For the month of August, Divine Word Father Bernard Latus offers a reflection for those writing homilies and those reflecting upon the Bible in groups or alone.
GOSPELS ALIVE: Preaching Sunday Gospels in August 2018
INTRODUCTION: Biblical detour through John 6 - Why?
From the last Sunday of July throughout the Sundays of August 2018, we depart from the Gospel of Mark assigned for the Sundays of this Liturgical year and turn to the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John.
There are a few reasons why it happens in year B. The first one is obvious; the Gospel of Mark is much shorter than any of the other Gospels and so the passages from the Gospel of John serve as a sort of a “soul food filler.” However, unlike regular food fillers where the nutritious value is useless, this insert has a very theologically nutritious content.
Secondly, the sixth chapter from John’s Gospel replaces the sequential short reading from Mark 6:30-44 about the multiplication of loaves for five thousand followed by another story of the multiplication for the four thousand in Mark 8:1-9. What is enclosed in between and following these two stories are many references to symbols related to the multiplication stories and Eucharist: bread (Mk 8:14f.); leaven (Mk 8:15ff); and crumbs; (Mk 7:29) as well as a long teaching about eating of food (7:1-23). Mark also has a lot of Eucharistic overtones although they are less clear and organized than John 6.
This brings us to the third reason why John 6 might have been placed in the middle of the Gospel of Mark from 17th to 21st Sunday in the Liturgical Year B. Some scholars allude to an apparent affinity of John's Gospel to Mark's in its theological content even though the chronology and make up of those two Gospels are quite different. What is similar between John and Mark in the story of multiplication is that immediately following the story, there is an account of Jesus walking on the water (Mk 6:45-52; cf. Jn 6:16-22) and Jews apparently wanting Jesus to perform a sign; (Mk 8:11-12 cf. Jn. 6:30) followed by the misunderstanding (of some) of his disciples (Mk 8:16-21; cf. Jn 6:60-66) and profession of faith in Jesus by Peter: (Mk 8:29; cf. Jn 6:68-69). Such points of thought convergence between the Gospel of Mark and John are more numerous but these are just some examples.
1. READ: John 6:1-71
2. REFLECT: Theological content of John 6
We know that there are no miracles in John's Gospel; only seven signs. This is the fourth sign and, if we apply the chiastic structure to these signs, this one would be the most important being in the very middle: proceeded by three and followed by three. Thus, the central and the most important of them.
Secondly, in the feeding of the five thousand, we have a miracle ranking with the resurrection itself as the only two "wonders" recorded by all four Gospels. From the synoptics, it is clear that John passed over practically a full year of the great Galilean ministry, which lay between the second and third Passovers. The synoptics record this sign as the culmination of a series of wonders, but John seems to have presented it for the sake of the discussions that flowed out of it; and it also fit his design of stressing Jesus' deity.
Thus, John 6 has a significant theological value for us Catholics who place great importance on the Eucharist and the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine. The text can be dealt with apologetically to explain the value and precedence of the Eucharist in our Catholic spirituality.
The key verse here is v. 53: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” For millions of Protestant Christians this verse was used by Jesus purely symbolically. Because of our strong believe in the real presence, Catholics often were accused of cannibalism.
However, we do not receive our Lord in a cannibalistic form. Catholics receive him in the form of bread and wine. The cannibal kills his victim; Jesus does not die when he is consumed in Communion. Indeed, he is not changed in the slightest; the communicant is the only person who is changed. The cannibal eats part of his victim, whereas in Communion the entire Christ is consumed—body, blood, soul, and divinity. The cannibal sheds the blood of his victim; in Communion our Lord gives himself to us in a non-bloody way.
Although, today, Catholics might be less prone to be victims of such an accusation, yet we are constantly exposed to various interpretations, and the apologetic approach to the text might be in place.
The second approach is spiritual. Since the Eucharist is the climax and summit of our relationship with God explaining that what we receive is not just bread and wine but true Body and Blood of Christ. The word "true" is quite prominent in the text. (Jn 6:33, 55).
Jesus identifies himself with the bread: "I am the bread of life" (v. 35, 48). He is the one who "came down from heaven" in contrast with the manna that came "from heaven" (Jn 6:32, cf. 6:49ff.) in the time of Moses. It is a good comparison between those who adhere only to the teaching of Moses and those who cling to the words of Jesus. His teaching about the Eucharist is closely related with Christology and the assertion that Jesus "came down from heaven" (Jn 6:33, 38, 41-42,50-51; 58).
Our whole Eucharistic theology is based predominantly on the teaching of Jesus in John 6:26-58. The teaching about the "bread of life" that "came down from heaven" is supported with the very graphic and to-the-point saying "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them" (Jn 6:54-56). That passage forms the basis for our beliefs in the Eucharistic real presence.
3. APPLY: Points for exhortation
Our homily on the text should not be limited to the presentation of the theology of the Eucharist; it should also be an exhortation that is applied to the context where and to whom we preach.
The catechism teaches that "Eucharist is the climax and summit" of our spiritual life as Christians, so in our exhortation, we need to stress the solemnity and the intimacy of the act of reviving communion.
In my work in a very strong Protestant milieu, I often equate going to Communion with the "altar-call" existent in many evangelical and Pentecostal churches as a form of giving oneself to and receiving Christ. For Protestants, it is a very solemn and intimate but one-time moment with God and so Communion should be for us Catholics. Creating a proper atmosphere, reminding us of the importance of the moment just before Communion, could be a way of reawakening of our awareness of the weight of that moment. Pausing to reflect on the meaning of Communion could be much desired in the age when everybody simply goes to Communion as a part of a liturgical rite without inward transformation.
If we preach to the same congregation each Sunday, it could become monotonous and boring to make the same exhortation each Sunday during the month of August. As various parts of that chapter six are read in consecutive Sundays so perhaps the first reading of each Sunday could serve as pointers of where we want to go with the exhortation. They provide a biblical commentary on the Gospel of the day and background through which that part of the Gospel could be understood.
Since Eucharist plays such a central part in our spiritual life as community and in the individual lives of Christians, and because Eucharistic devotions have somehow diminished in recent decades, engaging our congregations in more conscious and devout participation in the act of communion will never be superfluous or monotonous.
4. PRAY & CONTEMPLATE
Spend some time before the Blessed Sacrament, preparing your homily, catechesis, etc., and pray using the words of Jesus from John 6:26-56.
Reflections from 2017
January Reflection: Jesus Calls His First Disciples
February Reflection: No One Can Serve Two Masters
March Reflection: Leave Everything Behind
April Reflection: A Vocation Journey
May Reflection: The Shepherd and the Sheep
June Reflection: The Prophetic Vocation
July Reflection: Finding a Treasure
August Reflection: Expanding One's Horizons
September Reflection: Expectations
October Reflection: Missionary Challenges and Joys
November Reflection: Serving the Poor Fosters Vocations
December Reflection: Humble Service