GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
The 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time for Year B is a very significant Sunday because it marks an interruption in our semicontinuous reading through the Gospel of Mark and the insertion of a very important chapter from the Gospel of John, that is the famous chapter called the Bread of Life Discourse from John 6. If you've ever studied anything about the Eucharist you’ll know that John 6 is one of the central passages in the entire Bible that teaches us about the reality and the mystery of Christ's presence in the Eucharist. So what the church does, this is very important, is during Year B she takes five weeks off from focusing on the Gospel of Mark and instead uses five Sundays in a row to walk step-by-step through the account of Jesus' actions in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, beginning with today's gospel which is the feeding of the 5000. So for the next five Sundays what I want you to do is just pay close attention to the significance of these Gospel readings and I think you'll see as we move through the next five Sundays why the church thinks that these passages are so important that every third year, when we’re studying the Gospel of Mark, she interrupts that gospel to focus our attention on one of the foundational texts in the New Testament for our belief in the Eucharist, which is the source and the summit of the Christian life. Alright so just keep your eye out for that.
So today what we’re going to do is turn then not to Mark but to John 6. The gospel for today is focused on the feeding of the 5000, the famous account of the multiplication of the loaves — which by the way is the only miracle of Jesus that is 1 actually recorded in all four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Today we focus on John's account of the feeding of the 5000 with an eye toward how this is going to be fulfilled ultimately in the miracle of the Eucharist. So let's begin; the reading for today is John 6:1-15 — and a little bit longer than what we've seen in Mark but very significant. It says this:
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiber’i-as. And a multitude followed him, because they saw the signs which he did on those who were diseased. Jesus went up into the hills, and there sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, "How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, "Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?" Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place; so the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!" Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the hills by himself.
Okay, awesome account there, the feeding of the 5000. If you're familiar with the other accounts in Matthew, Mark and Luke, one of things you’re going to notice about John is that he gives several distinctive details. He gives you a lot more detail than the others and he tells you some aspects that aren’t found in the Synoptics, almost as a kind of supplement to their account of this extraordinary action of Jesus. So let’s walk through some of those distinctive elements of John's Gospel....
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
And so Paul illustrates that with this long series of descriptors about all these unified elements, these elements of unity… or aspects, I should say, of unity in the Church. So I just want to walk through them and kind of identify them one
at a time. Sorry, no pun intended. Well, it was kind of intended once I thought about it. Just walking through each one of them, because people will say sometimes, “Oh yeah, of course the Church has to have unity.” But what does that mean? What do you mean specifically when you say unity? What kind of unity are we talking about here? Be specific. So here are the specific aspects of unity that Paul describes. So in verse 3, he says we’re going to be:
...eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit.
The Greek word for unity there is henotēs
. It literally means “oneness”. It’s from the Greek number for one. So henotēs
is oneness. So there’s a oneness to the Church. Alright, what are the aspects of that oneness? Alright, so the first one (this is important, I’m going to walk through these) is visible unity. Visible unity — you see this in verse 4 when he says:
There is one body…
So crucial. There is no such thing as an invisible body. I mean, there might be in the movies or something like that, but as a rule, bodies are visible. So when he describes the Church as having one body, as Christ as having one body, that’s its visible unity. There must be visible unity for the Church to be the true Church.
Second, there is also invisible unity. That’s implied by his language of “one Spirit.” So a lot of people — especially a lot of non-Catholic Christians — err. They say, “Oh yeah, I believe the Church is one.” But they’re talking about the invisible spiritual unity between Christians. We all have the same spirit, we have faith. But Paul, it’s not either/or. It’s both/and. It’s not just
invisible spiritual unity. It’s also visible bodily unity. So invisible unity, visible unity.
Third, there’s also eschatological unity. Remember eschatology talks about the future hope? Well, he says there is one hope. We all hope for the same thing, for the same end: the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. We say it in the Creed. That’s our one hope. We share that hope. As a Christian you can’t say, “Well, you know, I’m not so sure about the resurrection of the body. I think maybe some of us will be angels and then others of us might be pure spirits that just dwell in some other realm.” No, no, no, no, no. There’s one
hope. The resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come — that’s our hope. So we have one eschatology.
Fourth, a Christological unity. We have one Lord. There’s not many different Jesuses running around — your Jesus, my Jesus, his Jesus, her Jesus, this Christ, that Christ. No, no, no. It’s one Lord. And whenever Paul says Lord, the vast majority of the time he uses the word kyrios
Lord to refer to Christ. So there’s one Lord, one Christ. So we have one Christology.
There’s also — this is important — doctrinal unity. And here he uses the term pistis
in its way to refer to certain truths of faith to which we give assent — one faith. We believe the same things. You’ll see this expressed in the early Church quickly as heresies rose. The rule of faith (is what it was called) was the profession of the Creed — in its early form, the Apostle’s Creed, and then eventually as it developed you get the Nicene Creed and then the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which becomes the kind of final definitive form of the Creed that we profess to this day in Sunday Masses.
So the Creed is a summary of the essential elements of the one faith, the one apostolic faith that we all profess together. It’s not your faith, my faith. There is a subject development to faith — that’s not what Paul is talking about here. He’s talking about the unified element, the doctrinal element of the faith, the mysteries of the faith in which we all believe and which we participate.
Alright, so we’ve got visible unity, invisible unity, eschatological unity, Christological unity, doctrinal unity. We also have sacramental unity — very important. One faith, one Lord, one Baptism. So here Paul is talking about the rite through which we enter into the one Body of Christ. Every Christian has to enter into the Body of Christ ordinarily — there are some extraordinary circumstances or exceptions, but the ordinary path is through the waters of Baptism.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)
That’s Jesus, John chapter 3, because sacramental unity is also crucial.
Theological unity — we have one
God. One Lord, one God. There you see the distinction too. Jesus, he’s referring to Christ as Lord. He’s referring to God the Father:
… one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:6)
So here we see, notice, Paul climaxes his — this is not inconsequential. He climaxes his hymn to unity with the Trinity, with God the Father.
… one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.
So you have the unity of Spirit, we have one Lord Christ, and then one God the Father. So what is the perfect symbol of true unity? It’s the inconceivable and estimable, unfathomable, mysterious union of the one God who is three divine persons (three distinct persons), but they are so united they are in fact one true God. The mystery of the Trinity is the perfect example of unity and so that model of Trinitarian unity is what we seek to actualize in our lives in the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s only the Holy Spirit who can bring about that kind of unity. And Paul knows that, and that’s why he begins with the Spirit and ends with the Father.
Try to imagine a church where you’ve got visible unity, one body. You can see the church. It’s clear this is the church. That invisible unity — that’s a spiritual bond. You’ve got eschatological unity, doctrinal unity, Christological unity, sacramental unity, theological unity … ultimately all within the Trinitarian framework.
That is the biblical description of the Church. That’s not just the biblical … that’s the Pauline description of the Church. It’s not individuals setting up their own churches, their own sects, their own divisions, sending themselves, giving themselves apostolic authority … lack of clarity about who is the head, who are the members. No, no, no, no, no. That’s not the Church of the apostles. The Church of the apostles is one. It’s holy (Holy Spirit is the unifier). It’s Catholic; it’s universal. And it’s apostolic. You can’t see this in this verse, but if you have any doubts, you just back up to Ephesians 2, the same letter. After talking about us having access to one Spirit the Father, he actually says in chapter 2, verse 19:
So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
So notice the imagery there. The temple of God, the Church, is built upon what?
...the foundation of the apostles…
So it’s an apostolic Church as well. So I bring all this up because in our day, especially with the proliferation of so many different Christian denominations and so many different sects, it can be very confusing. It can seem, actually, almost unbelievable when the Church, when we profess in the Creed, “I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” How can we say there is one Church?
It’s even more difficult when you see divisions within the Church, people in-fighting and that kind of thing. And that’s been around since the beginning. It’s a stumbling block to the belief in the unity. Paul himself is actually addressing it. He’s trying to call the Ephesians to not have that kind of in-fighting. But it doesn’t make him deny the oneness of the Church.
And so in closing, I’d just like to interpret these verses in light of what the Church says … and invite you to really reflect on the unity of the Church, especially in light of the teaching of the Church. I want to look here at the Catechism of the Catholic Church
, paragraphs 814-816. This is an excellent section on the unity of the Church...
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