21 Ordinary Time B – August 26, 2012 – Making Choices
Submissive wives and loving husbands? The last time this was one of the second readings in our prescribed texts I avoided commenting on it. The text was written in a different age, for a different audience. From what scholars suggest the writer, Paul, was trying to counter the culture of the time and believe it or not was proposing equality for both genders. In the text he asked spouses and partners to put the other person first.
It is difficult to make sense of this passage today. We still live in a world where equality between men and women is far from being a reality. Still the same challenges apply — to give ourselves to our partners and spouses, to treat one another with respect. On a wider scale, the reading offers all of us a model for honoring each other and taking care of each other.
In the first reading we heard the story of Joshua holding a meeting in Shechem a huge market place where public business was conducted, where town meetings were held. Other significant biblical events took place there near a sacred oak tree. For example it was the same place God renewed the covenant with Abraham.
Here Joshua posed a challenge to the people: choose the God of your ancestors, a jealous and protective God, or choose the gods of the Canaanites. (The liberated Israelites were moving into a land already occupied by people who worshipped different gods.) Joshua said, choose the God of your ancestors (who freed you from captivity) and you will inherit the promised land. (References to the promised land do not point to heaven or eternal life. Rather the expression refers to a better life here on earth.) It sounded like a good deal.
Choices. Mindful that millions of people do not have the liberty to make their own choices, we make them all day long. What to wear, what to eat, how to get where we are going, what home, computer or smart phone to buy. We also make choices in a more serious vein: what schools to go to, how to pay bills, how to cut back on spending, where to find work.
Sometimes we are faced with difficult moral choices. To steal or not, to tell the truth or not, to obey laws or not, or when to speak up or not. There are difficult choices to make regarding health care and how to die. All life related issues involve choices. In a national context we are about to make what can be said to be a moral choice for the next president of our country.
Rabbi Bernard Lipnick in commenting on this week’s Torah readings from Shoftim suggests that the temptation to focus only on what is best for me is a difficult attitude to overcome. We might not even know we are doing it. Instead he proposes that we think more about our interdependent choices.
When you come down to it, we here in the United States, who value independence and individuality, are really dependent on everyone and everything else. Each created being relies on others. A beach needs individual grains of sand. Oceans need drops of water. The heavens are constellations of individual stars and planets. We human beings do not exist in complete isolation.
This morning’s gospel brings to an end the series of talks given by Jesus on the bread from heaven. In last week’s portion Jesus told his disciples if you want eternal life eat my flesh and drink my blood. This imagery offended people because, for them, eating flesh and blood of any creature was insulting to God.
This week Jesus puts the disciples to a test similar to the one Joshua gave the Israelites. He offered the people a choice. Are you with me or not? I chose you will you choose me? Some disciples found the challenge too difficult to accept and no longer accompanied Jesus in his ministry. Judas was a good example.
When we leave here today we will be faced with more choices. Little ones like where to have brunch and bigger ones like what to do about each person’s health care or, even, whether to keep coming to church. Making choices about our own welfare is a good thing. Making choices that affect the welfare of others in the long run is also a good thing.