This week we celebrate the Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time. The first reading leads us to consider the matter of choice. In a very real sense the choice for God must be made every day and often several times a day in various ways. Few of us actually choose against God but I am prodded by the reading to consider in what ways do I (perhaps subtly) avoid making a choice for God? The second reading emphasizes the unity that must exist in the body of Christ and the intimate relationship between Jesus and His followers. I must ask myself to what extent have I been faithful to that unity and how well have I lived out the love that such an intimate relationship with the Savior calls for? After reading from the “Bread of Life Discourse” in Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel for the last four weekends, we hear the conclusion of that speech today. The Gospel reading leads me to ask myself, Am I among those who walk away or do I, like Peter and the Twelve, believe that Jesus “has the words of eternal life?” If I do believe, then How well do I express the love embodied by that belief to the world around me?
First Reading: Joshua 24:1-2a,15-17,18b
1 Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem, summoning their elders, their leaders, their judges and their officers. When they stood in ranks before God, 2 Joshua addressed all the people: “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: In times past your fathers, down to Terah, father of Abraham and Nahor, dwelt beyond the River and served other gods.
15 If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
16 But the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD for the service of other gods. 17 For it was the LORD, our God, who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He performed those great miracles before our very eyes and protected us along our entire journey and among all the peoples through whom we passed.
18b Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”
NOTES on First Reading:
* 24:1 The wording is almost exactly the same as 23:2. The presence of the ark is implied but not mentioned explicitly (See also 8:33).
* 24:2-4 This is a summary of the events of Gen 5-6 without any mention of the Joseph stories.
* 24:5-6 The language in this second Deuteronomic summary of this chapter is similar to 1 Sam 12:8.
* 24:7 The shift from direct speech by Yahweh to third person narrative occurs in both the Masoretic Text (Jewish Bible text) and the Septuagint (ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) although in the former it occurs in this verse only while in the later it continues through verse 13. The redactional (editing) history is quite complicated and can not be unraveled with certainty at this time. An analogous point of view shift occurs in 1 Sam 12:11.
The summary of the Exodus events given here appears to be an independent biblical tradition. This is highlighted by usage of the unique word, “darkness” and the unusual formulation, “he brought the sea upon them.”
* 24:9-10 Here too, the basic story line is familiar but the details are different from other biblical accounts indicating that independent traditions are being used. Nowhere else is there a reference to a battle with Balak (Deut 3:9; Judges 11:25). The third person reference to Israel is also odd. Balaam is negatively portrayed here as one who wanted to curse Israel (See Numbers 23:1-24:25).
* 24:15 A choice between Yahweh and other gods is also found in 1 Kgs 18:21 but that choice follows an action of Yahweh in contrast to silence by Baal. Elsewhere, false gods are chosen (Judg 10:14; Isa 41:24).
* 24:17-18 This affirmation expresses the essence of Israel as a confederation whose principle of unity was worship of the one true God alone. Having accepted Yahweh alone as their God the people are able to include themselves as having participated in the formative experience of the exodus events.
Second Reading: Ephesians 5:21-32
21 Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. 24 As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her 26 to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, 27 that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 So (also) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body.
31 “For this reason a man shall leave
(his) father and (his) mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.”
32 This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 5:21-6:9 Household codes of conduct are found in the New Testament in the Deutero-Pauline (written so as to appear to be from Paul and somewhat in the style of Paul but probably not actually written by Paul) epistles and in 1 Peter. They were adapted from Greco-Roman popular philosophy by New Testament authors to assist in the moral instruction of Christians. They depict the Christian household as a hierarchically ordered social unit, probably as a response to accusations that Christianity undermined the fabric of society and spread discord within families.
Typically, the New Testament writers accepted the basic social order adhered to in the common Greco-Roman codes of conduct but they ascribed specifically Christian motivations as the basis for the imperatives expressed in the codes.
In spite of the arguments presented for and against these “code of conduct” sections by those seeking to justify their personal desires and those seeking to use scripture to dominate others, the main point of these “code of conduct” sections whenever they appear in the New Testament is that Christians have a responsibility to behave lovingly toward others. Thus they are to treat one another with care and reverence. We must not miss this main message because it is expressed in the language expressing the social structure of the first century. The basic Christian way of life has not changed even though we would certainly phrase it differently today.
* 5:22 Paul here follows one of the common literary conventions of the day. It was a common practice of that time for morality writers to list the duties and responsibilities of various members of a society or of a family. A similar listing of household duties is found in Col 3:18-4:1 and 1Peter 2:18-3:7. One of the common criticisms of Christianity in those days was that it preached rebelion and disregard for authority. Pagans saw it as a threat to the structures of society and a danger to the stability of the home and the empire. The advice Paul gives is pretty much in line with the roles established by pagan socity. He is faced with society as it was in the first century so he advised each member of that society to live out his/her role but to do it “in the Lord.” While the outward appearances might not seem much different, the motivation and guiding spirit of the actions were to be based in Christ. So then the wife submits not because society forces her to but to further the interests of “the kingdom.” Just as Christ used His authority over the church to save her and bring her to the Father, the husband is to use the authority that society gives him over his family, not to dominate and seek his own selfish satisfaction but rather to aid in the salvation and spiritual development of his family and household.
* As in Colossians 3:18 the Greek word used here for submit is “hupotasso,” a Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader.” In non-military use, it came to mean “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”. Paul previously mentioned this injunction is based in #Eph 3:18. Similar views are found in #1Peter 3:1-7.
* 5:25-30 This rather extensive instruction given to husbands concerning their treatment of their wives is a unique contribution by this author and is very unusual in the literature of family relationships in the ancient world. The author’s primary concern is to comment on the relationship between the Christian community and Christ. Christ’s love for His body, the church, is the model for a husband’s love for his wife. The relationship between a husband and wife is to reflect the closeness between Christ and His Church.
* 5:31 This verse quotes Gen 2:24 and continues with an interpretation.
* 5:32 The idea here is that the true meaning of scripture passages are often not found in the original setting but hidden for a later time or for the end of days. Here, the author holds that the true meaning of Gen 2:24 is found in the union of Christ and His Church. This is expressed in the household by the union of husband and wife.
Gospel Reading: John 6: 60-69
60 Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” 61 Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? 62 What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”
66 As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. 67 Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
NOTES on Gospel:
* 6:60 Something about Jesus was seen as being particularly scandalous. The communal concern in the previous section, Jesus’ claim to give His flesh as the bread of life, and the fact that the disciples are being addressed all suggest that the eucharistic discourse is the source of the division.
* 6:61-62 Using a common rabbinical technique, Jesus replies by contrasting a “lessor thing” which scandalizes the audience with a greater truth. This inclines us to think that the whole earlier discourse is the object of these comments. In this type of comparison it is characteristic of these “lessor things” that they can be understood as images used within Judaism. Combining wisdom language and speculation about heavenly manna makes the earlier part of the discourse intelligible. The “greater thing” that remains to be seen is the Son of Man ascending back to His heavenly glory (1:51; 3:13).
* 6:63 The first half of this verse points back to the contrast between what comes from the flesh and what comes from the Spirit in 3:6. Only the person “born of the Spirit” will be able to accept the truth of Jesus’ words.
The second half of this verse points back to the life-giving power of Jesus’ words which had been the subject of the previous discourse.
* 6:64-65 These verses seem to relativize the disruption caused by disbelief among Jesus’ own disciples by repeating the notion that faith is only possible for the person drawn to Jesus by the Father (5:38; 6:37; 8:25,46-47; 10:25-26).
* 6:66 A large group of disciples depart almost as if to illustrate Jesus’ words. This verse ends the section and introduces the new section about the confession of Peter.
* 6:67-69 This section is the last of the traditional material that has been taken over into the narrative. In the Synoptic parallel, Peter’s confession served to show that the disciples had begun to perceive Jesus as the Messiah. In John, these Christological titles have been ascribed to Him from the beginning. Here Peter’s confession serves to echo Jesus’ own words in 6:63b. This is the first explicit reference to “the Twelve” in John. The narrator seems to presume that the reader already knows who that group is, that Jesus chose them and that Peter served as their spokesman. </font