When you put God first you have Freedom and Marriage is Better

Homily for Twenty-First Sunday of Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Decisions, decisions, decisions. We have small decisions to make and big decisions to make. There is one decision we all have to make, that is to decide for God or not, to live with God first in our life or not. This is the big decision we see being made in the first reading today in the book of Joshua (Josh 24:1-2, 15-18) and in the Gospel (John 6:60-69). In the first reading after Joshua brought the Hebrews across the river Jordan into the Promised Land of Canaan he asked them to decide whom they would serve, either God or the pagan gods their ancestors had worshipped. Naturally they chose to worship God. They had seen what God did for their parents, bringing them out of Egypt. They also saw what God allowed to happen to their parents when their parents rebelled against God; everything went badly and although their parents left Egypt they never entered Canaan, instead it was their sons and daughters who got to enjoy Canaan. They saw that obeying God and putting God first brings a blessing but forgetting about God and turning one’s back on God leaves one in the desert. They saw that when you put God first you have freedom, but when you turn away from God you are not free. Putting God first helps you to realize your potential but turning from God leaves you stagnant and stuck. They saw that putting God first brings you a much better life but rebelling against God is really inflicting a wound on yourself. Yes, that first generation that crossed the Jordan into Canaan had learned so much by seeing their rebellious parents die in the desert. They did not want to make the same mistake as their parents so they said to Joshua that they too like Joshua and his family wanted to serve God.

Unfortunately it is a different story in the Gospel today (John 6:60-69). Many of Jesus’ followers turned away from him when they heard him preaching on the Eucharist, the preaching of Jesus we have listened to during recent Sundays. Hearing Jesus speak about his body and blood as nourishment was too much for them. Jesus told them their ancestors ate bread in the desert and died but the bread Jesus would offer would allow them to live forever. When many were contemplating not following Jesus any more, he practically made an appeal to them to reconsider when he said to them that the spirit gives life while the flesh has nothing to offer. The words Jesus told them are spirit and life. In other words, if they turn from Jesus they are turning from life to death. If they turn from Jesus they are turning from light to darkness. If they turn from Jesus they are turning from the One who gave them the new commandment to love one another and going back again to the custom of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. If they turn from Jesus they are turning from the One who showed them the correct understanding of the Law of Moses to go back again to try but never succeed in fulfilling all the 613 laws of Moses. If they turn from Jesus they turn from freedom to slavery. But Peter understood correctly and responded to Jesus,“Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) Indeed, to whom else shall we go? Going to anyone or anything else would be a mistake as we would have to double back in our tracks once again.“Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Only in Jesus have we the freedom we seek. Only when we live with Jesus in our life do all the parts of our life fit together. Whenever as individuals or as a country we have decisions to make, we can say to Jesus, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

That freedom and a new better way of living is what we see played out in the second reading from Ephesians today (Eph 5:21-32), especially the consequences of belief in Christ for marriage. Everyone, the letter advises, is to submit to everyone else (Eph 5:21). The way it is said in Greek means that you make this act of submission yourself, so it means mutually submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. It is not something forced on you because Christian homes are to be homes of love modeled on the love of Christ. The reading continues by advising husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church (Eph 5:25). How did Christ love the Church? Christ loved the Church by dying for the Church, or as the reading says by handing himself over for her. The reading means husbands are to love their wives in a sacrificial way to the end. So when the letter says the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the Church (Eph 5:23), it is not talking about power. Christ was not into power or control. If the husband is the head like Christ then he is asked to love like Christ. To make sure we get the message we are told husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies (Eph 5:28). Husband and wife are one body in marriage Genesis tells us (Gen 2:24), so it is natural for a spouse to love the other as their own body because they are now one body in marriage. This is a totally new way of understanding marriage in the first century. Nowhere else do we get a description of marriage like this. Those who turned away from Jesus in the Gospel today turned away from all the beautiful consequences that the new life in Christ brings.

Decisions, decisions, decisions. The Hebrews in the first reading (Josh 24:1-2, 15-18) decided to worship God because they saw that when you put God first you have freedom, but when you turn away from God you are not free. They saw that obeying God and putting God first brings a blessing but forgetting about God and turning one’s back on God leaves one in the desert. In the Gospel (John 6:60-69), Peter understood and responded to Jesus, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) Indeed, to whom else shall we go? Going to anyone or anything else would be a mistake as we would have to double back in our tracks once again. Only in Jesus have we the freedom we seek. The second reading gives us a beautiful picture of the consequences of the new life in Christ for the families. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2012

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for the Twenty-First Sunday Year B

“It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer”

second reading excerpt Enjoying Paul's Letters and Old Testament