August 26 21st Sunday of the Year (B)
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
First Reading (Joshua 24:1-2, 15-18).
The book of Joshua purports to narrate the conquest of the Land of Canaan, under the leadership of Joshua, successor of Moses. After this conquest had been considered complete, Joshua plans to have the conquering people make a covenant similar to that which their ancestors had entered into at Sinai under Moses. Their earlier history, with pagan idols, is recalled: their ancestors (with Abraham in Mesopotamia, Beyond the River (present-day Iraq), in Egypt and as Joshua spoke the god of the Amorites in Canaan. The people are asked to choose which God or gods they serve – the Lord God of Israel or those pagan gods. Joshua makes his profession of faith in the Lord, revealed to Moses. The people then do likewise, saying: “We too will serve the Lord, for he is our God”. This brief passage is chosen today to go with today’s Gospel reading, with its profession of faith in Jesus by Peter on behalf of the Twelve.
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 33). Taste and see that the Lord is good
Second Reading (Ephesians 5:21-32).
This text is the opening part of a longer passage (Ephesians 5:21-6:9) on household rules, intended to govern the Christian family. This is a text drawn up as the Church had increased in number in the second or third generation, and was now part of Greco-Roman society. The basic text seems to have been that found in Colossians 3:8-4:2, with an influence on this text and 1 Peter 2:18-3:7 (see also Titus 2:1-10). Similar concerns for family codes can be found in political theorists and ethicists of the ancient worlds. All these reflect the recognition of the family as the basis for the welfare of society. These New Testament texts reflect both the norms for society of their times, but are set within the framework of the new Christian outlook. Some of this code is thus historically conditioned and outmoded, while the greater part of it is of lasting value for the understanding of the family and the Christian community. In keeping with the time if composition the role of the husband is central, and the wife intended to be submissive. But, we may recall, in marital law the dominant position of the husband remained in force nearer home until the nineteenth century. In keeping with that age slaves are also mentioned. But this household cod is framed with basic Gospel principles, beginning with the capital one of mutual obedience for all: “Give way to one another in obedience to Christ”. The text stresses the love between husband and wife shoul be modelled on that between Christ and the Church, his spouse.
Gospel (John 6:60-69).
This is the fifth and last Sunday reading on Jesus as the Bread of Life. The readings began with the multiplication of the loaves, followed by a comparison of Jesus as bread of Life with the Jewish manna tradition, then Jesus’ discourse that he was the living bread, which gave rise (in last Sunday’s Gospel reading) to the questioning by the Jews as to how he could given them his flesh to eat. Today’s reading tells us that this questioning had spread to Jesus’ own followers many of them saying that Jesus’ teaching on eating his flesh and drinking his blood was intolerable language; how could anyone accept it? Jesus’ observation on their situation is somewhat enigmatic: “What if you should see the Sin of Man ascend where he was before?” In this Eucharistic context the meaning seems to be: Jesus, as he had already said, is the living bread that has been sent by the Father. At his glorification by death and glorification he will ascend where he was before, and will send the Holy Spirit. His teaching on the Eucharist is to be understood in conjunction with the mystery of the incarnation, through faith, through the Spirit who gives life; human reasoning (the “flesh”) is of no avail. belief in his Eucharistic presence is possible only through the gift of faith from the Father (“No one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father”). Jesus’ teaching on his Eucharistic presence was too hard to take by many of his followers, Many them left him. But not the Twelve (Apostles). On their behalf, as at Caesarea in the Synoptic Gospels, Peter makes profession of faith in Jesus. Jesus has the message of eternal life. The Twelve know that he is the Holy One of God – the true bread that has come down from heaven to ive life to the world.
B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day
Biblical Inspiration for Christian Families Today
1. The family, as nucleus of society, was governed by a set of private rules from early times, both in civil and religious society. As the Christian church solidified from individual believers to entire families it put together such codes for its own members. We have examples of thm in the New Testament letters, which can still serve as a guide and an inspiration for families today, paying due attention to the change of conditions over the intervening two thousand years.
2. Some of these New Testament codes were intended for extended and mixed families, with the father of the family and the mother at the centre, but also, as in pagan Roman society, with slaves and their masters.
3. No matter what was the relationship within this group, and who was subject to whom (wife to husband, slave to master), to all, the person of Christ and his teaching on mutual relations was central. What Jesus had said to the crowds and his disciples in Matthew 23:8-12 would be remembered (Matthew 23:8-12): “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students (or: brothers and sisters). And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Nor would Paul’s expressed desire to the Philippians (Phil 2:2-4) be forgotten: “Make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” Guided by such generally accepted principles the code of family conduct, and stated obediences, is introduced by the following principle (Ephesians 5:21): “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ”. Reverence for Christ in these family relations introduces a completely new dimension. The reverence respects the other, and has her or his growth in Christian life in mind. The same holds for the final section (not relevant to day) on masters and slaves. Both will be rewarded or punished. The masters are to stop threatening their slaves, because both master and slave have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality (Ephesians 6:9).
4. How draw inspiration from these readings for Christian families today is another matter. The person of Christ and what it means must be central. Many children as minors will attend Sunday Mass with their parents, but later fall away from this attendance, but not necessarily from the faith. It will be for parents to do their best to prepare them to continue a life of prayer (little prayer books not excluded) when they begin to live independent lives. A knowledge of the faith for young adults beyond what can be communicated at Sunday Masses is indicated. Parents need explore how achieve this. Contact with books and organizations that deal with the matter can help. But the central role of the family, parents and children as a unit, in understanding and handing on the faith, faith in Christ, and the Church is as central as ever.
(For reflections on today’s Gospel reading and the Eucharist see last Sunday’s “Dialogue with Questions of the Day”.) 20th Sunday of the Year (B), 19 August 2012: “Jesus Christ the Bread of Life. Redemption. Murmuring. A Sign to be Contradicted”; also The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day, in 17th Sunday of the Year (B), July 29, 2012::“The Eucharist: A Multifaceted Memorial, Remembrance, of what Jesus is”)