Fr. Ver Bust's Column:|
"Explaining the Gospel"
|Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Celebrating the love from Jesus' life
Christ's great gift of himself reminds us that we are God's people
June 25, Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Today's special celebration centers on the Body of Christ, which we call in "Corpus Christi" in
Latin. What we are actually celebrating is the love, which flowed from Jesus' life. We know that
he willingly offered his own body in sacrifice to show us his love. So today we celebrate that
love and our firm commitment in faith which in turn becomes a sign of our love for him. It
develops and sustains our new life, which is founded in Christ.
Our Gospel reading is taken from the Gospel of Mark and is his account of the Last Supper. Jesus
gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Passover. We will reflect later on that feast in our first
reading. Like all good Jews, Jesus with his disciples recalled the first Passover by gathering in
the upper room. Yet Mark has recalled this event even earlier in his two stories of the feeding of
the multitudes. In the first, Jesus feeds those who have followed him in Galilee. Numbers are
often symbolic in scripture so we might think of the five loaves as recalling the five books of the
Pentateuch while the twelve baskets could refer to the twelve tribes of Israel.
The second feeding takes place in or near the Decapolis, a Gentile area. Some scholars think that
there was probably only one event but that the stories were preserved in two distinct
communities, one Jewish Christian and the other Gentile Christian. If this is true we might
suppose that the second feeding emphasizes that the eventual mission would be to the Gentiles as
well. The seven loaves in the second story might refer to the fullness of the mission.
Both feedings take place in the wilderness and might be recalling Moses arranging his people and
the feeding of them in the wilderness. So when we think of what Mark was doing it might be that
he is trying to tell his readers that they are the new community gathered in faith who are being
fed just as God fed the first community with manna in the desert. The fellowship, which is
important in this event, leads to the eucharistic sharing at the Last Supper and eventually by
Christians gathered to recall what Jesus had done. So a meal, which symbolizes friendship, union
and hope, also becomes the sign of the new covenant which also brings liberation.
Our first reading describes how the people of Israel departed from Egypt and under God's
protection were led into the desert. Moses led them on a journey to Mt. Sinai where God
established a covenant with the people of Israel. Today's reading describes the ceremony, which
ratified the covenant with the blood of slaughtered animals. The blood, which was a symbol of
life, was poured on the altar, representing God, and on the people who were now joined to God in
a special relationship. Covenant in their language was what this was all about, a relationship
between God and Israel, "I am your God and you are my people".
The Letter to the Hebrews, which might really be called a sermon, is our second reading. It was
written to exhort Christians who probably were Jewish in heritage to center their hopes on Jesus.
The author tried to show the relationship between different elements in Judaism and Christianity.
He tied to persuade his readers that the new covenant had replaced the old and that Jesus as the
new and eternal high priest had by his death and the shedding of his blood had inaugurated the
new covenant. His blood was the sign but also the pledge of a new union with God.
The responsorial psalm tells us, "What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?" With this awareness of Christ's great gift to us of himself we are reminded that we are God's people too. So we pray the other words of the psalm "I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the
name of the Lord" and thank the Lord for his goodness.
(Fr. Ver Bust is professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)