Sunday Sermon for August 26, 2018, the Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: Josh 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Eph 5:21-32; Jn 6:60-69
We live in a time when people want to be entertained. As superficial as this is, even worse is that people want to define their own truth according to their own wants and desires. In the Gospel reading today we see this is nothing new. Jesus had drawn a large number of people who followed Him and wanted to be His disciples.
We know the people marveled at our Lord’s preaching because He spoke with authority. His preaching was compelling and was not mealy-mouth pious pablum. As long as our Lord was speaking of the more pleasant things the people were fine, but when He challenged them to conform fully to God’s truth, they rebelled. We know this happened in His own home town of Nazareth where they wanted to throw Him over the cliff because His preaching hit too close to home. We see it again today in the response of the people to eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood.
“This saying is hard” they said, “who can accept it?” In their murmuring the people are rejecting not only the truth, but the love of God. The Lord loves us so much that He desires to unite Himself to us and us to Himself. What a beautiful truth: to be united with God! Because we are sensible persons, meaning we have a body and receive things through the senses, God is not satisfied with leaving this truth merely on the spiritual level.
It is true that we are incorporated into Jesus at Baptism and united with Him if we are in the State of Grace. In His mercy, God willed to give us an expression of that love, of that union with Himself that we could receive through the senses. For this reason, He gave us Himself in the form of bread and wine so we could receive His entire Person into ourselves. In this union we can also give our entire person to Him.
It may sound gross to us to think of consuming a piece of our Lord’s Flesh, but that is not what Jesus is asking. Instead, we receive His entire Person in the Eucharist. Perhaps what is hard for us is not the truth of the Real Presence, but the truth that God actually loves us that much. Maybe the bigger problem is that we do not love God entirely, so the challenge to give ourselves to Him completely, as He is doing for us, is more than we can handle. When this happens we either reject the truth of the Real Presence, we reduce the Eucharist to a symbol, or we walk away because the saying is too hard.
The wonderful thing to notice in the Gospel is that Jesus simply spoke the truth: He did not water it down, He did not sugar coat it, and He did not apologize for it. We see St. Paul doing the same thing in the second reading today as he speaks a truth people do not want to accept because it is hard. He speaks of the reality of marriage which is the Sacrament symbolically closest to the Eucharist. If we reject the truth of one, it will be very difficult to accept the truth of the other.
St. Paul calls married couples to be who they were created to be: man and woman, husband and wife. We live in a confused age where many people do not want to accept who God created them to be. St. Paul is calling men to love their wives by serving them, seeking what is the best for them and for their family. He is also calling women to be subordinate to God’s command to their husband; in other words, to allow themselves to be loved.
Original sin has affected us differently as males and females. Generally, women have little problem loving and men have little problem allowing themselves to be loved. St. Paul is asking each to continue doing what they do well while developing the area that is more difficult for them. Notice that he says: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” St. Paul is requiring the same self-giving love from both parties, but the motive is most important: out of reverence for Christ.
Once again, if we do not recognize and love Jesus in the Eucharist, we will not be able to fully live out the vows of marriage. Both Sacraments require totally giving to and totally receiving the other person. This is the truth of God’s self-giving love; God cannot change, therefore, the truth cannot change. So, the challenge made by Joshua 3500 years ago applies to us today: choose today whom you will serve. Accept the truth, live the truth in love, serve the Lord!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.