Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Failure, rejection and isolation: these are the themes of today's remarkable Gospel ‑ but they are not all. In the face of them we see perseverance, fidelity and trust. Above all there is an adherence to the truth that is truly amazing. Jesus speaks the truth to all who will listen, and if they find that truth “intolerable” they are free to leave, just as they are free to believe. No one who reads this passage could accuse Jesus of being interested in fame or fortune or the simple accumulation of followers. He didn’t play the ‘numbers game’.
Even more amazing is that when his followers seem to be down to their lowest ebb, he turns to the Twelve and gives them freedom to go as well. Peter’s reply, when he speaks of their belief, is the only answer that matters; it is spirit and life that replies, not the flesh, which has nothing to offer.
Notes for Readers
First Reading. Joshua 24:1‑2.15‑18
This passage of Scripture links in with the Gospel in that it shows the same freedom of choice to follow or not to follow. Joshua wants only free men and women to serve the Lord ‑ all are to be encouraged to make that choice. It is simple narrative, which is always easier to read. After you have told of the gathering at Shechem (pronounced ‘Shekem’), emphasise the word “choose” in Joshua's speech. Pause briefly before announcing Joshua's proclamation of his intention of his family to worship the Lord. The people's answer is like a Creed, a profession of faith. It has a formality to it; but before the formal declaration, there is a very natural phrase, which almost has a tone of indignation: “We have no intention...” The final line should be read with great confidence: it is the proclamation of faith of the people. (Have a look at Peter's declaration in the Gospel, and see the parallels.)
Second Reading. Ephesians 5:21‑32
This reading often causes some debate whenever it comes up. Some dislike the instruction to wives to “submit to their husbands in everything”, feeling it gives utterly the wrong impression about married life and the dignity of all human persons. This need not be a problem if we remember that Paul is using marriage as practised in his own culture as an image to illustrate both the relationship between Christ and the Church and our relationships with each other. If you examine the passage it is clear that both husbands and wives have equally heavy responsibilities: both are subsumed, however, in love, which makes husband and wife “one body”. The complexity of this reading is that its floats in and out of the two images - husband/wife and Christ/the Church - sometimes mingling them and jumping abruptly from one to the other. Be sure to separate them out in your preparation: remember also the final line of the reading: Paul is really talking above all about the mystery of Christ and the Church, not about human marriage. Be conscious of this in drawing out the meaning from this rather complicated passage.