The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
II Kings 4:42-44 + Ephesians 4:1-6 + John 6:1-15
July 25, 2021
“… He withdrew again to the mountain alone.”
Signs frame today’s Gospel Reading. Signs appear at the beginning and at the end of the passage. This is significant because this Sunday is the first of five Sundays during which most of the sixth chapter of St. John’s account of the Gospel is scheduled to be proclaimed (although this year, one of these five Sundays will be displaced by the August 15th celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary). This chapter of John 6 is where Jesus proclaims His teaching about the Most Blessed Sacrament: the Holy Eucharist, which comes into our midst through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Consider the signs of Jesus that are mentioned. At the beginning of today’s Gospel Reading, Saint John the Evangelist explains to us that “a large crowd followed [Jesus] because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.” Then, at the end of the passage, St. John explains how after “the people saw the sign He had done” just then—that is, multiplying the loaves and fish—“Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, [and so] he withdrew again to the mountain alone.”
That’s one of the most melancholy verses in all of the Gospel: Jesus “withdrew again to the mountain alone.” Again. Apparently this had happened before. The problem, of course, wasn’t Jesus: the one performing these signs. The problem was in the crowds: those who saw His signs but mistook their message. Yet it’s not the crowds who withdraw. It’s Jesus who chooses to withdraw repeatedly to the mountains alone.
At the end of Holy Week comes further isolation atop a mountain. Because the crowds mistake Jesus’ greatest sign—the Sign of the Cross, in which the crowds see mortal shame instead of immortal glory—most of Jesus’s disciples abandoned Him to Calvary. Atop Mount Calvary, Jesus takes upon His shoulders the sins of the world, and on behalf of man cries the psalm of solitude: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” [Psalm 22:1].
But that’s getting ahead of the story. At the end of today’s Gospel Reading, “Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, [and so] He withdrew again to the mountain alone.” This sentence by itself seems strange, but it reveals an important point to keep in mind throughout the Sundays when we hear from John 6.
Your average human being, if he knew that a crowd were wanting to make him a king, would definitely not retreat into solitude. We see this in the culture of the Internet, where on blogs or through YouTube an individual can become something of a celebrity. Jesus did not want to be a celebrity. Jesus wanted crowds to follow Him, but only for the right reason.
Both at the beginning and end of today’s Gospel Reading, the crowds are following Jesus for wrong reasons: not bad reasons, but not the ultimate reason for following Him. When “Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee”, “a large crowd followed Him, because they saw the signs He was performing on the sick.” This large crowd is mistaking the means for the end. They seem to think that Jesus is in this world to be some miraculous physician. They don’t understand that His miraculous cures are meant to be attention catchers, not the object of Jesus’ life.
At the end of our passage, after the Multiplication of the Loaves, the people proclaim Jesus to be “‘the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.’” “They were going to … carry Him off to make Him king.” They think Jesus is in this world to rid it of hunger by His miracles. They don’t understand that the miracle of feeding 5000 is meant to be an attention catcher, not the object of Jesus’ life.
Both signs—healing the sick and feeding the hungry—beg an important question. What was the object of Jesus’ life on earth? What were all of Jesus’ miracles advertising? The rest of John 6 answers this question, revealing to us the divine Person of the Word made Flesh: the Son of God who offers us His Body and Blood as strength for the journey, and a foretaste of the Love that awaits at journey’s end.