Fr. Rick’s Homily – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time ‘B’ Fr. Rick Sherman – August 22, 2021

Jos 24:1-2a, 15-18b; Ps 34:2-3, 16-21; Eph. 5:21-32; Jn 6:60-69

Previous Sunday: John 6:51-59 “ I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?”  Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.  Whoever eats* my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.  Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

This Sunday John 6:60– … Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” …  many of (them) 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.”

So which teachings were so hard to accept?

The gospel today began with verse 60 of the sixth Chapter of John.  If we refer back to the previous verses, 51-59, we recall that Jesus claimed to have come down from Heaven, that He was the living Bread, and that they must eat of His flesh.  Can you imagine hearing that for the first time?  For one thing the Jews have gotten in a lot of trouble over the previous two thousand years for straying into the worship of multiple gods, even after God had revealed Himself as the only God.  He had revealed His name, Yahweh.  They had been punished for long periods in order to recapture the truth.  Now this man, Jesus, is saying HE came down from Heaven.  Then He says that they must eat His flesh. The term Jesus is actually using for ‘eat’ is more like ‘gnaw.’  This could not be misinterpreted for some type of symbolic eating of heavenly bread.  This is the real Jesus to be consumed and by extension, the disciples must become what they eat.  At this they wandered away; to where and to whom, we can only guess.  The Romans and the Greeks were polytheistic (believing in many gods) and the Jewish authorities were so preoccupied with the finer points of temple accoutrements and purification rites.  The choices were not so attractive.  And then, the Twelve say, “To WHOM shall we go?”  They had already tasted the personal nature of this new presence of God that was now among them.  What or who could ever replace this experience?

I think it follows that as we listen to the struggles of the first disciples that we ask ourselves, “Which teaching are really hard for us to accept?”

Certainly the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is hard for 70% of Catholics; they simply don’t believe it.  This is according to a recent (2020) survey from the Pew Foundation.

The Third Commandment is also very hard for modern Catholics; the one that tells us to ‘keep holy the Sabbath’ which for Catholics includes attending Mass.  Not surprisingly, the percentage of people who believe in the real presence roughly correlates to the percentage of people who actually attend Mass on a regular basis.  Weekly attendees are probably more like 20%, but it varies among parishes.

Certainly most or all of the Church’s teaching on sexuality are ‘hard to accept’ and are roundly dismissed by the general mores of American society, including Catholics. But, that’s a different 5-day discussion.

Oh, speaking of ‘hard to accept teachings’, how about the second reading today from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians?  “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.”  And a little later, “As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.  I’m sure most American women are saying, “OK, great; sounds good.  Got it.”  …Probably not.

A closer look at the theology here will give us a better understanding of what is actually being said.  Some translations say that the wife should be ‘submissive’.  If we more easily break down that word we see ‘sub’ and ‘missive.’  Sub means under, and missive refers to ‘mission’.  The wife, AS IS THE HUSBAND, is under or directed by the authority of the ‘mission’.   As the reading says, the husband is head of his wife as Christ is head of the Church.  It further goes on to say that the husband should love his wife as Christ loves the Church.  And that the wife should be treated with a special tenderness and reverence as is implied by the figurative language of Christ’s care for the Church who ‘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.”  Again this special care acknowledges the wife and the Church, not as weaklings and incompetents, but as the sacred ‘life bearers’ gifted with a special sensitivity and relational awareness.  Women’s bodies are more complex and some have opined that women are even more emotionally and psychologically complex.  We’re all little mysteries, aren’t we?

To love one’s wife as Christ loved the Church requires the husband to not just die for her, but to live for her… always keeping in mind why God called them together in the first place:  to accomplish the mission; to go forth and teach the nations; to build up the Kingdom of God; to make the world look more like heaven than hell.   Whoaa, who can accept this?  I would expect that men are every bit as wary of this teaching as women.

This teaching, as all the teachings of the Church, presume a deeply religious culture where young people are surrounded by others who are devoted to the mission of God.  Raising their children as the next generation of disciples is a central activity.

As a parish priest I have often participated in Confirmation preparation classes for middle school kids and also high school youth ministry.  These courses and activities always included instruction on the basic story of Salvation History including the 10 major events in the bible.  We also included a course in Theology of the Body which taught the real meaning of love, marriage and sexuality.  It highlighted the distinction between loving and using and between loving and lusting.  Usually I would like to emphasize to the girls (only half-jokingly) that they should not even consider dating someone who does not know the 10 major things that happened in the Bible.  Likewise they should avoid any boys who will not treat them like the sacred and life-bearing vessels of the Holy Spirit that they are.  Usually they would listen politely and then say something like, “Wow Father, you just want us to all be little nuns!”  They are essentially saying that they don’t expect that much from boys and they are not going to give up dating just because the boys don’t measure up to such high expectations.

Apparently we are not raising this type of boys and young men that would relate to Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. Otherwise we have to expect that girls and women would choose the respect and reverence that they need and deserve.  I suspect that many of the high percentage of single mothers in our society would have chosen reverence if they could do things differently.  The correlation between single motherhood and poverty are staggering.

As sort of a side-bar, much concern is now rightly being expressed around the world about the plight of girls and women in the now Taliban controlled Afghanistan.  It is worried that advances made around education and professional opportunities might be lost or drastically diminished.  These advances have been mostly possible due to the American influence in Afghanistan over the past 20 years.  But on the other hand, it might be a stretch to think that the United States would be the shining example for how to treat women and girls.  The ‘Me too’ movement, the high incidence of single mothers and the corresponding poverty, along with the pervasive presence of pornography in our society might be easy points to exploit by creative Taliban you-tubers and other social media.  It’s also likely that Planned Parenthood and neighborhood abortion clinics will not make major headway in this Taliban controlled area.  God is surely calling America to some higher standards.

Just as Joshua and the Israelites, as well as the disciples of Jesus, were at a major crossroads in their times, so too must we decide rather definitively who we will serve.  Will we join Joshua and say, ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’ ?  Will we find the teachings of Jesus too hard or will we realize, like the Twelve, that we have nowhere else to go?

(Please see ‘A Time to Grieve’ and other action steps in Pastoral Messages from Fr. Rick from this week).