Joshua 24:1-2, 15-18
“Wives should be subordinate to their husbands.”
I laughed a bit to myself as I was praying with the readings this week, as having this feather-ruffling reading from St. Paul alongside the conclusion of the 5-week series on John 6 makes for a easy ‘out’ for all the priests who ‘would love to address St. Paul’s words’ but ‘really need to focus on this last week about the Eucharist’. But my thought is why not do both?
The words of St. Paul that we just heard a moment ago are incredibly beautiful and powerful message to husbands and wives. It should be the joy of two hearts to hear them on their wedding day, and yet how rarely they are heard. Why? Because our culture doesn’t understand them. When the world today hears the words “wives should be subordinate to their husbands” walls immediately go up against them on account of their supposed misogynistic viewpoint that presumes that St. Paul has as his goal the suppression of women, particularly in their marital relationships. But let’s look at it for a moment. If you look at the meaning of the word ‘subordinate’ that is used here the Latin root translates as ‘put under’ or ‘to plunge into’. St. Paul is inviting wives to places themselves under the care of their husbands as to the Lord, with complete trust. But why place themselves under their husband? Why not alongside? To understand we simply look to the call of St. Paul to husbands in regards to their wives: ‘love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her.’ What is interesting here is that the call of a women is to place herself under the direction or order of her husband, while the call of a husband is to be able to lay down his life in service of his bride, as Christ did for the Church, to make her beauty and holy. That doesn’t sound like a bad thing at all to me! Recognizing the beauty of it is easy; living it is not. To live this mutual submission to one another requires an immense amount of trust. Trust on the part of the wife that her husband will not abuse the role of husband and become an oppressor. And trust on the part of the husband that his self-gift will be received by his wife for her own good and not simply disregarded. It’s all about trust.
And this is exactly where the Lord brings us with this last of the five weeks’ reflections on John 6. In recent weeks Jesus has said and done some really incredible things. We saw his authority-claiming actions of climbing the mountain, sitting, and performing the miracle of feeding 5000+ people with a few loaves and fish. He spoke to us of manna & quail that failed to satisfy and a True Bread that would satisfy not only a small nation but the entire world. He took it a step further and announced that the True Bread would be His very own flesh and by eating it we could attain heavenly life. And then He capped it all off by saying that it was not only His flesh that we would have to eat, repulsive enough an idea as it was, but that we would also have to drink His blood to have that heavenly life. After hearing this litany of absurd claims, we could easily place in this context the command of Joshua to the Israelites: Decide today whom you will serve!
Again, we know the difficulty of accepting so many of the things that the Lord has spoken to us because they are outside of our understanding, contradict so much of what seems common sense, and makes a claim that is absolutely incredibly. Really, after hearing this speech you have to believe either Jesus is the real deal and He can give everything He says OR He’s a raving lunatic who needs to be cast aside and ignored as one who has no grasp on reality. Many of his disciples, we hear, left that day. His disciples. Not just the people who followed Him to get some food, but the disciples who had been walking with Him for days, weeks, maybe months by this point. It was too much for them to take; they couldn’t trust in the words He spoke. What I find fascinating is that Jesus doesn’t go groveling, trying to get them to come back to Him. He simply turns to the disciples and says, ‘Do you also want to leave?’
I love Peter’s response because it’s honest. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the worlds of eternal life.” Notice that he doesn’t say ‘No, Lord, I don’t want to leave.’ You can almost read the confusion in his response. It’s as if he is saying ‘Lord, I don’t understand what you mean entirely and I don’t know how you’re going to make it happen, and it causes me discomfort to hear it, but I’m going to trust you and keep going. You have the words of eternal life. I’m gonna trust you.’ I may be interpreting it wrongly, but it sounds as if Peter doesn’t completely understand everything himself just yet but that he’s willing to keep on the journey.
And the invitation is extended to us the same. Can we every fully understand the Eucharist? No. Will we ever really be able to wrap our minds around the mystical words that Jesus says and the miraculous things that He does? No. Are we ever going to reach a point when the Eucharist doesn’t require of us a radical act of faith? I don’t think so. Because that’s the whole point. Jesus invites every human person to an encounter with Him, particularly in the Eucharist. The question is whether we are able to trust Him enough to believe and follow despite our lack of understanding?
Decide today whom you will serve? As for me an my house, we will serve the Lord.