Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b Ephesians 5:21-32 John 6:60-69
|Date:||August 26-27, 2000, Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time. Cycle B|
This saying is hard; who can accept it? The disciples quoted in todays Gospel are talking about Jesus claim to be the bread from heaven, whose flesh they must eat if they are to be saved. But they might just as well be words that some of you spoke, at least in your minds, at the second reading from the letter to the Ephesians. And then you did not accept this reading as anything meaningful. That is a shame because I think this passage reminds of a deep truth we need to reflect on if we are to understand the choice we are presented with in the first and Gospel readings.
For starters, anyone who uses any text of scripture out of context to justify any situation that is not loving is wrong. This text does not mean that a battered woman must stay with her husband, or that a wife is somehow inferior to her husband. I know that this passage in particular has been used over the centuries by many, including people in authority in the Church to put women down. They were absolutely wrong to do so.
Let's look at what Paul is trying to tell us, in context.The context is the very first sentence, Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. This passage is not about domination or subjection in any way shape or form. It reminds us that subordination is an important part of who we become, whether we reach our full potential.
The truth that to reach our full potential we must be subordinate is not a popular truth, is it? Yet we have so many references to it being the key to success and integration in our liturgical metaphors, and even in some popular myths. Starting with Jesus, Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians that it is through Christs subordination to the Fathers will, which led to his death on the cross that Christ is raised up, that he brought salvation to the world, that he achieved the perfection of humanity. We must die to ourselves in Baptism in order to put on Christ. We must take up our crosses, bear Christs gentle yoke. Twelve step programs hinge their success on submitting yourself to a higher power as the key to winning back the wholeness lost through addiction. Even in popular stories like Star Wars, Luke Skywalker must let go of himself and let the Force take over in order to become the hero he has the potential to become.
But that is not the lie that our culture would have us believe. I want to be me! I did it my way! When Im right, I wont stop till every one agrees. What did the devil use as temptation in the Garden? Hey Adam and Eve, dont listen to God. He wants to keep you under his thumb. Eat the fruit and you will know as much as God. Dont submit to his rules.
I know when I am honest in looking back at my life, especially in marriage, the times when I was most fulfilled are the times I most subordinated myself to Betsy, focusing my energy and attention on her needs and wants. The times when I was focused on getting what I wanted are the times I felt least fulfilled, and the times when I caused the most trouble and pain.
How many of you have seen the film, My Cousin Vinnie? Vinnie is a two-bit New York lawyer who has aspirations of being a successful trial lawyer. He is called down to a small southern town to try to defend his cousin and a friend who have been accused of murdering a convenience store clerk. The harder he tries in his defense strategy, the deeper he gets himself and his cousin into trouble. All along the way, he refuses to let his fiance help him, because he has to prove to himself and everyone else that he is the brilliant lawyer. It is only when he gets himself in such deep trouble that he desperately turns to his fiance. When he finally submits his ego and his skills to hers, lo and behold, he becomes the brilliant lawyer that he knew he was all along. He couldn't do it by being independent. He could only become wonderful lawyer that was his potential by submitting to his fiance and letting her display her talent and knowledge.
Thats the kind of subordination Paul is talking about. And that kind of subordination is the key to understanding what Joshua and Jesus are trying to tell us in the first and Gospel readings. Wittingly or not, we submit ourselves to a whole series of masters who dictate where we live, how we dress, what we eat, and on and on and on.
Bob Dylan, in his song Gotta Serve Somebody (1979) puts it this way:
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody
So it really isnt a question of whether we should be subordinate or not. It is a question of to whom will we be subordinate. Todays readings ask us to make a choice as to whom we serve at the most fundamental level, which will shape who we become at a most fundamental level.
Will we subordinate ourselves to masters who fragment us, who sell us lies, who tell us our only value is how busy and productive and consuming we are? Or will we subordinate ourselves to a God who loves us unconditionally, who forgives us without end, and who wants us to experience the fullness of joy while
Maybe some of us will choose wholeheartedly, without hesitation, like Joshua, As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. I suspect that a lot of us will be more tentative, like Peter, To whom would we go?
So as our responsorial psalm advises, harden not your hearts. Listen to these words we have just heard. They are words of eternal life, yes. But they are also words for life right here and now. Youre gonna have to serve somebody. Who will it be?