The National Catholic Review
Daniel J. Harrington
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), Aug. 27, 2006
“Master, to whom shall we go?” (John 6:68)

The passages from John 6 that we have been considering on recent Sundays have reminded us of some of the ways in which God feeds his people. Most fundamentally, God feeds his people through Jesus, the revealer, who explains and exemplifies who God is and what God wills for us. This revelation is transmitted to us through the wise teachings of Jesus (his words) and through sharing his flesh and blood (the sacrament of the Eucharist). Those who accept the invitation to Wisdom’s banquet believe that Jesus has the words of eternal life and that he is the Holy One of God.

 

Today’s reading from Joshua 24 reminds us that the Eucharist is a covenant meal that calls for a decision of faith. In the Old Testament the word covenant often describes the relationship between God and his chosen people. In today’s passage Joshua leads the people in a covenant renewal ceremony, in which he first reviews the mighty acts of God from the time of the patriarchs, through the escape from slavery in Egypt and the wars east of the Jordan River, to the entry into the promised land. Then Joshua challenges the people to reaffirm their covenant relationship with Yahweh. Mindful of God’s mighty acts in the past on their behalf, the people renew the covenant with the pledge, “Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

A similar call to decision appears at the end of Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse in John 6. Today’s passage describes various reactions to his words. The response of many disciples is negative. Although they had heard what Jesus said, they could not accept it. In the present context his “hard” saying may refer to Jesus’ realistic and even crude language about eating his flesh and drinking his blood (6:51-58). Or it may concern the exalted claims made earlier by Jesus to be the bread of life and his promise of eternal life. Jesus attributes their lack of faith in him to God’s will, “since no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him.”

The reaction of the unbelieving disciples contrasts sharply with that of the Twelve, whose spokesman here as elsewhere is Peter. His initial response (“Master, to whom shall we go?”) is so memorable that we may skip over his further comment, “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” In the Eucharist we, like Peter, are called to make a decision, profess our faith in God’s Son and renew the covenant ratified in his life, death and resurrection.

While often criticized today for its “outmoded” view of marriage, the reading from Ephesians 5 ultimately challenges the patriarchal model by insisting that Christian marriage be built on mutual respect and love, and that husband and wife stand together in love before God. It also uses the husband-wife relationship as an analogy to illumine the close relationship between Christ and the church. Both themes need to be taken seriously.

 

Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., is professor of New Testament at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass.

Readings: 
Readings: Josh 24:1-2, 15-18; Ps 34:2-3, 16-21; Eph 5:21-32; John 6:60-69
Prayer: 

• What do you make of the divided reactions to Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse in John 6?

• What do you find most difficult or challenging about the Eucharist?

• Is the marriage analogy in Ephesians 5? a help or a hindrance in understanding marriage and the church? Why?