Sunday Sermon for August 23, 2015, the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Eph 5:21-32; Jn 6:60-69
In the first reading today we hear about Joshua calling together the people of Israel as they embark upon the Promised Land. It is in this setting that Joshua draws the line in the sand and challenges the people to make a choice regarding whom they will serve. The people proclaimed that they would serve the Lord, but we all know how long that lasted. The same challenge is given to us today, but in a bit of a different context.

In the other two readings today we have two of the areas of doctrine that have become among the most difficult for people today to accept: the teachings regarding Holy Matrimony and the Eucharist. Due to a general lack of understanding people have largely rejected the teaching on marriage present by St. Paul in the second reading. We do not have a proper understanding of the three basic elements presented by St. Paul: equal but different, love, and subordination.

The complementary differences between the sexes have been blurred due to a misunderstanding of the equality of the couple. We tend to think of equality in the mathematical sense. Obviously, males and females are not the same. Praise God! But in a society that understands equality as sameness, we run into problems. Failure to recognize the unique contributions of both has brought us to the point where we somehow think it is reasonable for two people of the same sex to be married.

The idea that the man could be the head is seen as an affront to women. It is taken to mean that men are better than women. This is certainly not the case. Men are the head of a family and women are the heart. The two become one and that unity requires both a head and a heart. This does not suggest that women can’t think any more than it suggests that men can’t love. Each of the persons is called to both, but each must rely on the other’s strength in their own weakness.

Love is about serving, not about feelings. All too often people think that by St. Paul telling men to love their wives, he is letting men off easy because they only have to have good feelings about their wives. Women, on the other hand, they would say, get the raw end of the deal because they have to be submissive, like a slave, to whatever the man says. Both of these concepts are completely wrong!

St. Paul is telling men to serve their wives, to seek what is truly the best for their wives. This is hard for men who, due to original sin, tend to be very selfish; selfishness is the opposite of love. Women are able to love and to serve with relative ease but, due to original sin, they have difficult allowing themselves to be loved. This is what St. Paul is addressing. To be subordinate means “to be under the order of.” This is not what it sounds like. It means that women have to be under the order that is given to the men. Men are ordered to love; women have to allow themselves to be loved.

So, St. Paul is addressing the weakness of both and instructing them to continue to do what they do well while working to improve the areas they do not do well. In case there is any doubt about this, we must note verse 21, the verse that is so often forgotten: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” St. Paul is not asking anything of one that he is not requiring of the other.

Regarding the Eucharist, we hear about the wider body of our Lord’s disciples murmuring about the teaching that we must eat the Flesh of the Lord and drink His Blood. Because of the difficulty of this teaching, many no longer followed the Lord. Jesus turned to His Apostles and asked if they wanted to leave as well. The teaching was clear and He was not going to back away from the truth, even though it was inconvenient for many people. As we have seen before, this truth continues to be a problem for many people today.

Matrimony and the Eucharist are the two Sacraments most closely related; the symbolism is the same in both although they are on two entirely different planes. So, in the Eucharist, Jesus is united with us and is our head; He loves us and we are to be subordinate to Him.

This is why the challenge of Joshua is so perfect for our situation today. Notice that he does not challenge the people to believe in God; he challenges them regarding whom they will serve. God’s truth is clear and it cannot change, so choose today whom you will serve.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit