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Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time


A reading from the Book of Joshua
(Chapter 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b)
 
Joshua is an important person in the history of the Jewish people. He took over when Moses died and had to lead the people into the Promised Land. Under Joshua, the Israelites fought the city of Jericho and destroyed it, then moved on to take over the rest of nearby towns and cities. In today’s passage, Joshua is talking to all the people, including those who had been conquered, and tells them they have a choice:
 
“If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River (the famous Jordan River) or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” But the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods. … Therefore, we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”
 
This seems like an obvious thing for people to say after being saved from slavery in Egypt, saved from starvation in the dessert, and led to victory over a strong foe, but monotheism was a new concept. The Jewish people gave the world a great gift—faith and worship of one God, not many.
 
Skip now to the time of Jesus, generations and generations later, and we can see how difficult it was for most Jews to believe in a trinitarian God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all fully God. Many did believe because of the power of Jesus and his message, but many more could not bring themselves to believe in a God who was among them in the person of this Teacher. But we continue to honor our Jewish brethren who kept the belief in one God for all those years in the face of so many false gods.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 29-21)
 
“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” Did you ever have someone offer you a piece of fruit that you never had before? You tasted it and were delighted that it was, indeed, sweet. God’s goodness is like that. Take a few moments this week to sit back and savor that sweetness. Maybe it will come in a surprise encounter or with someone you hold dear, or it may be just you in a powerfully quiet moment.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians
(Chapter 5:21-32)
 
This reading includes one of the most disliked and misunderstood lines in the whole New Testament.
 
“Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.” Wham! Those words have reverberated throughout history and today have driven many women, and men too, out of our Church. What about equality?
 
Paul then says “The husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church.” We hear this in the male-dominated terms of Paul’s time, but we do not have to take it literally now as we are working to bring gender equality to our Church and our world. Let’s not forget the last two beautiful sentences of this reading: “So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” Can you recall anything written two thousand years ago that is so positive about the relationship of a man and wife? And there is also a call to husbands: “Husbands love your wives even as Christ loved the church.”
 
Sexism is a grave injustice, whether in our Church, our country, our workplaces, or our families. Let us all work for true gender justice at all times, in all places.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 6:60-69)
 
This reading follows last week’s gospel passage in which Jesus said, “I am the living bread that comes down from heaven… . whoever eats this bread will live forever.” Many of Jesus’ disciples said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” It is one thing to hear the words of Jesus and be excited and then to experience his healings. Jesus offers those who eat his body and drink his blood eternal life. But who is he? How can this be a real offer? It seems to many to be bizarre. Jesus knows this and says, “The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe. For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted to him by my Father.”
 
Jesus is offering them an amazing gift, eternal life with him, but for some it is just too hard to believe. “Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” Remember, this was written fifty years or more after the death of Jesus. John, who is the last living apostle, wants everyone to know that the journey of Jesus was not easy. His message was rejected even by some who started out to be his disciples. It all depended on their accepting a remarkable and yet almost unbelievable gift. When you think about it, that is the same for us today. Can we accept this wondrous gift from Jesus?
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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