Choose Whom to Serve

27 August 2006: 21st Sunday of the Year
Jos 24, 1-21, 15-17, 18b; Ps 34; Eph 5, 21-32; John 6, 60-69

The readings today are very challenging to explain. But all of them tell us about decisions about whom we ought to serve. In the first reading, we hear remnants of an ancient liturgy for the renewal of the covenant at Shechem. It is believed to have originated from a covenant between the earlier inhabitants of Shechem and the Israelite invaders. The earlier inhabitants worshipped El-berith. The Israelite invaders worshipped Yahweh. The ancient liturgy dramatizes a choice made by both parties. Their decision is to worship Yahweh, the God of the invaders. The readings tell us, “Choose this day whom you will serve?” In the Gospel, the Twelve were confronted by Jesus with a similar choice, “Will you also go away?” --- in other words, choose: will you be with me or not? And the response is from Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” In other words, just as the people of Shechem decided to serve Yahweh, the Twelve disciples decided to stay with Jesus and to serve Him.

Let’s illustrate this in particular terms. In Christian marriage, what does it mean to stay with Christ? The second reading from the Ephesians helps us to understand Christian marriage and the roles of husband and wife. What is exciting about the second reading is that it is prone to misinterpretation because it says that, “wives be subject to your husband.” Does that mean that the wife therefore is the slave of the husband? Let us see. The Ephesians (Greeks) have a household code before the Christianity influenced them. The literary form of the passage gives us a pattern. The column to your left is the Ephesians' household code. The column to your right was added by Christians.

Household code of the Ephesians

Addition by Christians

22 Wives, be subject to your husband

22 as to the Lord

23 The husband is the head of the wife

23 as Christ is the head of the Church

24 [Wives, be subject to your husband]

24 the Church is subject to Christ

25 Husbands, love your wives.

25-27 as Christ loved the Church... without blemish

28 Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself...

29 A man loves and cherishes his own flesh

29 as Christ does the Church

30 we are members of his body

31 Citation of Genesis 2, 24: For this reason, a man leaves his father/mother, and joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

32 interpreted mystically of Christ and the Church.

Therefore, the marriage relationship changes: If viewed from the Ephesians household code, the wife is simply subjected to the husband without qualifications. If viewed with the Christian column, it changes in which the husband is to devote himself unreservedly to the love of his wife, without blemish, as Christ loves his Church. Thus, the household code of the Ephesians is turned upside down --- the emphasis rests no longer on the duty of the wife to the husband but on the husband’s love for his wife; as Christ loves the Church, his bride. How does Christ love the Church, His bride? --- Unconditionally, faithfully, purely, and selflessly. Christ has proven His love for His Church --- even dying for us, even giving his life for us.

The Christian view of marriage is not merely a study of marriage as a human institution, but in relation between Christ and His Church. Just as Christ serves the Church, so too, we should choose to serve Christ; as husbands serve their wives, so too, should their wives choose to serve their husbands. Today, husbands and wives are seen to be equal in marriage and in decision-making. The teaching does not contradict equality: as both assume the role of decision-making, in dialogue and love, both of them assume the responsibility of their final decisions. Their choice is still for the best of the family they are raising --- yes, just as Christ raised the Church, the Family of God.

Today, we are asked to make decisions. As Joshua asks his people, “This day, choose whom you will serve” and as Jesus asks, “Are you leaving me too?” What will be your answer? Will you go or will you stay?

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