The Prophet Elisha by Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) - Wikimedia
We all need to get the message. What message? Find out in the following homily by Deacon James Sinacore, delivered July 25, 2021, at St. John Vianney Parish, Northlake, Illinois.
Back in the late 1970s, I was watching television one evening with my father. At one point a wine commercial came on and for the first time, I saw advertisers using color and black & white together in one image to make a point.
The scene was a restaurant. Everybody and everything was in black & white. In the middle of the screen was a couple drinking the wine that was being advertised. They and their table were in color.
When the commercial ended I remember saying, “Wow, that was neat the way they did that.”
My father, God rest his soul, said, “Well, they must have taped the commercial in black & white and when they could do color… they did the color part.”
And I remember saying to him: “No, dad, that’s not it at all.”
Don’t you see? The advertisers purposely used color and black & white at the same time to make a distinction between the people who drink their wine and the people who drink all the other wines.
As I was explaining this I came to the realization that my father didn’t get the message.
Some years later I was talking with my friend on the telephone and for reasons, I can’t remember we ended up talking about contraception.
I wasn’t ordained then but I wanted my Catholic friend to come to the realization about the moral problems of contraception. In a gentle way, I remember discussing the points that the Church teaches about this matter.
My friend was quiet and listened as I spoke. And at the end of the conversation he said to me: “Ya, well, I’m going to continue to act responsibly.”
Before I hung up the phone I knew in my heart what my friend meant. In essence, he was saying to me: “I listened to what you had to say but I’m going to continue to contracept.”
Obviously, my friend didn’t get the message.
If you stop to think about it, there is a lot of misunderstanding among people. Although there may be a number of reasons for this, I believe that having a fallen nature is the prime factor that clouds our reason and perception.
As a result, this often keeps us from seeing the truth about something.
If you have any doubt about errors in perception, play that party game where one person whispers a message in the ear of another and then the second person whispers the message to the third, and so on. After doing this about 10 times, the last person says the message out loud. The original message is then disclosed and everyone laughs as they hear how different the two messages are.
This can be fun as a party game but it reveals what our Lord had to contend with in His earthly ministry.
This is why after the miracle of the loaves and fishes St. John says: Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry Him off to make Him king, He withdrew again to the mountain alone.
Doesn’t this sound odd? Jesus performs a miracle for the people. He slakes their hunger and then hightails it out of there!
Why? Because He realized the people didn’t get the message.
Jesus did something heavenly by creating much from little and the people respond in an earthly way … by wanting to make Him king.
And as a side comment don’t believe that brainless rhetoric that you occasionally hear from homilists who say that the miracle was that Jesus got people to share their resources with one another.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. People don’t want to make someone a king if he can get them to share a baloney sandwich with someone else. But they do want to carry him off when he can give them something they need and does it in a way that is beyond natural means.
What Jesus did was a full-blown miracle. And with that said, here is a basic principle we must always remember in our faith life.
When miracles are granted by God they may help us with our immediate earthly struggle but the miracles are meant to fix our gaze on heaven. This is why the people’s response to the miracle of the loaves and fishes is so disheartening.
These were not Gentiles; they were Israelites. As such, they knew (at least for the most part) their own history. They knew that they were a people chosen by God and that God loved them and led them out of captivity to freedom. They knew that God is not a charlatan.
He’s not a magician, a simple caretaker, nor some disinterested spirit. They knew God is the One from whom all good things come.
This is reflected in today’s responsorial psalm when we said: The hand of the Lord feeds us; He answers all our needs.
More than that, the Israelites knew that God had literally espoused Himself to His people, living with them in a covenant in a sacred family bond.
Miracles were meant to remind the people of their special relationship with God. Miracles were not done simply to relieve people of an earthly problem.
When Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes the people didn’t see in it something that was heavenly. Rather, their gaze was earth-bound. They wanted to make Him king so that He could be a powerful weapon against the Roman oppressors.
The reaction of the people in the Gospel is in stark contrast to those who are described in our first reading from the 2nd Book of Kings.
When you read all of chapter 4 you will see that it records a series of miracles done by the prophet Elisha.
At the beginning of that chapter, Elisha multiplies what little oil a widow has so that she can sell it to pay a debt, thus keeping her sons from being taken into slavery.
He raised a boy from death.
He neutralized a stew that was contaminated with something poisonous so that all could eat.
Finally, as we hear in today’s reading, Elisha fed 100 men with only 20 barley loaves and there was some leftover.
At every turn within that chapter, Elisha is referred to as “Man of God.”
The people whom Elisha helped knew that he could do what he did only because God was working through him.
If the purpose of the miracles done by Elisha were only meant to alleviate temporary earthly problems, if they had no spiritual significance, we wouldn’t be reading about them 2600 years later.
The miracles of Elisha, the miracles of the other prophets, the miracles of Christ, and the miracles that occur today — like the Eucharistic miracles of Buenos Aries in 1996 and Sokolka Poland in 2008 — are not provided for earthly purposes.
These miracles are given to help us live as St. Paul has instructed us in his letter to the Ephesians when he says that we are: to live in a manner worthy of the call that we have received.