August 20, 2021

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Joshua, the source for the first reading for Mass this weekend, 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 to be 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: 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, the senior members, the judges and the 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. Not uncommonly, this reading is cited as reinforcing the subjugation of women, once so prevalent, since wives are admonished to obey their husbands.

Knowing the context of this passage is essential to understanding it. 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, and wives were abused.

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

At the time, these ideas were revolutionary. They established the dignity of women. Christ loves and redeems all people equally, male and female.

In the culture of the time, husbands were responsible for the well-being of families. Husbands ruled. Wives meekly followed. Paul taught that marriage was made up of the union and mutual cooperation, fidelity and respect of spouses. Husbands and wives should love their each other with the same unqualified self-sacrificing love with which Christ loves the Church.

St. John’s Gospel furnishes the last reading.

In preceding verses, Jesus spoke about the “bread of life” (Jn 6:48). He is the bread of life. After Jesus spoke about himself in this way, 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 Twelve Apostles did not desert Jesus. The Lord asked them to look deeply into their hearts. Would they walk away with the others?

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


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 humans. 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 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.

The Lord redeems us all, equal in God’s love and in God’s plan for salvation, if we ask for eternal life. †

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