There will be a major shift in the Sunday Gospels beginning on the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time July 29. This is Year B of the Sunday Lectionary, the year that emphasizes the Gospel of Mark; but for a series of five weeks, from weeks 17 to 21, the Sunday Gospels will be taken from the Gospel of John — all excerpts from chapter six, the “Bread of Life discourse.”
This summer sequence provides an extended reflection on the importance and value of the Eucharist, the sacrament that is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (“Lumen Gentium,” No. 11).
Leading to service
The author of the fourth Gospel approaches the Eucharist from a unique vantage point. There is no “institution narrative” at the Last Supper in which Jesus blesses bread and wine as in Matthew, Mark and Luke.
Instead, there is foot washing. From John’s perspective the real presence of Christ is also found in service, and the Eucharist leads to service.
The Eucharist is such a pillar of the Christian faith that John’s Gospel dedicates an entire chapter to it. Jesus is “the bread of life” (John 6:35,48), and the Eucharist is his parting gift to us. The Eucharist is the pathway to eternal salvation because “whoever eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:58b). The five different Gospel passages from John 6 offer a rich array of opportunities to reflect on the manifold graces of this great sacrament.
- Week 17 (July 29; John 6:1-15) begins with the feeding of the 5,000. It has unmistakable eucharistic overtones: Bread is the substance; there are three eucharistic actions — taking, blessing, and distribution; it is a great miracle; everyone present is fed; there is more than enough to go around; and, in the end, there are plentiful leftovers. In performing this great miracle, Jesus is revealed as the Prophet (John 6:14).
- Week 18 (Aug. 5; John 6:24-35) skips ahead to Jesus’ self-declaration, “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35). Jesus explains that the food the Son of Man gives endures for eternal life. The Israelites were fed in the desert by God with manna, bread from heaven, but they eventually died. Jesus is the real bread that comes down from heaven. His bread gives life to the world. Whoever comes to Jesus will never be hungry.
- Week 19 (Aug. 12; John 6:41-51) repeats that Jesus is the bread that has come down from heaven (John 6:41,50,51). Jesus states again, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:48), and then to drive the point home more forcefully, he adds, “I am the living bread” (John 6:51). Jesus then connects his dual self-gift, the Eucharist and the Cross: “The bread that I give is my flesh” (John 6:51).
- Week 20 (Aug. 19; John 6:51-58) adds the second eucharistic element, Jesus’ blood (John 6:53). Jesus says, “My blood is true drink” (John 6:55). Whoever drinks his blood remains in Jesus and Jesus in that person. In fact, to receive his blood is to have eternal life and to be raised on the last day.
- Week 21 (Aug. 26; John 6:60-69) is the final week of the Eucharist series. Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist was so difficult to comprehend that some refused to accept it and left him (John 6:66), but not Peter and the other apostles. With the strength that the Eucharist provides, Peter was able to declare: “You have the words of eternal life.” Furthermore, “We have come to believe . . . that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68,69).
Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Stephen in Anoka.