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JULY 26, 2009: SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

II Kings 4:42-44
Ephesians 4:1-6
John 6:1-15

During my minor seminary career we regularly were treated to Sunday night movies: three reel, 16mm presentations of recent (and highly censored) hits. Since the seminary had just one workable projector we took two short intermissions while the projectionist changed reels.

One memorable evening we returned from our first intermission and discovered the second reel was from a different movie than the first. Obviously someone from the movie provider had made a mistake packing the reels. We dutifully sat through the second reel (realizing the faculty hadn't censored it), then took our second break and came back for the third reel from the original movie. Only in a pre-Vatican II seminary could that have happened in just that way.

Yet every three years we Catholics go through a parallel event. We've faithfully been listening to Mark's gospel week after week. Then on this Sunday we shift from Mark 6 to John 6. After a few weeks of John, we'll return to Mark: the original B cycle gospel. Only in a non-scripturally sophisticated church could this happen. Though similar, there's a big difference between the movie and church audiences. We all noticed the mistake 50 years ago. Practically no one today gives the gospel-switch a second glance.

Though both chapter 6 of Mark and chapter 6 of John narrate the miraculous feeding, each evangelist does so from a different theological perspective. To defend the switch on the grounds that both gospels narrate the same event is like saying we shouldn't have complained about the different movie reels; both were westerns.

John doesn't look at the miracle through Mark's eyes. One of the most glaring differences: in Mark, Jesus' disciples do the feeding; in John, Jesus does it. Mark's very concerned that his community understands its role in meeting the needs of all during their Eucharistic celebrations, especially when they feel they've little or nothing to offer. John has Jesus "institute" the Eucharist during the feeding (not at the Last Supper) and wants to make certain his community understand the deeper significance of Jesus' body and blood which they consume during the Eucharist.

In some sense, today's first reading fits Mark's reluctance-to-help theme better than it does John's life-giving food and drink motif. (Of course, Philip does raise the question, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" But that's nothing compared to the threefold Jesus/disciples exchange in Mark.) Elisah's people are amazed that so much can result from so little. Such amazement is paralleled in Mark and John.

Our Ephesians author is amazed to see great unity among God's people. It's the outward sign we're doing what God wants. "Make every effort," he writes, "to preserve the unity which has the Spirit as its origin and peace as its binding force. There is but one body and one Spirit, just as there is but one hope given all of you by your call."

When a young Father taught us how to "say Mass" back in the fall of 1964, he began by stressing one point: "Your main job is to unite all who participate in the Eucharist into one community." No matter what biblical theology of the Eucharist we buy into, the future auxiliary bishop tried to convince us that unity was the goal of each celebration.

At the end of every Eucharist we should be forced to ask, "Am I more one with my brothers and sisters now than when the Eucharist began?"