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The Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 22, 2021

Watch this homily! (Begins at 33:55)

     We might hope that in the waning days of summer the Church would cut us some slack by giving us some light fare in the Sunday readings – something not overly challenging.  But, no, today’s readings are anything but light. They are a full court press!

     That is most obviously the case with the reading from Ephesians which, to be honest, is a preacher’s nightmare! Who - at this moment in history, in this culture of ours, with all the realities and challenges of modern marriage, and our commitment to women’s rights and gender equality – who wants to make a case for wives being subordinate to their husbands! No matter that St. Paul was actually arguing on behalf of the dignity of women in a society where women had no rights at all and were more possessions than persons. No matter that by likening the relationship of husband and wife to the relationship Christ has with the Church St. Paul was giving marriage great dignity and declaring it a source of grace and holiness that can belong only to a sacrament. No matter. St. Paul’s intentions notwithstanding, it would take someone far more gifted than me to make that passage from Ephesians appear to be anything other than a faded relic, an uncomfortable and rather embarrassing holdover from a very different time and culture. Which it is!

     And the challenges of today’s readings don’t stop with Ephesians! Both Joshua in the first reading and Jesus in the gospel offer serious challenges.

     Joshua, at a pivotal moment just before his death, in the presence of all the tribes of Israel who had been so favored by God in their deliverance from Egypt and in their conquest of the Promised Land – so favored by God yet so unfaithful to God – Joshua puts before the people the question of their lives, the question to end all questions: Whom will you serve – the gods of this place, the false gods of the Amorites whose country you have taken over – or the Lord our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Moses, the God of the Burning Bush, of the Exodus, of Mount Sinai? Whom will you serve?

     And then there’s Jesus. He has just revealed himself as the Living Bread come down from heaven, and promised to give his very self, his own flesh and blood, as food and drink. He has put this “hard saying” before his disciples with no equivocation and no apology, and he has watched many of them turn away from him to return to their former way of life. He then turns to his closest friends, the Twelve, and puts to them a question – a pivotal question – that sounds a little like Joshua’s question: “Do you also want to leave?” he asks.

     As usual, it is Peter who speaks up, speaks for the others.  His answer to Jesus is reminiscent of the answer the people had given to Joshua long ago when they said, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord…we will serve the Lord for he is our God.”  Peter’s answer to Jesus was reminiscent of that but even more direct and much more personal, “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life!”  Peter’s words were not only an answer to a question, they were a profound prayer, and a life-altering commitment.

     And now, my friends, the ball is in our court (speaking of a full court press!). That question of Jesus, “Do you also want to leave?” is ours to answer. Like the Twelve, we have a choice. We do. And like the Twelve, we also have a history. Like them, we have walked with the Lord, some of us for a very long time. We have feasted at his table more times than we can count; we have witnessed his wonders in our lives and in the lives of others: miracles of grace, glimpses of glory. But like the Twelve, we have also at times been disappointed by him, disillusioned – maybe even scandalized – when his ways clearly showed themselves not to be our ways and his demands seemed excessive. And so we do get to choose. In fact, we must choose. It’s a choice we make once, yes, but a choice we must constantly renew, for we change, we grow, we move forwards, we slip backwards, and sometimes we lose our way and forget who we are, and where we’ve been, forget that, with Peter, we, too, once said to Jesus with youthful innocence and idealism, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

     My friends in Christ, today we have an opportunity to say those words again as we approach the table of the Eucharist – “Lord, to whom shall we go?” But saying the words is one thing. Actually going to him in faith is what really counts…!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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Seattle, Washington  98104
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