August 21, 2015

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, looks at the period in the history of God’s people when Joshua led them after the death of Moses.

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

This much is clear. The purpose of Hebrew history was to chart the people’s religious response to God’s revelation. It was not intended to give a precise chronicle of events and happenings.

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

The people cry out that they wish to follow God. Although on occasion they rebelled, God 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 St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. This reading is commonly cited as reinforcing the subjugation of women, once so prevalent, since wives are admonished to obey their husbands.

Knowing the context is essential to understanding this reading. Marriage among pagans in 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. Spouses often detested each other. Wives were often abused.

Paul, in this classic explanation of Christian behavior about human living, calls for a different understanding of marriage. Using lofty examples to describe marriage, he speaks of it as a living sign of the union between Christ and the Church.

This was revolutionary at the time. It established the dignity of women because Christ loves and redeems all people equally, male and female.

Paul did teach that wives should be in accord with their husbands. But he also was clear that husbands should not only love their wives, but also with the same unqualified, self-sacrificing love with which Christ loves the Church.

This exalts women, insisting upon the equality of all people.

St. John’s Gospel furnishes the last reading.

In preceding verses, Jesus spoke about himself as the “bread of life.” After Jesus spoke these words, many of his disciples walked away. People even today find this at least a puzzling statement.

Critical to the story is the fact that the Apostles did not desert Jesus. The Lord asked them to look deeply into their hearts. Would they walk away with the others?

Peter responds for all the Apostles with a magnificent expression of faith. Saluting Jesus as “God’s holy one” (Jn 6:69), the Messiah, in itself a powerful testimony, Peter, says, “Lord, you have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68).


The Church for weeks has called us to realize our limitations as human beings, and it 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.

We must decide for ourselves either to accept this bread or to reject it. Many rejected Jesus in the Gospel stories and later.

Fully realizing their need for the Lord, the solitary source of genuine life, the Apostles are examples to follow.

As Peter declared for them, Jesus alone has the words of eternal life.

If we ask for eternal life, the Lord will redeem us all who are equal in his love and in his plan for salvation. †

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