21st SUNDAY (B) AUGUST 22, 2021

Joshua 24: 1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Psalm 34; Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6: 60-69

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

In our first reading Joshua reminds the tribes of Israel that God is a Promise Keeper. He gathered the people at Shechem for a crucial meeting and when the tribes came together he formed them into the nation of Israel. Joshua had led them into battle against the Canaanites. The people were spurred on in their struggle by their belief that God had promised them a land. With their success Joshua called the Israelites to renew the covenant and recommit themselves to God. In Joshua’s challenge we also hear the call to choose and serve God alone with a singular devotion and obedience.

There were other religions and cults to draw the people away from God. Joshua makes it very clear: the people must commit to their God who led them out of slavery, across the desert to the Promise Land. Wholehearted devotion is the standard Joshua puts before the people. He also sets the example by professing his own faith, "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."

Isn’t that what many of us want? First for ourselves; to express and live by a clear statement of faith. "As for me… I will serve the Lord." But not just for ourselves. If we have family, especially younger members, we want to set an example and have them join us in our commitment to God. Joshua’s profession is also a prayer we would make: "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." We know that’s what our younger generation needs from us; not just lectures and rules, but an example, a role model, who shows by words and actions, "As for me… I will serve the Lord." If that is the kind of example we set for our children we will also be able, like Joshua, to include them in a fuller proclamation, "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."

The commitment Joshua calls for is not just for individual fidelity to God, but for the whole people and nation to renew the covenant and commit themselves to their faithful God. And isn’t that what we wish for our own nation: that we be a people faithful to God and God’s ways, especially towards the needy? In other words, we want to imitate God’s love for each member of our community, especially the most vulnerable, and to respect the unique gifts of each member. People are different, yet Joshua calls each and all to pledge allegiance to God. He stirs up the community’s memory of God’s saving actions for them to spur their enthusiastic response and commitment. As we look back on our lives we too are conscious of how God stayed with us, especially through difficult times? Doesn’t that memory awaken in us gratitude and faith that God will continue to be with us into our future?

To our modern ears the second reading from Ephesians borders on the offensive – maybe it even crosses over the line – at least in our initial hearing. The Ephesians reading indicates that the early Christians adapted the "household codes" of their day, which came from the surrounding Hellenistic world. These were codes based on subjection, setting forth the duties of members of the household – husbands as the heads and then, wives, children, slaves. In the New Testament these codes were "Christianized," usually by adding terms like, "in the Lord" or, as in Ephesians today, "out of reverence for Christ."

But Ephesians breaks out of the cultural mold and presents marriage as a parable for the relations between Christ and his Church. The author begins with the usual household code’s teaching, "Wives should be subordinate to their husbands...." Then, elaborating in a more Christian sense, the author calls for the husband to love his wife without reservation. Now the emphasis shifts to the responsibility of the husband to his wife. So, the author (it’s not certain it’s Paul), while not changing the marriage institution in the Greco-Roman world of the time, asks Christians to live in a fundamentally different way. It’s there in the opening statement, "Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ." In other words, live in a different way than those in the world around you. The husband, the master of the household, who owns all the property and has all the power, is to subordinate himself to the one who is regarded as powerless. Indeed, he is to see his wife as higher than himself!

How can the author ask such a world-shattering way of behaving? Because Jesus is the model of such behavior. Though he was Lord, he freely humbled himself and submitted himself out of love for us. Some Christian traditions, based on the one verse "Wives be subject to your husbands," take this verse out of context and apply it literally to the relationship between husband, wife and children. But, in its context, we can see that the complete text requires mutual self-sacrificing love, service and sharing.

In the gospel the disciples have to make a choice when Jesus asks them, "Do you want to leave me, to?" It is a challenge: do they want to continue with Jesus and believe in him, despite the hard teaching he has placed before them? If they do they must eat his body and drink his blood, i.e. be a full part of the Eucharistic Memorial which recalls his death and resurrection. As with Joshua and the Hebrew, sharing Jesus, the bread of life, binds us in a religious community, a community of faith living by the example Jesus set in his sacrifice for us.

Today’s passage is an important moment in John’s Gospel, a turning point. Jesus is challenging his disciples to make a decision, to accept the gift of himself, the bread of life (vv 51-58) – or not. It is like the challenge put before the tribes at Shechem, requiring full acceptance and a life lived in conformity to the Lord. Will the disciples affirm this new covenant which Jesus is offering them

All the disciples have witnessed Jesus’ works and heard his teachings. But, just as coming to church, it is more than a matter of showing up. Like the disciples, we too are asked for a full commitment to Christ, to see beyond the sign of the bread to the presence of the One who gives his whole life for us. Joshua and his household gave themselves totally to God. Jesus makes it clear to his disciples that God is given them the gift to believe in him, a gift we have also received. It is not only this faith that brings us here to worship and thanks. We are asked to respond to the Onw we receive: to follow him, share his life with one another and be the witnesses of his life to the world.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings: