FROM A READING FOR JULY 22, 16TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
He...blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before the people...and all ate and were filled.' - Mark 6:41-42

Since World War II, Scripture scholars have looked at the Gospels from a different perspective. They once zeroed in on passages, trying to surface how each evolved in the early Christian community. But today, students of the Bible also concentrate on how evangelists integrated those individual passages into a unified work.

Movie critics often focus on how a specific scene was filmed, directed and acted; but, eventually, they have to comment on how that scene fits into the whole movie to convey the overall message.

Once scholars of our four Gospels began to employ this methodology, called "redaction" criticism, a whole new biblical world opened. They started to appreciate the theology each evangelist was sharing with his community.

Unique Gospels
The four were more than collectors of early Christian traditions. Each molded Jesus' narratives into a unique pattern. Today, students of Scripture rarely use the phrase, "Jesus said or did that," but say, "Mark's Jesus or John's Jesus said or did that." Each evangelist provides us with a different picture of Jesus.

When the U.S. bishops were given a draft of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to critique, their primary objection was that it wasn't "scriptural." They realized it didn't take into consideration the various theologies of the sacred authors.

The catechism treated the Gospels, for instance, as "Jesus biographies," not as "Jesus theologies," permitting the catechism's authors to arrange Gospel passages into the theology they, not the evangelists, wanted to convey. That objection was brushed aside.

But neither were those who chose our liturgical readings in the late 1960s familiar with redaction criticism, or else what's going to happen next week could never have occurred: Every three years, in the middle of summer, we suddenly shift from Mark's narrative of the miraculous feeding to John's account. Though both seem to narrate the same event, they employ different theologies.

We'll treat John's theology for the next five weeks. But since this Sunday's Marcan passage is an intro to Jesus' first bread miracle, we'll look at this.

Good leadership
Mark's concerned with the qualities of a good leader. As we hear in our Jeremiah (23:1-6) reading, leadership in faith communities has always been a problem - in this case, leading the prophet to look to the indefinite future for the arrival of a perfect leader.

Mark (6:30-34), on the other hand, looks to the here and now. In his mind, the perfect leader, Jesus, has already arrived. What aspects of His leadership should Christian leaders be imitating?

Jesus' communities should never be like "sheep without a shepherd."

In Mark's theology, a faith leader should be a catalyst, creating situations in which Christians can meet the needs of others, even though they initially think they're powerless to meet those needs.

In Mark's account, unlike John's, Jesus doesn't feed the people; His disciples, "after much protest," carry out that work. Jesus simply points out an ability they didn't realize they had.

Though the disciple who wrote Ephesians (2:13-18) emphasizes the unifying aspect of leadership, Mark's insights can't be ignored. He's telling his community to surface leaders who aren't threatened by the power of the people they lead.