by Father Mike Stubbs
What can a person do with 20 loaves of bread?
They would definitely fill up my freezer and still take up a lot of space in the refrigerator. But Elisha doesn’t even have that option, when an unknown donor presents him with twenty loaves of bread in Sunday’s first reading: “A man came from Baalshalishah bringing to Elisha, the man of God, 20 barley loaves made from the first fruits, and fresh grain in the ear” (2 Kgs 4:42-44).
Elisha lived over 2,000 years ago, long before the days of refrigeration. The donated bread would not even contain any preservatives. It would turn stale after one day and start to mold.
However, Elisha belonged to a company of prophets. In that respect, he differed from the prophet Amos, whom we recently heard deny that he belonged to a company of prophets, in the first reading for July 15: “I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets” (Am 7: 14).
Evidently, a company of prophets functioned as a religious community. They would frequently eat a meal together, as described in an earlier incident when Elisha miraculously removes poison from a stew (2 Kgs 4: 38- 41). Sharing the barley loaves with the other prophets of the company would make sense. Perhaps that is what the donor intended.
Elisha served as the leader of the company of prophets, perhaps in a position similar to an abbot for a group of monks, or a mother superior for a group of nuns. Fifty prophets are mentioned in connection with Elisha in 2 Kgs 2:7 and once again in 2:16. At any rate, the company of prophets that Elisha was associated with amounted to a fairly large one. When Elisha directs his servant to share the bread, the servant protests, “How can I set this before a hundred men?”
Despite the large number, there is still some bread left over after they have eaten. This is not a matter of luck, but according to God’s plan. As a prophet, Elisha is able to foresee this: “For thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and there shall be some left over.’”
We also are called to trust in God’s desire to provide for us: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28).
We may not be able to pinpoint exactly how with the same accuracy that Elisha makes his prediction. But we can share in his confidence that God will also provide for us, just as God did for Elisha and the company of prophets.