Today’s readings are somewhat disconnected in content, theme and style, yet the Lectionary encourages us to read them side-by-side to find potential connections. Each reading broaches a difficult topic with a group and then offers an opportunity for personal acceptance and affirmation.
‘We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.’ (Jn 6:69)
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Jos 24;1-18; Ps 34; Eph 5:21-32; Jn 6:60-69
What do you do when confronted with difficult choices?
How do you approach problematic biblical texts?
How can you strengthen your relationship with God?
In the first reading, Joshua, the Israelite leader after Moses, calls on the community to affirm their commitment to God. Joshua recounts ways that God intervened in their lives and in the lives of their ancestors, and he reprimands the people for their continued service to other gods. Joshua declares, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” His declaration inspires the Israelites to affirm the same, renew their covenant with God and agree to keep the statues and ordinances that are required.
The Joshua reading may be paired with Ephesians based on Joshua’s speaking on behalf of his household. The second reading offers guidance for establishing a Christian household, beginning with a call for couples to “be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The writer hopes to inspire people to submit themselves to each other as a sign that God should lead the household. While there may be some value in this premise, terms like “subordinate,” “subject” and “submit” can have damaging effects, especially for women, who are more often on the receiving end of dishonorable and abusive actions. Moreover, although the passage begins with a mutual subordination, it becomes clear that wives are especially charged with this duty while husbands are instructed to love. As has been addressed previously when discussing similar rhetoric in Colossians (see 12/23/19), passages with a potential for misuse and abuse should be avoided, especially when shorter options are available that eliminate some of the problematic language.
As for the Gospel, we continue to hear reactions to Jesus calling himself the bread of life and comparing himself to manna from heaven. Today, his followers complain and question Jesus’ demanding and complex statements. Jesus states that people who believe in him are called by the Father in heaven, but not everyone is called. Perhaps surprisingly, the Gospel concedes this point, saying, “Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” Jesus recognizes the difficulty and complexity of the Gospel, as he challenges how people think, live and believe. Many people, when confronted with these difficulties, opt out. At the end of today’s reading, we hear the apostles’ responses to these events; they affirm their desire to continue to follow Jesus, recognizing that his words lead to eternal life.
Today’s readings offer us an opportunity to think about how we react to complex and difficult statements, texts and choices. They remind us to take ownership of our lives and decisions and remain committed to ourselves, our community and to God.