Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Joshua, the source for this weekend’s first reading, looks at the period in the history of God’s people when Joshua led them. It was after the death of Moses.
Even though these connections may seem to be clear, biblical scholars disagree about the exact date of this period as well as the time of this book’s composition.
This much is clear: Hebrew history was not written as much to chronicle events and happenings as to chart the people’s religious response to God’s revelation.
In this reading, Joshua gathers all the people at Shechem, along with the leaders of the people, the senior members, the judges and the warriors. He puts before this assembly a blunt and fundamental question. Do they wish to follow God or not?
The people cry out that they wish to follow God.
Although on occasion they rebelled, God brought them out of Egypt and protected them as they made their weary and dangerous way across the Sinai Peninsula.
For its second reading, this weekend’s liturgy turns to the Letter to the Ephesians. Not uncommonly, this reading is cited as reinforcing the subjugation of women, once so prevalent, since wives are admonished to obey their husbands.
Knowing the context is essential to understanding this reading. Marriage among pagans in the Roman Empire was quite removed from modern ideals for marriage. Wives were little more than glorified slaves, virtually going to the highest bidder. They had no rights.
Understandably, many marriages were very troubled. Often, spouses detested each other. Often, wives were abused.
This letter, a classic of Christian behavior about human living, calls for a different style of marriage. Using lofty examples to describe marriage, it speaks of the union between Christ and the Church.
At the time these ideas were revolutionary. They established the dignity of women. Christ loves and redeems all people equally, male and female.
In the culture of the time, husbands were responsible for the well-being of families. Husbands ruled. Wives meekly followed. Paul taught that marriage was a union, characterized by cooperation, fidelity and respect. Husbands, as well as wives, should love their spouses with the same unqualified self-sacrificing love with which Christ loves the Church.
St. John’s Gospel furnishes the last reading.
In preceding verses, Jesus spoke about the “bread of life.” Jesus is the bread of life. After Jesus spoke these words, many disciples walked away. People, even today, find this at least a puzzling statement.
Very critical to the story is the fact that the Twelve did not desert Jesus. The Lord asked the Apostles to look deeply into their hearts. Would they walk away with the others?
For all the Apostles, Peter responds with a magnificent expression of faith. Saluting Jesus as “God’s holy one,” the Messiah — in itself a powerful testimony — Peter, says, “Lord, you have the words of eternal life.”
The Church for weeks has called us to realize our limitations as human beings, and it also has reassured us that God’s mercy, love and power lavishly assist humans. We will not be left helplessly to face our needs.
For instance, we risk starvation, spiritually as well as physically. We cannot produce this food on our own. God comes to us with the bread of everlasting life — Jesus.
We must decide ourselves either to accept this bread or to reject it. Many rejected Jesus in the Gospel stories and later.
Fully realizing their need for the Lord, the solitary source of genuine life, the Apostles are examples to follow. As Peter declared for them, Jesus alone has the words of eternal life.
The Lord redeems us all. We are equal in God’s love and in God’s plan for salvation, if we ask for eternal life.
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