The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Jeremiah 23:1-6 + Ephesians 2:13-18 + Mark 6:30-34
July 18, 2021
“… that He might create in Himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace ….”
Saint Paul, in his love for the Christians living in Ephesus, wrote to them about what it means to be one people. In today’s Second Reading from Ephesians, St. Paul teaches us about the mark of unity. Unity, as you know, is one of the four marks of the Church that Jesus established. In the Nicene Creed we profess our belief that the Church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”.
Saint Paul, in his love for the Ephesians, wanted them to grow in their unity with each other. Some of the Ephesians were Gentiles, while others were Jews. St. Paul explains to the Gentiles: “You who once were far off have become near ….” The Jews had been God’s Chosen People for millennia, but now the Gentiles were being included among God’s People. The Jews and Gentiles were becoming united as God’s People, wedding their lives together through the Body of Christ, the Church.
Saint Paul, in his love for these Ephesians, wanted them to recognize the source of their unity. This was the point of his preaching here: to focus on the source of their unity. What was this source? The Jews and Gentiles in Ephesus lived among each other, within the same culture, and had livelihoods and social standing similar to each other. But none of those things, according to St. Paul, was the source of their unity.
Step back for a moment, and consider these questions about unity in light of the entire Letter to the Ephesians. In one word, what’s the theme of this letter that St. Paul wrote? One possible answer is that the word “wedding” summarizes the Letter to the Ephesians.
It’s not a coincidence that when you attend a Catholic wedding, the Second Reading often comes from Ephesians, because this whole letter focuses on the wedding of Christ and His Church. Yet while literally Sunday’s Second Reading concerns the unity of these Jews and Gentiles in Ephesus 2000 years ago, spiritually this same passage points your attention towards the unity of Jesus and the Church through the imagery of a wedding.
The unity of Jesus and the Church is the source of all unity for each and every Christian: not just for the Ephesians, but for you, also. Jesus created this unity when He gave up His Spirit on the Cross, sacrificing His life so that His bride might have life: in effect, saying through His sacrifice, “This is my Body, which is given up for you” [Luke 22:19]. Recognizing what Jesus gave for you, then, consider your own life.
If your daily life seems at all frazzled, disjointed, fragmented or uncentered, the unity of Jesus and His Church—that is to say, the wedding of Jesus to His Church—is where you need to turn. If you’re a visual learner, look at a crucifix. If you’re not a visual learner, look at a crucifix anyway. Take a crucifix and make some sort of stand for it. Place it in front of you, and then spend time in silent prayer, gazing at the crucifix. In the crucifix, you see the source of the unity you need in your life.
Unfortunately, one of the most common and dangerous temptations of the Christian spiritual life emerges here. The symbol of the crucifix is commonplace in our lives as Catholics. This symbol reminds you of your need to model your thoughts, words and actions according to what you see in the crucifix. But this is the temptation: to turn Jesus merely into a model to be imitated.
It’s certainly true that you are commanded by God to model your choices according to what you see on the crucifix. But the temptation is to limit your moral life to this. Jesus is not just a teacher who lived 2000 years ago. He also, and more importantly, is your eternal Savior. It’s as your divine Savior that Jesus Christ is the source of grace in your life. Through this grace, your spiritual life buoys your moral life. Through this grace, you become capable of imitating Jesus Christ. Without God’s grace, the model of self-sacrifice that you see in the crucifix is impossible to attain. Impossible. “But with God, all things are possible” [Matthew 19:26].