All of us have an interest in numbers.
We check the numbers that reveal if our favorite sports team won or lost, and how our team ranks against others in the same league.
We are concerned about the numbers that indicate the condition of our health such as our temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, and cholesterol levels.
We pay attention to the daily numbers that indicate whether the financial markets went up or down and how our investments were affected.
We are drawn to the numbers on surveys and opinion polls that show what our fellow Americans think about issues and how they rate various political figures.
Our readings this Sunday contains some revealing numbers.
In the First Reading (2 Kings 4:42-44), the prophet Elisha is given an offering of 20 loaves of bread. The prophet immediately tells his servant to take the bread and “give it to the people to eat.” Despite his doubts that the amount of bread was enough, the servant does as ordered and 100 starving people are fed. We are told that “when they had eaten, there was some left over.” Those numbers show the power of God working through the prophet Elisha.
In Sunday’s Gospel (John 6:1-15), Jesus also deals with numbers. He is concerned about the empty stomachs of the large number of people who are following him and listening to his words. So, Jesus takes five loaves of bread and two fish given him by a small boy, blesses that food and then distributes it to the crowd. Amazingly 5,000 people are fed.
The numbers in the First Reading pale in comparison to the numbers in the Gospel
The prophet Elisha had one loaf for every 20 people; Jesus had one loaf for every 1,000 people. In addition, Jesus directed his apostles to collect any leftover food and 12 baskets were filled, one for each apostle.
The surprising numbers in the Gospel reveal the power and divinity of Jesus who knew from the start “what he was going to do.”
Today, Jesus Christ is doing even greater things. His numbers are far larger than those in our Gospel.
Through his Church, his living presence on earth, Jesus is feeding, not thousands of people, but millions of hungry people. The Lord is working through organizations such as Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services, and through food pantries in local parishes.
Yet, Jesus does more than feed people with food. For as he himself told us, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4) Jesus feeds people with his word proclaimed in the liturgy, preached by missionaries, taught by catechists, spread through social media, and passed on from one generation of faithful Christians to the next. His word has been heard by billions of people during the past 2,000 years.
Through the priests of his Church, Jesus makes himself present in the bread placed upon the altars of churches throughout the world. In the Eucharist, he does far more than give bread to 5,000 people as he did in the Gospel. He gives his very Body and Blood in Holy Communion to millions and millions of people who come to Sunday Mass. As we proclaim in Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm, “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.”
This Sunday’s readings tell us the number of people fed by Elisha and by Jesus in the past. But even more importantly, they make us realize that Jesus is feeding many hundreds of millions of people today, both spiritually and materially, through his Church. Numbers give us important information.
© 2021 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski