Most of you know that I love being on the road, because I love to drive. I enjoy the experience of controlling a vehicle that is moving me from Point A to Point B. I enjoy getting there by the fastest route possible, but I also like dawdling along the scenic route. The trip is often at least as important as reaching the destination.
Though I always enjoy the driving, there are some stretches of road that I enjoy more than others. Beautiful roads, challenging roads, and roads that take me home make my heart sing. I-81 from Blacksburg down toward Knoxville, for example, is a favorite. County Road 647 in Fauquier County, Virginia is another.
The Holy Gospel we hear proclaimed at Mass throughout the Church year is rather like a road the opens up before us. We follow Jesus from episode to episode, following where he leads us, all the while seeing much that is familiar, and simultaneously finding something new every time.
The Scriptural texts for Sunday Mass, presented in the Lectionary (the book of readings), are arranged in three one-year-long programs, with each year walking through a Gospel: Year A is Matthew, then Mark in Year B, and finally Luke in C. John’s Gospel is peppered throughout the year, usually on Holy Days and major feasts.
This year is Year B, and we are about halfway through Saint Mark’s Gospel, which is the shortest. Mark is so brief that there is not enough Gospel to fill all the Sundays of the year. So to fill the gap, for five weeks in late summer, we have one chapter of John’s Gospel. As I looked to the readings for this week to prepare to preach, I was filled with delight as I saw the Gospel passage and said to myself, is it time for this already? What a pleasure to walk once more down this familiar path with you.
Not just any chapter, John 6 is this evangelist’s contribution to our understanding of the Eucharist. Every evangelist recounts the feeding of the five thousand with which this chapter begins, but only John presents what follows: Jesus’s discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum, in which He explains that He is the Bread of Life, and that unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we do not have life within us.
In a way this Gospel chapter is like a beautiful road, with words and actions of Christ presented in such a marvelous way that each and every detail, every word and every sentence, is as perfect and proportionate as the splendid truth that they collaborate to convey to us. But it is also like a challenging road, in that each time I explore it I find a new twist that requires an appropriate response in order to keep me on track. Many of the disciples turned away at these words; that would be a wrong turn. For us who continue, it is also the road home, full of comfortable and familiar landmarks that indicate that we are on the right track, and how close we are to safety.
Here we are again, already. Beginning John 6 means it is almost August. School will start eight days after we finish making our way through this chapter. Wow. Thank goodness it is also a long road, one that takes five weeks! Because while the Holy Eucharist in which Christ feeds us Himself, body, blood, soul, and divinity, brings us to our glorious destination with Him in eternal glory, I am not yet eager to reach its conclusion. I am enjoying the summer, and as ever, I am enjoying driving down one of my favorite stretches of road.