One of the most intriguing aspects of studying Scripture critically is to surface the many different theologies which make up our sacred writings. This is especially eye opening to us Catholics. Throughout my life I’ve asked or been asked, “What do Catholics believe about this?” Or, “How do Catholics explain that?” Trained to memorize one catechism answer for every question, we’re amazed to discover our sacred authors might provide us with as many as half a dozen answers for the same question.
From today’s gospel pericope, for instance, it’s clear that John’s unique theology about the Eucharist and the person of Jesus contradicted the earlier, more traditional biblical explanations of both. That’s why the author mentions, “From this time on, many of his disciples broke away and would not remain in his company any longer.”
The evangelist isn’t speaking about the historical Jesus’ late 20s or early 30s followers. He’s referring to the risen Jesus’ mid-90s disciples who refuse to buy into his gospel’s “new-fangled” ideas.
Those people of faith who collected and saved the writings which comprise our canon of Scripture presumed human perceptions of God and Jesus continually grow, change and evolve. They never thought of faith as a static element in their lives. It was constantly “moving.”
No accident that when our sacred writers talk about having faith, or making a faith commitment, they’re never referring to giving oneself over to a theology. We’re expected to have faith in a person, not an idea.
Today’s Joshua passage is classic. “If it does not please you to serve Yahweh,” the Jewish leader demands, “decide today whom you will serve. . . . As for me and my household, we will serve Yahweh.”
After reflecting on Yahweh’s “track record,” the people respond, “We also will serve Yahweh, for he is our God.” Yahweh’s past actions on their behalf are reason enough to commit themselves to following Yahweh in the future. God’s personality carries the day.
John parallels this commitment to Yahweh with the disciples’ commitment to Jesus. No matter what theology is floating around, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
During my 32 years of teaching high school marriage courses, I always reminded my students that they were marrying a person, not the idea of that person hovering in the back of their minds. The real flesh and blood person will still be there when the idea changes. That’s why we take vows. We wouldn’t need to make such a formal commitment to another person if we could be certain our ideas of one another would remain the same.
This personal commitment certainly kicks in when we hear today’s well-known Ephesians passage - both our commitment to Jesus and to one another. Many are bothered by the author’s command to women to be “submissive to their husbands as to the Lord because the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of his body, the church, as well as its savior . . . . Wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”
Obviously such “marital theology” was based on ideas of man/woman relationships in vogue in the first century, CE. Almost no one in our communities hold such ideas today. Had the canon of Scripture not been closed in the second century, I’m certain later sacred writings would offer opposing theologies.
Yet no matter the theology, every husband and wife is committed to one another, and if they’re Christians, they’re also committed to the risen Jesus whose personality plays an essential role in all human relationships.