet, and King.
That is why Saint Paul in the second reading speaks about our unity and that there is but one faith and one Lord and one baptism and one body and one Spirit, all the “ones” that he is talking about in the second reading. It is in that one baptism, as we have seen so many times, that each one of us became a member of Jesus Christ, and as members of Jesus Christ, each one of us is priest, prophet, and king. We have to look at what that really means to be able to understand Who Jesus Christ is. And in understanding Who Jesus Christ is, we understand ourselves because Saint Paul reminds us that we have to act in accordance with the dignity of our call. Our call is to be members of Jesus Christ. Our call is to allow Jesus Christ to live in us and through us. So before we can really know who we are, we have to know Who He is.
The people wanted to make Jesus a king. But as Archbishop Fulton Sheen would say, “Jesus refused to allow Himself to be a bread king.” He was not a social worker. He was not just some do-gooder who had come along and was a really nice guy. He was not just simply interested in the social problems of the day; He was much beyond that. The kingship of Jesus Christ is not found in the fact that He is feeding the people. The kingship of Jesus Christ is recognized when He is on the Cross, crowned in the manner in which humanity made Him the king. They even put the title right above His head: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. That was His true act of kingship. The royal office is one of service, and each one of us, sharing in that kingly office of Jesus Christ, is called to serve. The Lord made very clear about Himself that He came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for the many. And He tells us that the greatest among us is the one who serves the rest.
He also commanded us to love as He loved us, which means to serve, to pour oneself out, to die to self in order to live for others. That is the only way we are going to find fulfillment. It is an interesting thing to look around in America, and certainly in other parts of the world as well, and what we are told by the marketing people is that all of these things are going to fulfill us. “This is finally going to make you happy.” But we all know that it has never happened, and the more we try to fill ourselves, the more empty we become and the more frustrated we become. The great mystery of this kingship of Jesus Christ is that it is only by giving, by pouring everything out, as Saint Paul says, “I have been poured out like a libation.” There is nothing remaining, everything is poured out for the sake of the people of God. That is the only way we will find true fulfillment. We will find the joy we are seeking, the fulfillment we are looking for. We are not going to find it by trying to fill ourselves up. But we will find fulfillment only by emptying ourselves out so that Jesus Christ can fill us with Himself.
The prophetic office of Christ is the office of the teacher. We are told right at the beginning of the Gospel reading that He went up the mountain and He sat down. Remember, whenever a rabbi sat down it was the indication that he was going to teach. That is why it keeps coming up in the Gospel over and over that Jesus sat down. We would look at that and say, “So what? So He sat down. What difference does it make?” For a Jewish person, it meant that what was going to come out of the mouth of the rabbi was not his opinion – it was authoritative teaching. So when Jesus sat down to teach, it was then that He was exercising the prophetic office, it was then that He was truly showing Himself to be the one that Moses spoke of in the Book of Deuteronomy, the one to whom the people were to listen; and they were to obey his voice as they had obeyed the voice of Moses. But the people misinterpreted it. They looked at the signs and the wonders that He worked and they said, “This is the Prophet,” instead of listening to His words and putting them into practice because He was exercising the prophetic office.
Each one of us also shares in that prophetic office of Christ. The prophetic office is not about predicting the future. The prophetic office is telling people what God’s Will for them is, to teach, to help them get out of sin, to point them in the direction toward God. That is how we exercise our prophetic office. Married couples must do that for one another. Parents must do that for their children. A true friend is one who will point out the faults in charity of another in order to help that person grow. That is exercising the prophetic office of Christ. It is reaching out to those who have fallen away from their faith and showing them the way back. It is sharing in that shepherding office that we looked at last week.
And then, Jesus is a priest. We see His priestly office being exercised in what the people misinterpreted as the prophetic office. We see His priestly office everyday being exercised. The office of a priest is the office of sacrifice. And when Jesus fed the people, He was pointing to the Eucharist. As we read a little further on in Saint John, chapter 6, which is where the Gospel reading this morning came from, He makes very clear that the bread that He will give is His flesh for the life of the world, that it is our heavenly Father Who gives the true manna, the true bread from heaven, Who is Jesus Himself; it is the Eucharist that the people refused to believe in. They believed no more and they walked with Him no longer because they could not accept what it meant for this Man to be the Priest, the Prophet, and the King. They thought He was supposed to be a king in a different way, a prophet in a different way, and a priest in a different way. Therefore, they were scandalized by His true priestly, prophetic, and kingly office.
Sadly, we too sometimes are scandalized by the same things. When we consider the Eucharist, there are many Catholics now who do not believe that Jesus is really present in the Blessed Sacrament. They do not believe that He is God. They do not believe that He continues to operate in and through the priests on a human level to continue to pour Himself out in His kingly office for us. They do not believe that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the only Way, that is, the kingly office; He is the only Truth, that is, the prophetic office; He is the Life, that is, the priestly office. But if we do not understand, we tend not to accept.
We need to listen to His words. We need to recognize that He is the Son of God Who came into this world, and He teaches us with authority and not like the scribes of old. We need to recognize that He is the King, not in a worldly sense, but rather He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the Savior of the world. He is not merely a prophet – He is the Messiah. He is the Christ Who is to come into the world. And each one of us, understanding (at least to the degree that we are able) Who He is, must then recognize the dignity of our call, and we must act upon that dignity which is ours because it is the truth of who we are based on the truth of Who Jesus Christ is.
And so the first question is do we accept Jesus Christ for Who He truly is? If the answer to that question is “yes” then I have to challenge you with the next one. Do you accept yourself for who you are as a member of Jesus Christ, Who is Priest, Prophet, and King, Who is the Messiah, Who is the Son of God? That tells us who we are: sons and daughters of God; priests, prophets, and kings. We are the ones whom God has chosen and sent into the world today. That is our dignity: to share in the divine life, to share in the threefold office of Christ, to be members of the Son of God Himself, to be chosen by our heavenly Father to continue the work of His Son. Do you believe that? Do you accept that for yourself? These two questions go together; you cannot say “yes” to one and “no” to the other. If you do not believe in your own dignity, you cannot believe even Who Jesus is. And if you believe in Who Jesus Christ is, then you have to believe in yourself. Not because you yourself are anything great in and of yourself – that is why the first thing Saint Paul says is that we have to live this in all humility with gentleness and patience and love. Humility. It is not because we were so great, but rather it is because of who God has made us to be. It is about Him more than it is about us, but we have to recognize who we are so that we can understand who we are in relationship to Him, so that we can recognize the dignity of our call and live that call in all humility with patience, gentleness, and love.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.