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AUGUST 26, 2012: TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Joshua 24:l-2a, 15-17,18b
Ephesians 5:21-32
John 6:60-69

My one-time seminary classmate, Dr. Bill Sears, recently prompted lots of discussion about child rearing. Time magazine's controversial May cover story on his work, writings and interviews opened the floodgates. After years of careful observation and research, Bill and his wife Martha concluded some of our old "tried and true" parenting techniques simply don't work. They weren't "producing" the kind of children we'd anticipated.

Since this is a commentary on Scripture, not child rearing, you'll have to check other sources for the Sears' opinions on the subject. But their work certainly dovetails with today's three readings.

It begins with Joshua's dramatic decision to "serve Yahweh." Finally entering the Promised Land after 40 years of wilderness wandering, the leader of the Israelites must make a choice. Who will be his family's God? They choose Yahweh. But it wasn't as simple as it might seem. We modern monotheists should carefully examine the reasons behind their choice.

It wasn't a matter of believing in God or not believing in God - of becoming atheists. Twelfth century BCE Israelites had dozens of gods to choose from. The text says they picked Yahweh over all the others because Yahweh had brought them freedom. (The idea of an afterlife wouldn't enter Jewish thought for another eleven centuries. They didn't choose Yahweh because Yahweh guaranteed they'd get to heaven one day.)

Scriptural salvation almost always revolves around this life, not the next. As Marcus Borg demonstrates in Speaking Christian, God (or Jesus) usually saves us by making this life better, by improving its quality.

Even in today's gospel, Peter's response to Jesus' question about looking elsewhere for salvation - "To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!" - must be heard in the context of John's theology. He's a proponent of "realized eschatology." He believes what we anticipate happening in the future is already taking place right here and now. As we've seen over just the last four weeks, John's Jesus often speaks about providing a life for his followers, a life they already experience now because of their faith in him, long before they go through the pearly gates. In other words, Peter's saying almost the same thing Joshua said centuries before. "We follow you because you make our lives free, meaningful and fulfilled."

This is where today's Ephesians reading comes in. The Pauline disciple responsible for this letter is also responsible for the controversial statement, "Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord." Where does he get this idea? The gospel Jesus never brought up the subject.

The writer obviously had different ideas about marriage relations than we have today. But we must see them in the context of his culture, not ours. Back then, most people thought wives who always obeyed their husbands were fortunate. They obviously were more fulfilled - had far less hassles - than those few who rashly challenged the will of their lord and master. Of course, that was also a culture which believed slaves were fortunate because they were slaves. Such individuals couldn't survive in this world if they were given their freedom. They need a master's constant care and protection in order to be fulfilled.

Fortunately through the centuries we've looked at human relations from different perspectives than they had in the first Christian century. We experience freedom and fulfillment on levels they could never have imagined. Once that happened, we had to change our behavior patterns.

Bill and Martha Sears are doing something parallel. They want us to look at child rearing from different perspectives. But, like the advice in Ephesians, we might have to wait awhile to see if it brings "salvation."