August 21, 2009

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Joshua, the source for this weekend’s first reading, features the period in the history of God’s people when Joshua led them. It was after the death of Moses.

Even though these connections may seem to be clear, biblical scholars disagree about the exact date of this period as well as the time of this book’s composition.

However, this much is clear. Hebrew history was not written as much to chronicle events and happenings as to chart the people’s religious response to God’s revelation.

In this reading, Joshua gathers all the people at Shechem along with the leaders of the people, senior members, judges and warriors. He puts before this assembly a blunt and fundamental question. Do they wish to follow God and divine revelation or not?

The people cry out that they wish to follow God. He brought them out of Egypt, and protected them as they made their weary and dangerous way across the Sinai Peninsula.

For its second reading, this weekend’s liturgy turns to the Epistle to the Ephesians.

Not uncommonly these days, it is cited as a conflict between traditional Christianity and the cause for women’s rights since wives are admonished to obey their husbands.

Knowing the context is essential to understanding the lesson of this reading. Marriage among pagans during the time of the Roman Empire was quite removed from modern ideals for marriage. Wives were little more than glorified slaves, virtually going to the highest bidder. They had no rights.

Understandably, many marriages were very troubled. Often, spouses detested each other. Often, wives were abused.

This epistle, a classic of Christian behavior about human living, calls for a different style of marriage. Using lofty examples to describe marriage, it speaks of the union between Christ and the Church.

Christ, of course, is the perfect, caring and generous Redeemer. The Church responds in praise. He is the Son of God, and the source of love and respect for others.

Wives should be in accord with their husbands, who in the culture of the time were responsible for their families.

Husbands, most importantly, should love their wives. Indeed, they should love their wives as Christ loves the Church.

St. John’s Gospel furnishes the last reading.

In the preceding verses, Jesus spoke about the “bread of life.” Jesus is the bread of life. After Jesus spoke these words, many disciples walked away. Even today, people find this comment to be at least a puzzling statement.

The Lord then asked the Twelve, the Apostles, about their intention, calling them to look deeply at their faith. Would they also walk away? Critical to the story is the fact that the Twelve did not desert Jesus.

Instead, in the Apostles’ name, Peter testifies. It is a magnificent expression of faith. Peter, saluting Jesus as “God’s holy one,” the Messiah, says, “Lord, you have the words of eternal life.”


The Church for weeks has called us to realize our limitations as human beings, and also has reassured us that God’s mercy, love and power lavishly assists us. We will not be left helplessly to face our needs.

For instance, we risk starvation, spiritually as well as physically. We cannot produce food on our own. God comes to us with the bread of everlasting life. Jesus is the bread of life.

Now we must decide ourselves either to accept this bread or to reject it. Many people have rejected it. Many people also rejected it at the time of Jesus, as this Gospel describes so well.

The Apostles are our examples. Peter speaks for the Apostles. They recognize their need for the Lord, the sole source of genuine life.

We can trust them and their trust in Jesus. They understood. They knew. They were truly wise. Are we as wise? †

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