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A Year with Mark: August

A Year with Mark: August

Mark’s Gospel is too short to cover the whole year, so in the middle we have a five-week stint of John, Jesus’ lovely Eucharistic Discourse. Why now, in the middle of the holiday season? It has always struck me that this is an invitation to Eucharistic hospitality: we are always members of Christ’s Eucharistic family, wherever we are, guests and hosts together!

After the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which is itself a foretaste of the Eucharist meal of Jesus with his disciples, John gives us an explanation of the Eucharist in Jesus’ words. This synagogue-sermon is, after the pattern of synagogue-sermons at the time, built on two quotations from scripture: at the start a text from the Law (v. 31), with a booster-text from the Prophets at mid-point (v. 45). After the manner of John’s Gospel the advance is made every time by a misunderstanding and a puzzled question; it is almost as though Jesus positively invites misunderstanding to provoke belief. Jesus explains each segment in turn: ‘Bread from heaven / he gave them / to eat’. The message is that the true bread from heaven was not given by Moses in the desert, but is even now being given by Christ in the life of the Church. Just like our modern Eucharists, the first sections are about revelation, about getting to know Christ and believe in him. There the gift is Christ’s revelation and his invitation to believe; the whole stress is on belief as the secret of life. The full revelation of the truth which forms God’s people was not the gift of the Law on Sinai, but is the gift of the Eucharist in word and sacrament of daily Christian life. It is only in the third section (v. 51-58) that the emphasis shifts to actually eating the flesh and drinking the blood. There a new word is four times used, which graphically really means ‘to chew’. We can be in no doubt about the realism of Jesus’ intentions.

As so often in John, a trial, a decision is in progress, as some accept Jesus’ word and others fall away. Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus is not the judge, but people judge themselves by their reaction to him. The disciples believe in Jesus at the marriage-feast of Cana; the Jews at the cleansing of the Temple refuse belief. The Man Born Blind puts his trust in Jesus; the Pharisees show their blindness by refusing to see Jesus as the Messiah. Here no action from Jesus is required; those who refuse the message slink away to give room for Peter’s proclamation, ‘You have the words of eternal life’.

by Dom Henry Wansbrough OSB

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