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John Fills in for Mark - 26 July 2015
Something strange happens with the scripture readings at Masses this Sunday and for the four weeks following.
In this Year B of the liturgical calendar, which began on the first Sunday of Advent last November, we have been hearing continuous passages from the Gospel of Mark at Mass on Sundays. For the next five weeks, however, the Gospel reading comes from John’s account. Why is this so?
It is partly for practical reasons. Mark is the shortest of the synoptic Gospels and does not fill up an entire year of Sundays, so passages from John's Gospel are inserted from the 17th to the 21st Sunday.
It is logical to use readings from John since that Gospel does not have its own “Year” and it makes sense to incorporate Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel at this point because it fits well into the part of Mark's Gospel we have been hearing in recent weeks which is concerned with Jesus' revelation of himself.
These continuous readings John 6 are commonly called the Bread of Life discourse. They can appear to be repetitive if we hear only catch phrases such as “I am the bread of life” and are not alert to the progression from the first to the final reading in the series.
The chapter begins with Jesus feeding the five thousand (week 1). The next day, the people search for Jesus until they find him. Aware that all they want from him is more food, Jesus tells the people to seek by faith eternal food instead. Jesus offers himself to the world as bread of eternal life: all who believe in him will be raised on the last day (week 2).
In response to the Jews’ questioning of how anyone with known earthly parents could be bread from heaven, Jesus reaffirms that he is the living bread from heaven and promises that anyone who eats this bread will live forever. When Jesus proclaims that the bread that he gives for the life of the world is his flesh, the Jews react angrily. Jesus’ response is that they will have no life unless they eat his flesh and drink his blood (week 3).
Jesus goes on to explain that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood will have eternal life and remain in him since his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink. Just as Jesus lives because of the Father, those who consume Jesus will live because of him (week 4).
When many of the disciples complain about how hard this teaching is, Jesus addresses their concerns by predicting his ascension and by rebuking their materialism and unbelief. At that point, many of his followers leave, never to return. The twelve apostles however reaffirm their faith in Christ as the “Holy One of God” (week 5).
Jesus’ speaking of himself as “bread of life” in the initial passages from John 6 focuses on his word which sustains and gives life. There is a progression from Jesus’ word as bread of life to Jesus’ flesh and blood as real food and drink for the life of the world. This is a familiar pattern in the celebration of the Mass: the progression from Word to Eucharist.