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|Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time||
August 27, 2006
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I am mindful as Im sure many, maybe most of you are also mindful, that were coming to the end of the summer. To the end of a beautiful season of the year. Endings are always difficult. I feel sad that summer is coming to an end. But when theres an ending, usually theres also a beginning. And so we do have new beginnings happening. School is getting underway. Every day the teachers are coming, preparing their rooms looking forward to this new school year. As a parish, were experiencing a certain ending, but also there will be a new coming as we transition into a different way of being St. Leos parish. Another renewal, is Wynetta, this morning coming into our community, renewing and deepening her faith which has been there for a long time but now becoming part of our parish family and the whole Catholic community, a beautiful new beginning.
The scriptures, I think, suggest to all of us, that its a moment for each of us to renew within ourselves, our own commitment to follow God in Jesus. To make a renewal of our faith life. Faith life is always something that is very radical. Its a radical choice that we make. And so we ought not to make it casually, but with only careful prayer and strong conviction, because it really is radical.
This first lesson today, this is exactly what was happening with the chosen people. It was a time of ending for them. Moses had died and was buried and now they were beginning a whole new phase of their life with God, their relationship with God. And so Joshua calls them all together. He summoned all the tribes of Israel to the shrine at Shechem. The elders, the leaders, the judges, all the people, together they presented themselves before God. Joshua reminds them of all that God has done. How God had been part of their lives, how they had entered into covenant with God. But now there is a danger that they might fall away. Moses is gone. Theyre entering a new phase of their relationship with God and so Joshua challenges them:
Then he goes on to say:
Then the people respond:
And Joshua asked them very formally:
The people replied:
And Joshua said:
They accepted renewal of their covenant and do it in a very public way.
The gospel lesson as you easily understand was a challenge of faith. There were those who chose to leave, to walk away from Jesus. Thats a choice that any one of us has at any time. To say, No, I will not follow. Or we, as were urged to do by the example of the chosen people and by the twelve in todays Gospel. We can choose to do like Peter says, say to Jesus, You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
So we are asked to make this radical choice in faith. And today we can in this liturgy, each of us, make that radical choice once more: We will follow God as God is revealed to us in Jesus. Thats the crux of our whole life, as disciples of Jesus. That we will follow Gods ways as theyre revealed in theyre fullness in Jesus.
I think its important too to notice how, when Peter is challenged, and the other disciples, its a very personal thing. Jesus says to them, Will you go away, will you leave me? See he doesnt ask them to take a list of doctrines or anything like that and say, I believe, I believe, I believe. No, he says, Will you follow me? And thats how Peter answered, Lord, where else would be go? To whom would we go? You have the words of everlasting life. Of course we will follow you! And thats what our radical choice is -- to follow Jesus. Which of course, means we have to come to know Jesus, dont we. We have to read the scriptures carefully, reflect on everything Jesus says. How he acts, the way he is, and then say, Yes, we will follow Jesus.
The second lesson today, as I mentioned, its one that sometimes disturbs people because it has that line in it that people find difficult, wives be submissive to your husbands. Because it goes on, too, the husband is the head of the wife and so on, and weve heard fundamentalists interpretation of that passage that demean women, put women down. And in our own Catholic church community, women have been forced to live out in a lesser role than men in terms of leadership and so on. But the passage is really a radical, you might say, subversion of the culture from which Paul was writing, the culture of the Roman Empire, the culture that was expressed in Romans law, whereby women had no rights. Women were owned by their husbands as property, and the husband could do anything in Roman law to his wife, even kill the wife and it wasnt a crime. She was simply his property. What Paul is doing in writing to the Christians at Ephesus, hes saying, now in Jesus, its different. He starts off the whole passage by saying to those Christians and hes talking to all of them, Defer to one another as to Jesus. In other words, reverence one another, respect one another. Hes speaking to married people in this instance, this is about the sacrament of marriage. The principal that guides Paul in his writing is: Defer to one another as you would to Christ. In other words, its a call to equality. Let all submission to one another become obedience to Christ. Not just women to men, not just wives to husbands, but to one another as you would give definite obedience to Jesus.
Even when Paul says, the husband is the head of his wife, and again, remember that hes writing within the culture of the Roman Empire, and hes trying to undermine that, he says, OK, if you want to use that cultural term, well then remember, that as the head, you must be as Christ is the head of the church. And Paul goes on to say, how Jesus totally gave himself for the church, became, in that marvelous example that we know from the Last Supper, the servant of the whole community when He got down and washed their feet. Jesus says, if you want to be the head, you become the servant. Thats so typical of Jesus, how he overturns, undermines, the culture of the world that infects all of us, that was very strong within the Roman Empire and still is strong to a large extent in our own culture. Jesus by his radical speeches, undermines that. All of us then are called to be equal with one another in the community of disciples. There arent some who are over others; its a community of equals. That is so clearly what Paul is trying to get across to the people at Ephesus. Defer to one another as you would to Christ, women to men, men to women. Theres equality. Thats a tremendous, radical change in that culture.
If we carry that out today, and we should, of course, if we are going to make this choice to follow Jesus, renew our covenant with God through Jesus, well then we have to commit ourselves to be the servants of one another within married life. How beautiful every married life would be if husbands and wives really related to one another as Jesus does to us, the church, giving himself totally for us.
If we related to each other, not just within the form of married life, but in our whole parish family and our parish community, if we really had deference for one another as for Jesus, wouldnt our relationship with each other always be filled with love and goodness? We wouldnt be backbiting; we wouldnt be gossiping, we would be putting people down -- if we had deference, respect, reverence for one another as Jesus does for us and we do for Jesus. That spirit should permeate every relationship we have. That we look upon other people, the poor in our midst, as we would look upon Jesus, we would have reverence for them, deference for them. How rich our community would be when each one of us renews that commitment to be as Jesus calls us to be, followers of him, having love for one another, as he loves us, giving ourselves to one another as he gave himself for us.
I suggest that we can take this one step further, going beyond our parish family, what we do within our family with one another and how we relate to one another and to those around us in our immediate community. But just like, as Paul was undermining the Roman Empire which did not value women at all, except as objects, we have to try to undermine the empire in which we live. An empire that is so clearly committed to violence and to war. The reason this occurs to me is that I got an e-mail this week from a person living in Baghdad. Now his English is not perfect, but its very clear. He says:
Thats what weve done to this country. Because we believe violence and war is the way to change the world. It is not the way that Jesus tells us to change the world. If only we would begin truly to follow the way of Jesus. Take that deference for one another and make it a deference for every person on the earth. A love for every person. A transforming of the world, not through violence, but through love. The way of Jesus. Thats the radical choice that is being offered to us today through our scripture in this liturgy.
Perhaps Jesus is saying to all of us, Will you also go away? Is it too radical for you to follow the way of Jesus? If so, hes saying, go away. But if not, if were ready to make that renewal of our faith, then we can be like Peter and say, Lord, to whom shall we go, You have the words of everlasting life. And we will follow you.
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