21st Sunday in ordinary time year B

Theme: Turning point

During lifetime, one may be confronted by a variety of crises. In serious illness, a medical crisis occurs; political crisis involves wresting for power between parties, economic crisis is occasioned by the weakening of markets and devaluation of finances. An international crisis occurs when nations start to disagree. Crises reveal a bleak of events which are a threat to comfort and convenience.

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

Every time a child is born into a family, parents are faced with a little bit of crisis. Questions arise similar to what shall we offer this child as is growing to maturity? Shall he/she be success? Will he/she be responsible? To be responsible is like striking a covenant with God. In today’s text from Joshua, the centrality of the covenant for all the heirs of faith is affirmed. Initiated between God and Abraham the covenant extended to Israel through the mediation of Moses cf. Genesis 17:1-22, Exodus 19:1. This covenant with God will become the framework that govern and fortify every other relationship. That is why, upon their arrival at a turning point in their life as a people before being infiltrated and settling among the indigenous tribes of Canaan, Israelites were invited to decide for or to reject God in favor of anything ahead of them. Their decision for God will be reflected in their fidelity to the terms of the covenant which meant keeping the law.

Geographically, this turning point took place at Shechem, a name which means shoulder due to its location between two mountains Gerizim and Ebal about 60 Kms north of Jersualem. An ancient shrine here associated with the Patriarch Abraham may have at one time, housed the Ark of the Covenant cf. Genesis cf. Genesis 33:18. 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 to that of suzerainty treaties belonging Hittites tribes with a preamble in which the titles of the parties are announced cf. Joshua 24:2;  then the  historical prologue narrating deeds performed previously by the almighty cf. Joshua 24:2-13. There follows the conditions binding the vassal toward sovereign cf. Joshua 24:14,25. After that there is a provision for recording, preservation and periodic reading of treaty cf. Joshua 24:26. Then invocation of witnesses to confirm treaty cf. Joshua 24:22, 26-27 and finally a set of sanctions consisting of blessings for fidelity to treaty or curses for any breach cf. Joshua 24:20. Particular in this text is that God identifies who he is for Israel and in loud response people declare their allegiance to him cf. Joshua 24:15-18. Joshua takes the lead in pledging fidelity to serve the Lord!

Second reading: Ephesians 5:21-32

In today’s second reading, St Paul reminds the Ephesians that their free decision to make a covenant 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 misunderstood due to its insistence that wives be submissive to their husbands citing it as the cause of feminine degradation in human society. After all this was the view held by some celebrities including Aristotle, Philo and Josephus supported the status quo; yet a careful open-minded reading of the text will prove otherwise.

Borrowing from that form what was commonly known as haustafel/household codes, St Paul offered a different interpretation to this known theory. He clarified that submission should be understood from Christ’s point of view “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” Ephesians 5:21. Thus wives were ‘to respect’ their husbands as the Church respects Christ while husbands had to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. In this way St Paul qualified this exhortation to mean that husbands and wives are to relate to one another in mutual love and submission/respect because they are believers in Jesus. It is important that husbands remember to love as Christ loved and to care for their wives as they care for themselves. In order for this to sustain; men need to assume a life-style modeled on that of Jesus Christ which calls for daily mutuality and sacrifice so as to sustain the ‘two to becoming one’ factor in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, the joy of a true family.

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 become instead the reason why many broke away and severed ties with Jesus. It was understandable that many in the crowd, who were not familiar with Jesus, 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 in God insisting that “no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father” John 6:65. Jesus further complicated the status quo by adding another challenge of the living bread insisting that he alone had come to make it known. The revelation Jesus brings is integral; while its face aspect proved unacceptable to some; others chose to stay put  in that the whole revelation stands or falls together.

Because revelation has no optional parts, the gift of living bread is no less credible than 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.

We need to look also at Jesus’ question to Peter “Do you also want to leave?” 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. The Israelites had to decide whether or not they wanted to sustain the covenant by serving the true God or opt for idols; likewise Peter and other disciples had to decide to be or not to be with him. 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 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 every Christian. The Twelve had come to know and believe that Jesus spoke words of spirit that were life giving like bread that sustains every one on the Way to the Father cf. John 6:63. As the bread fibbers bind together to make a nutritious unit, so is the believer supposed to be with Jesus. If we become particles, meaning opting to depart from Jesus’ company, then we get lost. It is in Jesus the bread of life who keeps us growing into complete joy. When we become conscious of that fact and participate in it, then we start  celebrating Eucharist.

Application

In placing these readings before us today, the Church is affirming the crisis which may surprise Christian commitment. Today is not only a turning point but another opportunity offered by God to assist each one of us take a stand for God as Joshua did. We ought to make a choice when things get tough. The choice is between Jesus and our attractions, thus stay alert.


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