Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 26, 2018

Deacon Blaine Barclay

‘’Choose this day who you will serve…the gods your ancestors served, [the gods of Egypt]…or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living.  As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord’’.

The people of Israel are given a clear choice.  Serve idols, and false gods, or serve the Lord.  You can’t have it both ways, although sometimes we try to have it both ways.

What does it mean to turn away from idols, from the worship of false gods?  The we tend to think of this in terms of religious practices, of how we picture or don’t picture God. I think it has more to do with how we treat one another, with the quality of our face to face encounter with the other.  The only real alternative to idols and false gods is the liberating God of the Exodus.  As our psalms says, ’’The Lord is near to the broken hearted, and saves the crashed in spirit’’.

We believe in a God who shatters the gods of Egypt that keep us in bondage, who defeats the gods of the people and culture through which we are passing.  Like the Israelites, only the overturning of our idols and the defeat of our false gods will open the path before us.  Only the living God can deliver from idolatry.

It is easy to think of the reading from Joshua as simply a story from our ancient past and not our own story.  Let’s try to hear it as our own story, our own journey into the promises of God.  I need to ask myself, what are the idols, the false gods, in my life? The need for recognition, the pleasures of food, addiction to screen culture, etc.  Each of us can examine our own lives and learn to discern the difference between idol and icon, between the false gods, lies perpetrated by contemporary culture, and the living God who sets us free, liberates us so that we can enter into the promised land, flowing with milk and honey.  Not just way back when, or pie in the sky bye and bye, but here and now, in our everyday lives, relationships, friendships, marriage, which brings us to our second reading.

St. Paul begins with the phrase; ’’Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another….Live in love’’.  Authentic encounter with the face of the other person is the royal road to authentic encounter with the non-idolatrous Face of God, the Wholly Other.  This is what makes marriage an iconic image of the relationship, the love, between Christ and the Church.

Lots of perplexed attention has been paid to the verse, ’’Wives be subject to your husband’s’’.  As a married man, you would think that I would love this verse.  Doesn’t it make the husband the boss of the wife?  Not so, the Greek word translated as ’be subject to’ is not even found in this verse, but in the previous verse which reads, ’’Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ’’.  So, what ever the next phrase means, it has to be rooted and grounded in what has been called ’mutual submission’.  An unfortunate turn of phrase given our egalitarian ideals about the sacrament of marriage.

We know that historically the Christian view of the human person and marriage was a giant leap forward for women in comparison to the mentality and practice of both Judaism and Greco-Roman world of antiquity.  But how are we to understand, in our own time and place, the phrase; ’’Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ’’? ’Being subject’ here, does not mean slavish submission, but genuine willingness to be present to the other person, to see in their face the face of Christ.  Attentiveness to, readiness to be responsive, to the call of the other, the need of the other to be loved, for their own sake, to always be treated as a subject and never as an object.

‘’Be subject to one another’ then, has the same meaning as the later verse, ’’Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the Church’’.  Just as there is a ’mutual indwelling’ of the persons of the Trinity, of the humanity and divinity of Christ, of our humanity with the humanity of Christ, of Christ in the Church, so there is a mutual indwelling of wife and husband, the one flesh of marriage.  This is why St. Paul calls it, ’’A great mystery’’, in Greek, ’mysterion’, in Latin ’sacramentum’.  The ‘sacrament’ of marriage, a living iconic image of the love between Christ and the Church.’ Husbands love your wives…  Wives love your husbands….as Christ loves the Church…  Be subject to one another’.