26 August 2018: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b   Ps 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21   Eph 5:21-32
or 5:2a, 25-32
  Jn 6:60-69

Discourse conclusion: Do you also wish to go away?

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings present stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community about their commitment to discipleship.

In the first reading from the book of Joshua, Joshua asks the Israelites to renew their covenant with God: do they wish to serve the God who has delivered them or return to the service of other gods? The people reaffirm the covenant with YHWH: “we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” Joshua’s question stands as a challenge to Jewish believers through the centuries. The Lectionary editors pair this reading with today’s gospel, in which Jesus challenges disciples in every generation, asking “Do you also wish to go away?”

The second reading concludes the letter to the Ephesus ekklesia. The letter’s major theme has been unity of all Christians in one believing community. Today’s reading is from the household codes section. A household code is a literary form found throughout the ancient world. In Greco-Roman household codes, power determines relationships. In a Christian household, love replaces power in all relationships. Some Christian letter writers simply give a Christian veneer to the household codes by adding the words “in the Lord” to the injunctions. In Ephesians, the author goes much further. He elaborates on marriage as a parable of the relation between Christ and the believing community. The Ephesians writer adopts and subverts the standard household code to mutual submission: for example, not only should wives be obedient to husbands, but also husbands should be obedient to wives.

John’s gospel presents the conclusion of Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse. Jesus’ own disciples grumble that his revelations–he is “the living bread coming down from heaven” and the bread he will give is “his flesh for the life of the world”–are unacceptable or offensive. Jesus now questions those who have heard his revelations:

  • Would you rather see me “going up?” Jesus’ question has a double meaning. The Greek verb ἀναβαίνω (ah-nah-BAH-ee-noh) means “to ascend” or “to go up.” The first meaning is connected to Hebrew scripture. Moses and Elijah “ascend” or “are taken up” to God, which proves their authority and honor. Jesus has “come down” from God, and will “ascend” again after his resurrection, proving his authority. The second meaning refers to Jesus’ “going up” or “being lifted up” on the cross. This “going up” will further scandalize his disciples, but will also result in “the life of the world.” Jesus admonishes the disciples for interpreting his message in a human-only way (“the flesh”), ignoring the Spirit’s help. Facts alone do not create a disciple; discipleship also requires a Spirit-filled response to the Father made known in the word of Jesus.
  • Do you also wish to go away? Jesus asks this pointed question of the Twelve, who are struggling with who Jesus is. John also asks this question of his own community sixty years later, who are struggling with how the risen Jesus remains present with them in their conflicted community. Jesus asks today’s disciples, who are struggling with continuing faith in Jesus while living in a broken world, the same question.

Today’s readings challenge RCIA participants and the believing community to ask: “Why am I a disciple?” Jesus’ harsh revelations in the bread of life discourse present a stark choice for his hearers. Their choices reveal who they are. The crowd, hoping at the discourse’s start for more free bread, melts away when Jesus talks about new spiritual bread. His opponents, put off by physicality of Jesus’ own flesh as sacrifice and food, leave in disgust. Many disciples, still expecting a temporal king, reject Jesus’ claim of heavenly origins and return to their old lives. Only his loyal faction, seeing beyond his signs and hearing deeply his words, remain convinced that he is who he says he is, and remain-in-relationship with him. What kind of bread are we looking for? Who can provide that bread?

—Terence Sherlock

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