The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – 22 August 2021
Lectionary Readings: Josh 24:1-2, 15-18; Ps 34:2-3, 16-23; Eph 5:21-32; John 6:60-69
Theme: The Church: Mystery and Intimacy
Today’s reading from the letter to the Ephesians takes us into the Pauline tradition, with a reflection on the intimate relation of Christ to the Church, using the image of marriage presented in a way that reflects compassion, nurturance, and tenderness. “This is a great mystery,” Paul affirms (5:32). We can discern that subtle aura of mystery also in the passages from Joshua, John, and the psalmist, where it sustains a sense of the transcendental presence that invites our personal commitment in faith, as it did theirs.
The verses from Joshua and John convey an impression of crisis, implying urgency and decision-making, based on the word’s origin in the Greek term, “krisis.” Indeed, the tribes of Israel that Joshua gathered at Shechem face the ultimatum to “choose, this day, whom you will serve … the gods of your ancestors … the gods of the Amorites … or the Lord!” (24:15). They meet that challenge, expressing their own relation with “the Lord, our God,” who rescued them from slavery in Egypt and has protected them throughout their journey since then. Brown comments that this affirmation expresses the essence of Israel as a confederation whose principle of unity was religious: worship of the LORD and the LORD alone (NJBC, 131). The bold reverence of this stance in faith, witnesses to their relation with God.
Jesus, in the passage from John’s gospel, plunges his disciples into a reflection on the flesh and blood of the Son of Man that they must consume, as the key to the life he offers them. We can only imagine the revulsion of his Jewish companions at this blunt language; their religious tradition forbids the consumption of blood (Gen 9:4; Lev 7:26-27; 17:14). Unlike the Synoptics and Paul, John refers to the body of Christ using the word “sarx” meaning flesh, not “soma” meaning body. We must remember Jesus’ earlier and somewhat gentler assurance: “The bread that I shall give is my own flesh for the life of the world” (6:51). We hear the compassion of Jesus in his question, “Does this offend you?” Is there pathos in his awareness that “no one can come to me unless it is granted by my Father”? (v.65) The next moments are decisive: Peter proclaims the faith of the remnant community of disciples: “We have come to know and believe that you are the Holy One of God (6:69); yet, many no longer went about with him (6:66); as Brown indicates (346), “that may reflect a period towards the end of the century when the koinonia was being broken.”
The psalmist’s acclamation, “I will bless the Lord at all times … My soul makes its boast in the Lord … who redeems the life of his servants,” (vv. 1, 2 and 22) celebrates the intimacy and mystery of the journey in faith, personally and as a community.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. What image do you prefer for the relation of Christ with the Church? Explain. 2. Who/what is Jesus Christ for you personally now, and how do you celebrate that?
Bibliography: Brown, R., An Introduction to the New Testament, Yale University Press (New Haven, 2010); Brown, R. & al., The New Jerome Biblical Commentary,Prentice-Hall (New Jersey, 1990); Levine Amy-Jill and Brettler, Marc Zvi, The Jewish Annotated New Testament, Second Edition, Oxford University Press (Oxford/New York: 2017).
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Diane Willey, nds, Saskatoon, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna 2005, 2006