Here is the homily preached at St. John Parish in Clonmel for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]. For the Scriptures of the Mass, click HERE.
Jump below for the homily’s text…
The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Joshua 24:1-2,15-17,18 + Ephesians 5:21-32 + John 6:60-69
August 23, 2015
“ ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’ ”
Today’s Second Reading is controversial. Many Christians do not accept it. It can seem that the Church itself is not completely convinced that today’s Second Reading is worth hearing, because there’s an option—noted in your missal—for the lector to proclaim only the less provocative parts. Then again, maybe the Church is simply wanting to give an “out” to preachers who may not feel able to preach about St. Paul’s words in a convincing way.
“Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.” Many Christians in the 21st century would say about this sentence what “[m]any of Jesus’ disciples” said about His teaching in John 6: “‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’”
Now, you may think that it’s comparing apples and oranges to hold up today’s Second Reading in light of the Gospel passage. One is preaching about Holy Matrimony, and the other about the Holy Eucharist. But what if these two Scripture passages have more in common than it seems at first hearing?
The Second Reading needs its context if we’re to appreciate it fully. Many misinterpretations of Scripture come from a verse being wrenched out of its biblical context.
The context of the Second Reading is summarized by the first sentence of the longer version: a sentence which very strangely is not included in the shorter version. What does Saint Paul proclaim in this sentence? “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This sentence makes as clear as possible that in Holy Matrimony, subordination is a two-way street: husband subordinating himself to his wife, and the wife to her husband.
The context of the Second Reading is also summarized, though in a different way, by the final sentence of the reading. Fortunately, this sentence is included in both the longer and shorter forms. “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church.”
This is a broader context than the one offered by the first sentence. Holy Matrimony “is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church.” The two-way subordination of husband and wife to each other is a mystery that shares in the mystery of Christ and His Church being subordinate to each other. And this truth is the piece that connects the Second Reading to the Gospel passage.
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“ ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’ ” What exactly is so hard about Jesus’ teaching in John 6? When Jesus says that His Flesh is true food, and when He says that if you do not eat the Flesh of the Son of Man you will not have life in you, are there some who took His words so literally that they thought that Jesus was commanding cannibalism?
Understanding what the literal meaning of the Word of God is has always challenged some Christians. Even today, there are some Christians who insist that every single word of the Bible must be taken literally (or as some would say, literalistically). Most do in fact make exceptions, such as John 6, and also Isaiah 26:4. As you recall, Isaiah 26:4 declares that “The Lord is an eternal rock.” Now, what do imagine that Heaven is like, if the angels, archangels and saints are all joined in praise around an eternal rock? So, obviously, we do not agree with our fellow Christians who say that every word of the Bible must be interpreted literally.
Getting back to John 6, though, the important point about those who believe that Jesus’ saying is hard and cannot accept it… is that Jesus does not chase after them. Jesus doesn’t explain why He does not run after them. But we know that Jesus wants all persons to be saved. We have to figure that Jesus knows that these followers—and St. John the Evangelist tells us that they were “many of His disciples”—do understand what He’s saying. The problem isn’t in their head: the problem is in their hearts. They are not willing to accept Him. They are not willing to subordinate their minds and hearts to Jesus Christ. They are not willing to allow Jesus to serve them as their Lord in the sacrifice of His Flesh and Blood for His Bride, the Church.
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“‘This saying is hard….’” So what, finally, is Jesus saying in John 6? “‘Who can accept it?’” What does it mean to accept the Bread of Life?
For cradle Catholics, it’s really not very hard to accept the Church’s beliefs about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. But to integrate that belief into our daily life is profoundly hard, no matter how long you’ve been a Catholic. To receive the Eucharist in Holy Communion on Sunday is a very simple action, but to allow the grace of His Body and Blood to transform you from within, so that Jesus lives in you, and He leads your life 24/7: that’s the life of a saint.
Or you could put it this way: the key is that the Eucharist is divine food. The difference is that human food strengthens the human body according to whatever vitamins and minerals are inside the food. It doesn’t matter if you’re a sinner or a saint: if you eat an apple, your body will be nourished in the same way. It doesn’t matter if you’re a scoundrel or a hero: if you eat a steak, your body will be nourished in the same way. You can use the physical strength from that food to commit good deeds or bad deeds: virtuous actions or vicious actions.
But divine food is different. Divine food cannot strengthen you to accomplish whatever you wish. Divine food only can strengthen you to accomplish what God wills. Divine food only gives you the strength to accomplish what God wants to accomplish through you. Divine food is for divine purposes. Likewise, prayer leads us to learn what God wants us to do with our lives, not to teach us how to get what we’re wanting from God.
Too often in our modern day, we approach God from the perspective of a consumer culture, where God offers us deals, and His grace is like a cash-back program for participating in the sacraments. There are many New Testament writings on Holy Matrimony. These include today’s Second Reading. These also include all of John 6, which is about Jesus sub-ordinating His whole Self—Flesh, Blood, soul and divinity—for His Spouse, the Church, including you who are a member of His Church. These passages from the Word of God become Flesh in the Holy Eucharist, the strength of which helps us to nurture the spousal, nuptial bond, which is unbreakable because the one Who has called us to that union with Him is divine.