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Aug 21, 2015 Written by 

21st Sunday in ordinary time Year B (23rd August, 2015) Be the first to comment!

Theme: Turning point

In the course of a given lifetime, individuals are confronted by a variety of crises. When serious illness strikes, the crisis is a medical one. Political crises accompany the wresting of power from one group or party by another. An economic crisis is occasioned by the collapse of a stock market, the devaluation of a major currency or the bankruptcy of some important financial organization. An international crisis occurs when one nation suddenly invades or encroaches upon another. Lesser crises are also frequently encountered. . . the car won’t start and you have to give a presentation to your boss in twenty minutes. . . unexpected guests have arrived and you haven’t anything to offer them. . . all the some, I can say that the word crisis is frequently misused. For many, the term has a consistently negative ring as in the above examples. Crises are thought of as bleak and foreboding events which are a threat to comfort, convenience and in some cases, to survival.

The term crisis belongs to a larger family of words: critic, critical, criticism, criterion, critique, just to mention. Each of these words is ultimately derived from the Greek verb, krinein which means to sift and separate or to decide. Accordingly, critics sift and separate what they deem as having value from what is valueless. Critical skills refer to the ability to discern good from bad. A criterion is a standard or means of sifting, separating and deciding. It is within this framework of krinein-derivatives that the word crisis should be understood. Quite literally, a crisis is a turning point, a moment of decision which will determine a future course of direction; it is a time of sifting and separating and being committed to a choice. Therefore, a crisis may not only be a time for worry in the face of perceived peril, but a time for exhilaration in the face of perceived opportunity.

First reading: Joshua 24:1-2,15-17,18

Every time a child is born into a family, the parents or guardians of this new life are faced with a crisis. They must decide, what shall I offer this child as it grows to maturity? Shall he/she be raised in rich heritage which faith affords or not? In observant Catholic families, this turning point is met and answered with the rite of Baptism. This Rite is equivalent to the Hebrew b’rit milah serves as an outward sign of the covenant with God, a covenant through which all life is given meaning and a keen sense of responsibility is nurtured. So crucial is this rite, that in recent years it has become customary to hold a religious ceremony to welcome new born children into this covenantal life. In Judaism, the b’rit milah/Initiation is a momentous occasion for the community as well as a personal milestone for parents and children. Responsibility before God both collective and individual is deeply felt.

In as far as Baptism in concerned, initiated into the life of Christ, the newly baptized are also incorporated into the life of the Church and covenanted to God through the blood of Christ. Strengthened by the faith and life of its young members, the Church, in turn, sustains and supports the growing faith of its newest covenant-partners. In today’s text from Joshua, the centrality of the covenant for all of the heirs of the Judaeo-Christian faith is affirmed. Initiated between God and Abraham cf. Genesis 17:1-22 the covenant extended to Israel through the mediation of Moses in Exodus 19:1ff. This covenant with God became the framework which governed and fortified every other relationship. Therefore, upon their arrival at yet another turning point in their life as a people, meaning, the final infiltration and settlement of the Israelite tribes in Canaan, the people were invited to decide for God or to reject God in favor of the idols of their neighbors. Their decision for God was to be reflected in their fidelity to the terms of the covenant which meant keeping the law.

In a religious sense, this crisis was met and answered within the hearts of a people who were called and blessed by God. Geographically, this turning point took place at Shechem, a name which means shoulder due to its location between the ‘shoulders’ of Mountains. Gerizim and Ebal, about. 60 Kms north of Jersualem. An ancient shrine associated with the patriarchs, Abraham cf. Genesis 12:6ff and Jacob cf. Genesis 33:18ff, Shechem may have at one time, housed the ark of the covenant. A reference in Judges 9:46, describes the shrine at Shechem as the temple of El-berith, God of the Covenant. The covenant ritual recorded in Joshua 24:1-28 is similar in structure to the suzerainty treaties imposed by the conquering Hittites tribes in the second millenium B.C

1) preamble in which the titles of the parties are announced Joshua 24:2

2) historical prologue, which included a narrative of the deeds performed by the sovereign for the vassal Joshua 24:2-13

3) stipulations or obligations of vassal toward sovereign Joshua 24:14,25

4) provision for recording, preservation and periodic reading of treaty  Joshua 24:26

5) invocation of witnesses to confirm treaty Joshua 24:22, 26-27

6) sanctions consisting of blessings for fidelity to treaty and curses for any breach against it Joshua 24:20. Included in today’s reading are the preamble, identifying God and Israel cf. Joshua 24:1-2, and the declaration of allegiance to God to which the people agreed in Joshua 24:15-18. In contrast to the suzerainty treaty which imposed terms and demanded that they be observed under pain of grievous sanctions, those whom God calls to covenant are free to decide, free to choose, free to love and obey, or not. Shall we follow Joshua’s lead in pledging that as for me. . . I will serve the Lord. . . or… not?

Second reading: Ephesians 5:21-32

In today’s second reading, St Paul reminds the Ephesians that their free decision to be covenanted with Christ must be reflected in every other relationship. Those who enter into a marital covenant, for example, should love and submit to one another in mutual care, just as Christ submitted himself in loving sacrifice for the Church. Through the centuries, this pericope of St. Paul to Ephesians has been roundly criticized for the exhortations, particularly for his insistence that wives be submissive to their husbands thus some people citing it as the cause of feminine degradation in human society. However, before coming to his defense, it should be understood that others could be similarly charged.  Imagine, centuries before the New Testament, Aristotle argued that men were naturally superior and therefore fit to rule over women. Plato described a woman’s virtues as taking care of the home and obeying her husband. Plutarch insisted on the wife’s full submission in all social and religious matters; she was to share her husband’s friends and relinquish her own and to accept his gods and religion. Jewish writers from the first century were equally insistent; Philo and Josephus said that due to her inferiority, a woman was to be ruled by masculine authority. Was the Ephesians author simply following the lead of others before him? A careful, open-minded rending of the text will prove otherwise.

Borrowing from that form of advice called haustafel/household codes which were regularly featured in Greek and Jewish literature, St Paul gave a decidedly different interpretation to the rules which should govern familial relationships. Contextually the call to submission which meant give in, to cooperate and need not mean obey as per Markus Barth, “Ephesians” Anchor Bible, Doubleday and Co., Garden City: 1974, who distinguished between the active and middle/passive uses of verb should be understood in light of the call to “defer to one another out of reverence for Christ” Ephesians 5:21. Moreover, the closest St Paul comes to actually defining submission comes in verse 33, where he summarizes his exhortation to wives with a call ‘to respect’ their husbands. Notice, also, that St Paul has further qualified this exhortation to wives by placing it side by side with that extended to husbands. Husbands and wives are to relate to one another in mutual love and submission/respect because they are believers in Jesus who, as their role model, gave of himself, fully and absolutely to the Church.

It is significant that the husband’s submission to his wife is described in much greater detail. Husbands are called to love as Christ loved and to love and care for their wives as they love themselves. Christian husbands were being challenged to a life-style which was considerably much more progressive than that of their contemporaries. Comparing the covenant of marriage to the covenant between Christ and the Church, St Paul lifted Christian marriage to a height far beyond the cultural mores of his day. By referencing the text from Genesis 2:24; St Paul further affirmed and reinforced the mutuality of the marital covenant of ‘the two shall become one’ and the Sacramentality of Christian marriage as a type of Christ and the Church.

Gospel: John 6:60-69

How ironic! The gift of living bread, which was to be the source of covenantal union between Christ and the believer and the means by which all other sharers in the covenant would be united to one another in Christ. . ., that very gift had become the reason why many broke away and severed ties with Jesus. It was understandable that many in the crowd, who were not very familiar with Jesus would have murmured and departed. But, as is reflected in this text, even those most readily disposed to Jesus chose to leave him. “This is hard talk” John 6:60, they complained and could not believe he was serious. No less surprising is the fact that Jesus offered no easy remedy to the doubts and disillusionment of his disciples. He worked no further sign; he offered no further explanation. He simply challenged them to open themselves to the gift of faith that was God’s gift to them: “no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father” John 6:65. Moreover, Jesus further explained that the additional challenge that the gift of living bread was to be understood as a fuller revelation which he had come to make known. The revelation Jesus brings is integral; one aspect might prove unacceptable to some, another aspect to others. But the whole revelation stands or falls together.

Because revelation has no optional parts, the gift of living bread is no less credible that the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. If their faith was shaken at this point, how then could they ever put faith in what was yet to come! Only with faith would they be able to see and grasp the following triple mystery which was being revealed among them.  1) the incarnation “I am the bread that came down from heaven” John 6:41. 2) the redemption “the bread that I give is my flesh for the life of the world”, John 6:51. 3) the ascension and glorification “the Son of Man will ascend to where he was before” John 6:62. The ‘bad news’ was that some did not accept this teaching and refused to believe and withdrew from the ranks of the disciples cf. John 64- 66. The ‘good news’ is that others accepted Jesus’ teaching as good news, as gospel and the way of salvation.

We need to look also at Jesus’ question to Peter “Do you want to leave me too?” John 6: 67 which does not concern identity, recognition or acknowledgement. What is required is a decision. Like Joshua and the Israelites in the first reading, the disciples of Jesus had arrived at a crisis which meant turning point. Like Joshua and the Israelites, who were asked to decide whether or not they would remain covenanted to God in loving service, Peter and other disciples were being asked whether or not they chose to remain in the discipleship of Jesus. Jesus’ question challenged those who had first inquired of him, “Where do you stay?” John 1:38 and who were invited to “Come and see!” John 1:39; this is what it means to choose whether to go or to stay with him. Such a choice, as Jesus explained in John 6: 65 can only be made by a grace-supported faith. Peter’s response, “Lord to whom shall we go?” John 6:68 reflects the faith-filled, free and whole-hearted decision of the early Christian community. They had come to know and believe that Jesus spoke the words of spirit and life and that he was indeed the Bread of Life and the Way to the Father cf. John 6:63. Internally bound up with the gift of this bread is the option to remain with or depart from Jesus’ company. This Gospel teaches us that the story of humanity and each human person is the story of sin and grace, failure and success, freedom and slavery, dying and rising. The total human experience is capitulated in the life, death and rising of Jesus. When people become conscious of that fact and participate in it, they are celebrating Eucharist which is a thanksgiving.

Application

In placing these readings before us today, the Church is affirming the crisis which is at the heart of Christian commitment. Today is a turning point, yet another opportunity offered by God to assist each one of us take a stand. We must stand up for God as Joshua and Israelites did. We ought to make a choice when it comes to the family and its Christian values. We need to make a choice between Jesus and our attractions. How will such a decision affect me and you today? How shall it reshape tomorrow? The answer is deep in your heart.

Download the pdf version here

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Fr. Paulino Twesigye Mondo

Fr. Paulino Twesigye Mondo is a Comboni Missionary Priest. He holds a PhD in Moral Theology from Academia Alphonsiana Lateran University Rome. Currently he is the Assistant Parish Priest Our Lady of Africa Mbuya- Kampala and Secretary Missionary Animation Comboni Missionaries Uganda. For the last twenty years he has worked as missionary in Kenya where he served in various capacities as National Youth Chaplain, Secretary of National Lay Apostolate, Secretary and Director Missionary Animation, Parish Priest Holy Trinity Kariobangi, Director of Radio Waumini Kenya, Program presenter of Know Your Faith Vatican Radio, Staff writer with National Mirror and New People Magazine, Theologian of Kenya Episcopal Conference, Dean of Eastland’s, Visiting Lecturer on Ethics, Social Doctrine to various Universities, Board Member various Colleges and Secondary Schools, member of College of Consultors Archdiocese of Nairobi, Theologian Delegate to the Second Africa Synod on Reconciliation, Justice and Peace and Synod on New Evangelization for transmission of Christian faith.

Tel 0787058387

Email: Pmondo@ourladyofafrica.org

Website: www.ourladyofafrica.org

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Welcome to Our Lady of Africa Parish Mbuya. We are located near Bugolobi Township in Nakawa Division. It is about 5 kms from the City Centre of Kampala. Mbuya Catholic Parish is a vibrant and diverse community made up of people from different parts of Uganda. We welcome you warmly and joyfully.

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