First Reading: Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b
Psalm 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21
Second Reading: Ephesians 5:21-32
Gospel: John 6:60-69
Decide today whom you will serve.
The commitment to be bound to another person for life is never made once and for all, but must be renewed again and again. This is true not only of our commitments to one another but also in our commitment to God through Jesus. At particular moments we must decide definitively and not simply drift along.
In the first reading Joshua calls together all the tribes of Israel and their leaders. For some people this may have been an occasion of initial commitment; for others it was a reaffirmation of a way they had already chosen. Joshua puts the choice before them: either to serve the Lord who brought them out of slavery in Egypt, who performed great miracles before their eyes, and who protected them all along the journey; or serve the other gods of the land in which they dwelt. It seems impossible and illogical to make any other choice than to respond wholeheartedly to God, who had begun the relationship with such extraordinary saving acts. Joshua leads the way by declaring that he and his household will serve God alone.
A similar choice is set before the disciples of Jesus in today’s gospel. The decision is whether to believe in the One whose words are “spirit and life.” The setting is the aftermath of Jesus’ feeding of the multitude and Jesus’ invitation to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Unlike the first reading, the choice here is not so evident and logical. The disciples say, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” What Jesus asks of them is shocking, as he himself recognizes. It includes a mysterious element of gift that is inexplicable, like the fact that we can never fully or logically explain why we would choose to spend our whole life with another when such a commitment is bound to entail great difficulties. Love and the gracious gift of God are often all we can offer to explain such a choice.
Hard choices must also be made when we face changed circumstances. Sometimes commitments once made have to be reevaluated. One such example was when former president Jimmy Carter made the painful decision in 2000 to break his ties with the Southern Baptist Convention because they insisted on the subservience of women to men and barred women from serving as deacons, pastors, and chaplains in the military service. After belonging to this denomination for six decades, this was no easy choice.
The second reading today invites us to reexamine patterns of relationship that can cause harm to women rather than fostering greater love. This segment of Ephesians is a Christian adaptation of the household codes that were common from the time of Aristotle onward. These outlined the proper workings of a Greek home in terms of the paterfamilias as ruler, to whom the women, children, and slaves were subordinate. The version in Ephesians begins by exhorting the mutual subordination of husbands and wives to one another out of reverence for Christ, but then elaborates only one direction of the relationship: the responsibilities of husbands and the subservience of wives to them. This reading is most often used to reinforce male domination over women.
Yet the model presented to husbands is that of Christ’s complete self-sacrificing love for the church. If husbands exercised such self-surrender in love toward their wives, it would result in the dismantling of structures of male domination and would initiate a whole new pattern of mutual respect and self-giving love. This manner of relating goes against the grain of most cultures. Just as Jesus’ disciples exclaimed in the gospel about how hard it was to accept his self-gift of his flesh and blood, so it is not easy for us to make a commitment to new patterns of relating that require mutual self-surrender to one another in love. One must make a deliberate choice to learn about and put into practice egalitarian ways of relating, which also involve leaving behind familiar ways. It is an urgent choice for life or death. Choose today.
Barbara Reid, OP
Professor of New Testament Studies
First Reading: Prov 9:1-6
Psalm 34: 2-7
Second Reading: Ephesians 5:15-20
Gospel: John 6:51-58
You are kindly invited…
It is so easy to get a meal nowadays. You don’t have to ‘waste’ time shopping for food and then preparing it, setting the table, and cleaning up afterwards. All you have to do is make a stop at one of the convenient fast food restaurants. Once there, you don’t even actually have to enter the confines. All you have to do is sit in the car, place an order at a small metal voice box, drive a short distance around the building, make your payment, and food is handed to you, all prepared, hot, and ready to eat. But things are quite different when you are invited to a banquet. In such a situation, you may not have to prepare the food, but you certainly have to get yourself ready. You will be very concerned about your appearance. You may even want to purchase new clothes for the evening, because a banquet is usually a memorable event.
When you are invited to a banquet, you seldom ask about the menu, nor are you generally consulted about your personal preferences. If it is a genuine banquet, you presume that the food will be of high quality, expertly prepared, and appetizingly presented. Besides, the point of many banquets is not the character or quantity of the food served, though these certainly are important. Rather, it is the significance of the event, the importance of the host, and the status of the honored guests.
Today’s readings invite us to two banquets. The first comes from the Wisdom tradition of ancient Israel. Wisdom, personified as a woman, spreads out a sumptuous banquet to which she invites “whoever is simple…the one who lacks understanding.” The dressed meat and mixed wine that she offers is really insight and understanding, and one would be a fool to turn down her invitation. Still, this is an invitation to accept what is freely given; it is not a command. Nor is it a reward for those who are deserving of it. Woman Wisdom seeks those who are not wise so that she can offer them the riches of wisdom that she possesses.
In the gospel reading we see that Jesus too spreads a banquet. In this part of his discourse, the bread of which he speaks is clearly Eucharistic: “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” His body, not merely his teaching, is the true bread that came down from heaven. As was the case in the passage from Wisdom, this banquet is not for those who are deserving of it. In fact, some of those in the crowd that had gathered around him, to whom the invitation had been extended, not only refused it, but also challenged its legitimacy: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Just as the fare of Wisdom’s banquet metaphorically stood for a reality much deeper than meat and wine, so the food that Jesus offered was much more than simple bread. He offered them, and us, his flesh for the life of the world. Any one who might turn down his invitation would be more than a fool. Such a person would be rejecting life itself.
The wisdom theme is found in the second reading as well. Paul warns against foolish living and counsels wisdom. His words of warning are startling: “The days are evil.” Some of the evils he warned against are with us still, evils such as drunkenness and debauchery. Though we might be inclined to overlook such behavior, it obviously presents obstacles to a life lived wisely. However, there are other evils that may not be as apparent. In fact, they may not even be considered evil. There is the national or religious arrogance that presumes that our point of view is the only legitimate point of view; there is the abuse of power that denies the more vulnerable individuals or groups the self-determination that is rightfully theirs; there is the personal or corporate greed that deprives whole societies of the necessities of life; there is the glorification of violence that destroys both the victim and the perpetrator. Paul could easily say to us as well: “The days are evil.”
Despite the fact that we have all been invited to be enriched at Woman Wisdom’s table and to be transformed by the body and blood of Jesus, there are times when we prefer the fast food of a life of complacency. We would rather stay comfortably in the lives that we have fashioned for ourselves than have to go through all of the trouble required of reform or renewal. We are satisfied to continue in ignorance. It has served us to this point, so “Why fix it if it ain’t broke?” Why? Because ignorance is not bliss; because we cannot long survive on the fare of foolishness or obstinacy; because whoever eats the body of the Lord and drinks his blood will live forever – and we are all kindly invited.
Dianne Bergant, CSA
Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Old Testament Studies