21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Joshua provides this weekend’s first reading. The book draws its name from the ancient Israelite leader, Joshua, who followed Moses and actually guided the Hebrews into the land God had promised them.
Fleeing from slavery in Egypt to settlement in the Promised Land was long, difficult and at times chaotic. Natural problems, such as the want for water and food in the Sinai desert, accounted for much of the trouble. Another serious problem was the restlessness of the people, who were apt to stray away from the path given them by God. They had no map or navigation to guide them. In short, they were wanderers.
The greatest task before Moses, and later before Joshua, was to reinforce the people’s trust in the guidance given by God.
In this weekend’s reading, Joshua summons the leaders of the people. He bluntly calls them to be true to God and to none other.
The people respond by declaring their will to follow God. They realize that God alone has led them out of the misery of Egypt. God has guided them so far. They trust that God will guide them until they are secure in the Promised Land.
The Epistle to the Ephesians supplies the second reading. This reading often is misunderstood in the modern context, in which the human rights of women are much noticed and appropriately demanded. To understand the Epistle’s message, it helps to know the environment in which the New Testament was written.
The Jews at the time of Jesus had a better sense of the fact that all persons, male or female, share human dignity although the Jewish culture of the time is criticized for having at best a paternalistic attitude toward women.
This Epistle, however, was not written for Jews, or at least not for Jews only, or for Jews living in the Holy Land. It was written instead for Christian converts, generally from paganism, who lived in Ephesus, a great center of Roman culture and of the Roman pagan religion.
In this Roman culture, women were little better than animals. Elders arranged marriages. Brokers negotiated prices for brides. Love in marriage was accidental, if ever. Wives had few rights. Abuse and infidelity were to be expected. The Epistle, then, was utterly revolutionary, calling upon spouses, male or female, to see marriage as a true union, characterized by mutual love, existing to give both spouses the means to happiness, and eternal life, amid the realities of the times.
St. John’s Gospel is the source of the last reading. It makes a point often forgotten. Never did Jesus meet total acceptance. He was disputed. He was ignored. He was criticized. Perhaps just as many rejected Jesus as those who accepted the Gospel.
The Gospel, and this particular reading, does not end with reporting the opposition to Jesus. It concludes with faith.
In answer to the Lord’s question as to their faith, the Apostles profess their trust. It is important to know that Jesus sought their testimony. Their absolute faith was crucial in their roles as builders of the Church. It also is important to note that Peter spoke for them.
The three readings together remind us that the Gospel will never universally be accepted. People at times will prefer their own interpretations. People will sin.
God’s love has been proven. He has come to people in need again and again. He offers us life each day. His love never ends. He never forsakes us or forgets us. His strength still comes to us. Our contact with God is through the Apostles, and the Church they left behind them, with Peter as their head.
We respond by loving God, despite the temptations to sin or to ignore God.
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