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Ordinary Time 21 (B)
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Readings for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1. Joshua 24, 1-2, 15-17 and 18

  • Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem.  That must have been quite a conference.  Let me recall its scope and its importance, expanding in mind and voice until I can do it justice.  Let me include a sense of the way this political gathering was organized, with its elders, leaders, judges and officers.
  • The short passage we proclaim in all our churches today omits most of Joshua’s speech.  We are left with only the conclusion, the words leading to an alliance with the God who led them from Egypt to this place, whose name is the Lord.  This name is repeated five times and it is central to Joshua’s speech.
  • Decide today whom you will serve.  Some sort of solemn gathering must have taken place, in which the tribes met to approve their united alliance under God.   At the same time, the order is given ‘today,’ which means that every generation must approve it in their own time.  I will make this a focal point of my delivery.  As I do this I also anticipate the challenge Jesus makes in today’s Gospel.
  • Yes, the people had a choice because they were not alone in the world.  Those who already inhabited the land, the Amorites, paid tribute to gods of their own.  But something revolutionary was happening as Israel ended its nomadic existence and took up residence in a land that already had its gods.  The God who led them across the desert remained their God in the new land, because the name “I am who I shall be” endures.  The people’s story of deliverance did not end -- it continues!  We carry on that faith, repeating the story in our own assemblies. 
  • This solemn dedication to the Lord represents a covenant response.  God has acted for the people, bringing us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt.  God performed great miracles and protected us along our entire journey.  God has fulfilled every promise, and the people can do no less.  We also will serve the Lord, for he is our God. 
  • Climax: The passage leads up to Joshua’s own pledge, and the people answer it with their own words of commitment.  As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.  These words are another high point of my reading.
  • Message for our assembly: There are so many false gods to whom we often pay attention, but who only lead us to death and destruction.  Do we nurture in our hearts the same love and service of Israel’s God as Israel has shown in its history?
  • I will challenge myself: To make that far-off assembly a model for our own.

 

2. Ephesians 5, 21-32

  • Let me listen carefully to a passage that has been grossly misunderstood and continues to be quoted as a grounds for exclusive privileges in the family, the society and the church.  It is one thing to study what the apostle said.  But it is another to replicate the social relationships in effect in the first century Hellenistic world, at the same time as we obey the apostle’s moral message.
  • What do I hear?  Be subordinate over and over, an appeal to everyone as well as to wives.  Love (in the original Greek, agápé, or self-giving) over and over, which I should apply to everyone as well as husbands.  John Paul II reminded his listeners that this subordination and self-giving are commanded of us all, not just in this passage but throughout the New Testament.
  • I hear some covenant language, too.  Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her.  Nowhere is there mention of honor and privilege, but rather constant reminders of our call to serve one another.  We are members of his body.
  • This is a great mystery.  I would accent ‘great’ because this sharing in the divinity of Christ is the central reality of our lives.  The Hellenistic world used the word ‘mystery’ to signify the meeting of heaven and earth and the rites that celebrated that sacred union.  The experience may have been deeper than anyone could express in words but it was certainly not ‘unsolved’ as we like to say today.
  • That she might be holy and without blemish.  The apostle compares us with the Torah sacrifices!  As in all covenants, the church must respond in a spirit of prayer and a life of God-fearing. 
  • Central point: The repetition of subordination and love throughout the passage.
  • The message for our assembly: If we imagine the church as hierarchical, and the family as patriarchal, then some of us will be subordinate, subject, even submissive (‘sumisos’) to others.  Such an understanding kills the whole meaning of the good news of the Kingdom that Jesus preached, of an economy in which the last shall be first and the greatest are the servants of all.  The apostle says clearly: the church is subordinate to Christ.  Let us be attentive.
  • I will challenge myself: To color everything that I say in light of the first sentence.  Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. 

 

Gospel. John 6, 60-69

  • Yes, this will be the final passage from the ‘bread of life’ debate.  And the air of contention is especially evident.  Many of Jesus’ disciples said, This saying is hard; who can accept it?  And Jesus replied, Does this shock you?
  • Once again he yields no ground, even though he does partly explain his meaning.  It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.  He is not seeking a cult of his superstar personality but a deeper faith in God.  There are some of you who do not believe.  And only people attuned to Spirit and life can grasp these matters.
  • Jesus said to the Twelve, Do you also want to leave?  Simon Peter answered him, Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  These are words of personal commitment, since they probably did not understand his parable any more than the others did.  Peter ends with a confession like that in the other Gospels, except that he makes it clear that he expresses what is in every-one’s heart and mind: We are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.
  • Climax: No one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.  The way of Jesus is not one of compromise.  In our lives and associations we will trade off our priorities to achieve a greater good, but this is not the way honest discipleship works.
  • Message for our assembly: We should not forget, even when we come forward to offer certain talents in the spirit of stewardship, and especially after we have used them in ways that we believe will serve the church, that God first calls us.
  • I will challenge myself: To point out the freedom that people have to accept or reject the message of Jesus, and to repeat the exchange between Jesus and his disciples with the sense of regret and determination that were certainly present.

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