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We Will Serve the Lord!

God's truth scandalizes the world and presents us with a challenge: to find delight even in his hard sayings and stay with him to the end.

Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2021

Joshua addressed all the people:
“If it does not please you to serve the LORD,
decide today whom you will serve,
the gods your fathers served beyond the River
or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling.
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

But the people answered,
“Far be it from us to forsake the LORD
for the service of other gods…
Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”

-Jos. 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b


Brothers and sisters:
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
For the husband is head of his wife
just as Christ is head of the church,
he himself the savior of the body.
As the church is subordinate to Christ,
so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything…
So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.
He who loves his wife loves himself.
For no one hates his own flesh
but rather nourishes and cherishes it,
even as Christ does the church,
because we are members of his body.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.

This is a great mystery,
but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.

-Eph. 5:21-32

Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said,
“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this,
he said to them, “Does this shock you?…
As a result of this,
many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer accompanied him.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe
and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:60-69

Why would someone turn away from following Christ after beginning to follow him?

In order for a soul to follow him, there must be some initial delight, some prospect of peace, of pleasure; in short, of salvation and happiness. To persevere in following him, this delight must continue, must grow and mature all the way to the end. The lessons for today’s Mass, all three of them, deal with this theme. Usually, the Old Testament lesson and the Gospel lesson share a theme, and the epistle lesson between them follows its own order, but today they all contribute powerfully to the same message, a message that is relevant to the state of things in the culture and in the Church.

In the reading from the book of Joshua, the Israelites are challenged to serve the Lord, even among a pagan people. Not following the local gods but rather the God of Sinai meant that they would have to struggle against the nations around them as they took possession of the Promised Land. It meant toil and suffering and even death for many of the Israelites. And yet Joshua says, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Emboldened by his leading, the people exclaim, “We also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

They were aware, and in awe of, and grateful for, the marvels God had done for them, and eager for the gift of the land “promised to Abraham and his seed forever.” Thus, fulfilling the commandments was a sweet burden for them.

The Gospel presents a more complex picture. There is a division among the followers of Jesus. It is the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel and so he is in the synagogue at Capernaum, where you can still touch today part of the foundation of the structure on which the Savior stood. Jesus had just given his teaching on the sublime mystery of the real and substantial presence of his Body and Blood in the most holy Eucharist, and it was too much for many of them.

It troubled their categories, for they had an unspiritual, carnal way of understanding the law of God, and could not accept the spiritual eating and drinking by faith and love of the Body and Blood offered in sacrifice. They were too legalistic, minimalists, too afraid of the demands of a religion that required such a close union with its Lord as eating and drinking of him. So they reacted as though his teaching were crazy. “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” They ceased to take delight in him and so could not follow.

The epistle reading provides a direct challenge to the culture of our times—so direct, in fact, that some prissy editor decided to provide a shorter, alternative version less offensive to current ideology by omitting the offending verse, “As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.” But the people for whom such “trigger” editing is done cannot possibly understand what is said in the rest of the reading, namely, that the ordered relationship of husband and wife in their very bodies has to do with Christ’s union with his Church, the sacrament or mystery of his mystical body, just as the Eucharist is of his natural Body.

It should be no surprise that the question of who may receive the Eucharistic Body is closely related to how we use our own bodies, which are meant to be signs of Christ’s love for his Church in consecrated celibacy or in marriage. And the difficulty in accepting the apostle’s teaching about marriage in the “one flesh” in Christ leads inevitably to a rejection of the reality of his sacramental flesh on the altar.

In the face of this turn against the sacraments of unity, matrimony and the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, we must keep them together, and never allow them to be separated. It is God who had joined chastity, marriage, and the Eucharist, and “what God has joined together, let no man put asunder!” Married love and the Holy Eucharist: two sacraments of delight.

With Peter and the faithful disciples, let us exclaim before these mysteries, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” They still took their delight in him.

The storms of contention will pass, the sadness and disorder of unbelief and immorality will fade away, and Christ will reign in our well-ordered households and on the Catholic altar, though these may now be finally and simply the heavenly mansions and the throne of the Lamb Who Was Slain.  The day will come, as hard as it is to descry in the darkness of the present. We have the promise of the Bridegroom, who has said, “Have confidence, I have overcome the world!” This is a prospect delightful enough to keep us following him.

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