Every third Cycle of the Lectionary for Mass (Year B) is dedicated to the Gospel of Mark.
However the Gospel of Mark is shorter than the others, and much of its text reproduced in the other synoptics (Matthew and Luke); and there is an important section of John’s Gospel – the Bread of Life discourse – that otherwise would not be otherwise be heard.
So each Year B, beginning on the 17th Sunday, this coming Sunday, (and up to and including the 21st Sunday) we pause Mark, and listen to John.
This year the readings from John are themselves interrupted by the feast of the Assumption, kept on a Sunday in England and Wales this year. So those responsible for the preparation of the Liturgy might like to think of combining the gospel readings of the 19th and 20th Sundays for the sake of the congregation’s hearing the Gospel pericope in its fullness. (However, please note that although such an adaptation is commended for weekdays in the General Introduction to the Lectionary it is not directly proposed for Sundays. Introduction, 84)
This Sunday’s Gospel sets the scene for all that follows.
Jesus went off to the other side of the Sea of Galilee – or of Tiberias – and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick. Jesus climbed the hillside, and sat down there with his disciples. It was shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover.
Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, ‘Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?’ He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, ‘There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?’
Jesus said to them, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to all who were sitting ready; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted.
When they had eaten enough he said to the disciples, ‘Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted.’ So they picked them up, and filled twelve hampers with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves. The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, ‘This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, who could see they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself.
The scene is set.
- The story of the miraculous feeding, known in Mark’s Gospel, is here placed in the context of Passover (the time of the Last Supper, and the Paschal Mystery which that Supper anticipated).
- The inability of the disciples alone to respond to the needs of the people
- The way in which the many are fed by God’s grace
- The attentiveness to the precious food remaining
- The way that the ministry of Jesus cannot be understood in normal political, worldly terms.
There is something new here, not only miraculous. The Gospel readings from John over the coming weeks make that point, again and again. There is no escaping the point. So will people stay and learn? Will people reject and leave? And if we have left, will we return?
- How does the Lord help and encourage you?
- How are you able to help and encourage others?
- How can you share Jesus with others?
Photograph is of detail of door of the Cathedral of Grasse. (c) 2008, Allen Morris.