Whom Will You Serve?

Post Date: August 16, 2021
Author: Ric Cross

A Reflection on the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading I: Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21
Reading II: Ephesians 5:21-32 or 5:2a, 25-32
Gospel: John 6:60-69

The book of Joshua is the first book of scripture that is often referred to as Deuteronomistic History (DH). That history consists of the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings.

The combination of Joshua through 2nd Kings relates a version of Israel’s history from the end of the desert wandering of the Exodus and their arrival in the plains of Moab just across the Jordan River from the Promised Land, through about 700 years of history to the dissolution of the nation of Israel resulting in the Babylonian Captivity (587-538 B.C.). The books of DH carry us through the people’s entry into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua and the conquest of the land (Joshua), through their disbursement throughout the land (Judges), through the period of the monarchy (Samuel and Kings) to the end of the independent nation of Israel and the Babylonian Exile.

The Book of Deuteronomy serves as an introduction to that history by re-presenting the Law of Moses by which that history is to be judged. The question in DH is: Does the history show obedience or disobedience to the law? It is DH that answers that question, and the answer is that the history shows disobedience; and the punishment for that disobedience is the dissolution of the kingdom and the Babylonian Exile.

In the Christian tradition the books of DH are considered historical books, but in the Jewish tradition they are considered prophetic because of an ancient belief that the writing of history is a prophetic endeavor and one should learn from history. Therefore, in the Jewish tradition the books of DH are referred to as the Former Prophets.

Although the Book of Joshua deals with the possession and settling of the Promised Land by the ancient Israelites, it may also be seen as a prophecy of the conquest of the world through the church’s covenantal relationship with God, as reflected in the conquest of the Promised Land under Joshua. Our first reading this week is from chapter 24 of Joshua and involves a renewal of the Covenant first established by Moses on Mt. Sinai in the Book of Exodus. It is Joshua’s final appeal to the people, just prior to his death, to be faithful to their covenantal relationship with God. The author offers his readers a choice: “Decide today whom you will serve.” Do you choose to serve the gods of this world (money, power, prestige?), or do you choose to serve the Lord? Do the people have faith in the God who saved them from slavery in Egypt, or do they place their faith in false gods? The same question will be put to us today in our gospel. Do we have faith in the God who saved us from slavery to sin and death, or do we put our faith in the false gods of the modern world? Do we believe the words of Jesus when he tells us that his body, blood, soul and divinity are given to us in the Eucharist? “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”

Our second reading from Ephesians is probably not a favorite with the ladies: “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands.” But notice that St. Paul first exhorts us all to: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” If we are subordinate to one other, then we have no inherent superiority over each other.

Paul sees the intimacy of Christian marriage as a reflection of the intimate relationship of love between Christ and the church. Christ is the head of the church and serves the church out of love. The husband is the head of his wife and serves his wife out of love. The husband’s service to the wife is to help her be subservient to the Lord; the wife’s service to the husband is to help him be subservient to the Lord.

In our gospel passage, we have an example of many disciples who cannot accept Jesus’ teaching; they simply do not believe his words. Jesus reminds them: “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” Those to whom it is granted are those who recognize that Jesus’ words are: “Spirit and Life.” The Holy Spirit animates our relationship with God and the Spirit, which God sends upon us all, can be accepted or rejected. Those who have not accepted the Holy Spirit and are not open to the Spirit do not have faith in the words of Jesus; those who have no faith cannot come to union with Christ. Jesus was able to discern the hearts of his disciples and, therefore, to discern those who were open to the Spirit and would accept his words and those who were not.

The message of this gospel passage for us is simply faith. Faith in Jesus’ words is a conscious decision to simply believe. There is no empirical proof for the existence of God other than the scriptures and the teachings of Christ passed down to us through the church, and some would not accept the scriptures and the church as empirical proof. We simply have to: “Decide today whom you will serve.” Do we choose to be like the disciples who left Jesus because the teaching was too hard? Or are we open to the Holy Spirit and choose to respond as Peter did: “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

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