21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
Note: Where a Scripture text is underlined in the body of this
discussion, it is recommended that the reader look up and read that
1st Reading - Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b
Joshua is the sixth book of the Old Testament and is named after the
one to whom Jewish tradition attributes authorship. However, as we
presently have it, it cannot be entirely his work as some passages
point to events which occurred at a later date.
Joshua (Greek: Jesus, Hebrew: Yeshua) was the person designated by
Moses to succeed him in the governing of Israel. Moses passed all his
authority on to Joshua, with the exception of his priestly powers,
which went to Eleazar. Joshua (the name means Yahweh is salvation) had
his name changed from Hoshea (salvation) by Moses (Numbers 13:16). It
was Joshua who led the Hebrews to victory over the Amalekites while
Moses prayed (Exodus 17:8-16). He was elected as the tribe of
Ephriam’s representative in the group of 12 sent to reconnoiter
the land of Canaan (Numbers 13:8). He and Caleb are the only people who
were over the age of 20 when the Jews left Egypt who lived to enter the
promised land; all the rest died in punishment for their infidelity
(Numbers 14:30-38; 31:26-65; 32:13).
The book of Joshua falls naturally into two parts:
1) The crossing of the Jordan, the fall of Jericho,
and the conquest of Palestine (Chapters 1 through 12); and
2) The division of the lands (Chapters 13 through
24). Today’s reading comes from the last chapter of the book
where Joshua addresses the people assembled at Shechem on the subject
of fidelity to God’s law.
24:1 Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem,
The name Shechem means “shoulders” because of its location
between the shoulders of Mt. Ebal to the northwest and Mt. Gerizim to
the southwest. The shrine there may have contained the Ark of the
Covenant but it is not clear.
summoning their elders, their leaders, their judges and their officers. When they stood in ranks before God,
This is probably an allusion to the Ark of the Covenant.
2a Joshua addressed all the people: 15 If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve,
Choose – A choice between Yahweh and other gods.
the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling.
Judges 1:1 through 3:6 tells us the Amorites still occupy most of the land.
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” 16 But the
people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD for the
service of other gods. 17 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 all the peoples through whom we
passed. 18b Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our
This affirmation expresses the essence of Israel as a confederation
whose principle unity was religious: worship of Yahweh and Yahweh
alone. They are a covenant people.
2nd Reading - Ephesians 5:21-32
This is our last reading from the letter to the Ephesians during Cycle
B. During the past four weeks we have learned of the Call to Unity,
Interior Renewal, Christian Virtues, and the Chaste Life of the
Children of God. This week we hear about Christian Family Life. The
Apostle explores what being Christian means in the context of
husband-wife relations and this is our subject for today. This teaching
of Scripture has been the subject of much discussion of late;
especially among the Southern Baptist Convention, which has recently
adopted it as a rule of faith. Parent-child relations are addressed in
6:1-4 and are recommended reading. The supposition here is that both
husband and wife are Christians (1 Peter 3:1-7 addresses the situation
of a Christian wife and a pagan husband).
21 Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.
This saying announces a principle which is applied to relationships
between husband and wife, parent and child, master and slave.
Christ’s self-sacrificing love for others (Ephesians 5:1) is now
the model for home (and Christian) life.
22 Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
This is a new motivation. Relationships between Christians must be
accompanied by a reverence for Christ’s fellow members; after
all, we are all members of the body of Christ (there is a parallel text
in Colossians 3:18).
“The union of Christ and the Church is holy. So is the proper
union of husband and wife holy. Just as a congregation of heretics,
however, cannot rightly be called the Church of Christ and cannot have
Christ as its head, so it is that the union between husband and wife
cannot be truly called holy if there is a disregard for the way of life
taught by Christ” [Saint Jerome (A.D. 436), Commentaries On The
Epistle To The Ephesians, 5,22-23].
23 For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ
is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. 24 As the
church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to
their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as
Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her
Christ gave Himself for others (Galatians 2:20; the parallel text is
Colossians 3:19). In these verses about wives and husbands the apostle
has developed an analogy whereby husband represents Christ and wife
represents church. This teaching has its roots in the Old Testament
where the relationships between Yahweh and His people are expressed,
through the preaching of the prophets, in terms of the relationships
between husband and wife. The husband loves his wife truly, he is
completely faithful to her (Hosea 1:3; Jeremiah 2:20; Ezekiel 16:1-34).
God is forever faithful to the love He has shown Israel, and He is ever
ready to pardon her (Isaiah 54:5-8; 62:4-5; Jeremiah 31:21-22) and to
re-establish his Covenant with the people (Isaiah 16:5-63). Jesus
describes himself as the bridegroom (Matthew 9:15; John 3:27). He
brings into being the New Covenant, which gives rise to the new people
of God, the Church (Matthew 26:26-29). The relationship between Christ
and the Church appears in the New Testament in terms of husband and
26 to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,
27 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
“By what ‘word’ is she ‘washed?’
‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
Spirit.’ He did not simply bathe her; He adorned her, making her
glorious, having no spot or wrinkle or anything lacking. Let us not
seek from the wife something she does not have to give. For you see the
pattern: the Church has received everything from Christ” [Saint
John Chrysostom (A.D. 392-397), Homilies On The Epistle To The
28 So (also) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He
who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one hates his own flesh but
rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, 30
because we are members of his body. 31 “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.”
Genesis 2:24. Saint Paul is not just using Christian marriage as a
comparison to explain Christ’s relationship with the Church: he
is saying that the relationship is actually embodied and verified
between Christian husband and wife. This means that marriage between
baptized people is a true sacrament, as the Church has always taught. A
covenant relationship exists between them just as it does between God
and His Church.
32 This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.
Gospel - John 6:60-69
Today we complete our study of John’s presentation of
Jesus’ bread of life discourse; a study that has taken us 4 weeks
to cover 46 verses; a study that not only the Catholic Church, but the
Episcopal and Lutheran churches consider important enough to devote
these four weeks to once every three years. The point of correlation
between the 1st reading and this gospel reading is the necessity of
making the decision now as to whether you will follow the Lord or not
– the moment of truth has arrived.
60 Then many of his disciples who were listening said,
Not just the apostles, but many others as well. This group was
described in John 6:22 as a crowd. This event is taking place very
shortly after the feeding of the five thousand (and the four thousand
if you proceed to this point from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark) and
many were attracted to Jesus.
“This saying is hard;
Jesus has made many claims: He is the Messiah, or at least a prophet
– but they know his family; He is the Bread of Life – but
He looks like a human; He gives eternal life – but this is
something only God can do; you must eat His flesh – but this is
cannibalism; you must drink His blood – but this is forbidden by
the Law; and to top it all off, He has said all this in the form of a
who can accept it?”
Break out the straight jacket, this guy’s gone off the deep end! This sounds like the ravings of a mad man!
61 Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring
about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you?
Do you think this is hard to believe?
62 What if you were to see
If you think that was hard, try this one on for size! You haven’t
even heard the hardest part yet! Jesus doesn’t make any attempt
to go back and smooth things out; correct misunderstandings, because
they don’t misunderstand. They simply don’t believe what
they are hearing. Recall, back in verse 29 Jesus said “This is
the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” If
you don’t believe in Him, then you won’t believe what He is
saying. The role of the prophet, which is who some think He is, is to
speak God’s words. Some in the crowd don’t believe and now
He is going to make one final appeal; an appeal that will separate the
wheat from the chaff, one final prophetic image. Some on the borderline
will be convinced and the unbelievers are going to fall away.
the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?
Predicts His own ascension. To the Jewish listener this would most
likely recall the assumption of Enoch (Genesis 5:24), Elijah (2 Kings
2:11), or Moses who according to Hebrew tradition was taken to heaven
by God after his death which is why his grave has never been found
(Deuteronomy 34:6). Any one of these three instances would have called
to mind a prophet; someone sent by God, someone who spoke God’s
63 It is the spirit that gives life,
It is the grace of God, given by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit,
that gives a spiritual life (2 Corinthians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 15:45-47;
while the flesh is of no avail.
A body without a spirit is dead, a corpse. Without the Holy Spirit,
they are spiritually dead. Note that He doesn’t say “my
flesh” which is the subject of the Eucharistic passage, but
“the flesh” of John 3:6 and 8:15. The hearers have
continually concerned themselves with manna for the body rather than
food for the soul.
The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
“Believe in Him whom He has sent,” “eat My
Flesh,” “drink My Blood”. If you believe, then you
will be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8). If you eat
and drink His Body and Blood, you will receive everlasting life. Jesus
is alive, His Flesh and Blood are not separate (a sign of death); both
are present in the Eucharist. His Body and Blood cannot be separated;
He has ascended.
64 But there are some of you who do not believe.”
Jesus acknowledges their unbelief. He doesn’t try a new approach
to convince them. There is only one approach and understanding; either
you believe it or you don’t.
Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.
Judas was one of the unbelievers, one who denied the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
65 And he said, “For this reason I have told
you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my
God’s grace is necessary in order to have faith and understand
(Isaiah 54:13). Jeremiah 31:33-34 has the same theme which accompanies
the promise of the new covenant. It is a free gift but you have to be
open to receive it.
66 As a result of this, many (of) his disciples
returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of souls left; turned their backs on Jesus
and eternal life. If Jesus had not been speaking literally, this was
His last chance to correct their misunderstanding. Since He
didn’t, we have absolute assurance that their literal
understanding is the correct one. This is the only incident recorded in
Holy Scripture where anyone stops being a follower of Jesus for a
reason of doctrine.
67 Jesus then said to the Twelve,
Jesus addresses all the Apostles directly.
“Do you also want to leave?”
He doesn’t say “They misunderstood me, go and bring them
back so I can explain it to them”. When He spoke in parables to
the people, He explained everything to the Apostles in private (Mark
4:34). Here, He doesn’t attempt to change His teaching or explain
it further; even to His most intimate friends. Instead, He simply asks
if they have so little faith that they will leave too.
68 Simon Peter answered him,
Peter, chosen by Jesus to be the chief Apostle (Matthew 16:19), acts as spokesman for the entire group.
“Master, to whom shall we go?
If we had a choice, we would leave too, but there is no other choice.
We know you have come from God. You speak the words of God (John 3:34;
17:8). We don’t fully understand your message, but we have enough
faith in You because of He who sent You that we will stay with You.
You have the words of eternal life.
You have given us God’s promise of eternal life. “Eat My
Flesh, drink My Blood,” these actions truly give us eternal life.
69 We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
This is not necessarily a Messianic title. Prophets were also given
this title; but He certainly was sent by God. Although the Apostles
have not yet come to know Christ in all His fullness, they are on the
way to this knowledge. They have not only seen Him, but realize that He
has been sent by God and because of that they believe everything He has
said; not fully understanding, but accepting it because of their faith
in Him (verses 37 and 40).
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Picayune, MS http://www.scborromeo.org