AUGUST 26TH, TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
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,
Joshua addressed all the people:
"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 now dwelling.
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
But the people answered,
"Far be it from us to forsake the LORD
for the service of other gods.
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 the peoples through whom we passed.
Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God."
Brothers and sisters:
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
For the husband is head of his wife
just as Christ is head of the church,
he himself the savior of the body.
As the church is subordinate to Christ,
so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives,
even as Christ loved the church
and handed himself over for her to sanctify her,
cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,
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.
So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.
He who loves his wife loves himself.
For no one hates his own flesh
but rather nourishes and cherishes it,
even as Christ does the church,
because we are members of his body.
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.
This is a great mystery,
but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.
Many of Jesus' disciples who were listening said,
"This saying is hard; who can accept it?"
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this,
he said to them, "Does this shock you?
What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending
to where he was before?
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.
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.
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."
As a result of this,
many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer accompanied him.
Jesus then 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.
We have come to believe
and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."
For many of us, our faith has consisted in very few choices. Brought up Catholic, we’ve simply stayed in that configuration of beliefs our whole life. We’ve never experienced a compelling reason to change anything. Yet the authors of today’s Joshua and John readings presume there are times when we’re forced to choose between at least two alternative ways of living that faith.
The author of Joshua presents his readers with the basic choice of the Hebrew Scriptures: do we follow “pagan gods,” or imitate Joshua and his family, opting to make Yahweh our personal God, and relinquish allegiance to any other gods or goddesses? We who grew up after the sixth century BCE have only one God to worry about. But those, like Joshua, who lived before Deutero-Isaiah’s ministry had hundreds of divine beings from which to choose. For them, biblical faith was much more complicated than just being a “believer” or an atheist.
John’s Christian community is also faced with a choice. The late Raymond Brown’s The Community of the Beloved Disciple meticulously outlines the alternatives. They spring from the distinction between “low and high Christology.” The former looks at the biblical Jesus from his human characteristics, the latter, his divine. If one decides to preach on Jesus’ humanity, one normally goes to Mark, Matthew and Luke; low Christology evangelists. Those who preach on his divinity usually turn to John; a high Christology proponent.
John’s chapter 6 clearly paints a divine, high Christology picture of Jesus. One with God, he offers an everlasting food and drink that guarantees eternal life. His message actually is “Spirit and life.” No wonder some “old time” Christians found all this new stuff hard to accept. They simply could “no longer accompany” that kind of Jesus.
Looking at our biblical writings historically, we frequently find ourselves in the middle of an evolving faith, a constantly moving experience. We not only must know what was said, but when, or in what order it was said. Lots of decisions were involved in forming the Scriptures we have today. The historical Jesus, for instance, decided at one point to reject this life only theology of most of his theological predecessors and accept the novel eternal life theology of his fellow Pharisees. The Sadducees he encountered during his ministry refused to make that jump. They argued that believing in a heaven simply created too many complications, exemplified by multiple marriages.
That’s where our Ephesians pericope comes in. Whether we like it or not, it forces us to make a decision. Do we follow this Pauline disciple’s marriage theology, or go beyond it? We’ve already done this with Paul’s theology on slavery. (“Slaves be obedient to your masters.”) No one today would tolerate slavery just because of the Apostle’s limited reflection on the subject. In the same way, should modern women be “subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord” just because the author of Ephesians said to do so 2,000 years ago? We could employ other biblical quotes to challenge that statement. E.g. our Genesis 1 author contends both men and women are made in the image and likeness of Yahweh; a theology in which there appears to be no marital subordination.
As I mentioned above, Sadducees wanted to live a “simple” life. That’s one of the reasons they rejected belief in an afterlife. Do some Christians reject marital equality today just because they also long to live a simple life? Choices can bring complications. Yet in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures we surface a God who has given us free will. Perhaps the more we use that will, the more we actually become like the God we’re trying to imitate, a very complicated being.