Father Donald Senior, CP

Aug. 22: 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

To whom shall we go?

Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18; Ps 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21; Eph 5:21-32; Jn 6:60-69

There are moments in our lives when we have to stand firm in our commitment.

It might be something relatively trivial, like wanting pepperoni on our pizza instead of anchovies. At other times, though, a lot is at stake, like in the sacrament of marriage: “I take you … to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

Our readings for this Sunday plunge us into the world of commitments. The first reading is a famous passage at the end of the Book of Joshua. 

Joshua, Moses’ successor as leader of Israel, gathers the people together at the northern shrine of Shechem (present-day Nablus). With the people having successfully taken over the land of promise, Joshua puts a fundamental choice before them: Will they serve the Lord wholeheartedly? Or will they be lured into belief in the local gods of the peoples around them? 

There is no doubt where Joshua himself stands. “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord,” he says. Joshua’s unflinching commitment rallies the Israelites’ own fidelity. “We also will serve the Lord, for he is our God,” they say.

This famous scene paves the way for the Gospel passage from John that comes at the end of the “bread of life” discourse we have been hearing for several weeks this summer. 

Jesus’ challenging words are too much for “many of his disciples” and they return to “their former way of life.”

Jesus poses a question for his remaining disciples. It is a blunt question that recalls Joshua’s challenge to the Israelites: “Do you also want to leave?” 

It is Simon Peter who responds, not with bravado but humbly. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” 

How many times through the centuries have followers of Jesus echoed this kind of raw faith. There is no sense of triumph or certainty, no smug assurance, just where else can we go? 

I am reminded of another Gospel scene and the words of the father of the boy who Jesus cured of epilepsy: “Lord, help my unbelief.”

Sometimes we are pushed back to ground zero of our Christian faith. Maybe we are troubled by scandals in our church or discouraged by our own failures or puzzled by so much conflict and violence in our world. We say, “Lord, help my unbelief.” And, “Master, to whom shall we go?”

The second reading today from the Letter to the Ephesians speaks of commitment in another key.

For many modern Catholics, the strong patriarchal assumptions of this passage about marriage turn people away (so much so that the Lectionary offers the option of an edited version). The admonitions that “wives should be subordinate to their husbands” or that the “husband is head of his wife” reflect a traditional view of marriage no longer adequate for our modern view of partnership and equality between husband and wife.

The challenge here, as is often the case in interpreting Scripture, is to find the truth and beauty beneath the cultural surface of the text. Here we find a profound affirmation of mutual marital commitment. 

The love between spouses is to mirror the love of Christ for the church: faithful, compassionate, unconditional. In committing to each other in marriage, wife and husband are to become “one flesh” (an image Jesus draws from the creation story in Genesis), thus “nourishing” and “cherishing” each other, loving and reverencing each other as they would “their own bodies.”

Married couples know how demanding such a commitment can be and how hard to maintain such a beautiful vision of faithful love, a love that is to emulate the love of Christ for the church. 

Surely here, too, the humble words of Peter come into play, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” And here, too, the earnest prayer of the parent of a sick son, “Lord, help my unbelief.”

For all of us who believe in Jesus and strive to be faithful to our commitments, these words of Scripture are balm, encouraging us to persevere and promising us forgiveness even when we struggle.



  • scripture