Scripture in Depth

Reading I: Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b

For the Old Testament scholar, Joshua 24 is highly important in the history of Israelite traditions. It preserves remnants of an ancient liturgy for the renewal of the covenant at Shechem.

This tradition stands in conflict with later Deuteronomic theology and its doctrine of the central sanctuary at Jerusalem. It is believed to have originated from a covenant between the earlier inhabitants of Shechem and the Israelite invaders.

The former worshiped El-berith, while the latter worshiped YHWH. The ceremony recalls the choice then made by the two parties. Henceforth YHWH, the God of the invaders, would be worshiped by both groups.

The appointment of this reading for today is governed by the parallel between the choice made at Shechem and the choice confronting the disciples after the discourse in John 6.

The challenge “Choose this day whom you will serve” parallels “Will you also go away?”; and the response “We will serve the Lord, for he is our God” parallels Peter’s response, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Responsorial Psalm: 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21

The refrain and the first stanza are the same as in last Sunday’s responsorial psalm, while the rest of the stanzas are made up from verses not used last week. 

The new stanzas strike a different note, namely, God’s vindication of the righteous sufferer. Some think that the fourth stanza (Ps 34:20-21) rather than Exodus 12:46 is the source of the Old Testament quotation in John 19:36.

If this view is correct, it would show that this psalm was used in the early Church’s passion apologetic.

The goodness of the Lord that we taste and see in the Eucharist is the goodness manifested in the suffering and vindication of Jesus, the righteous servant of God.

Reading II: Ephesians 5:21-32 or 5:2a, 25-32

Ephesians 5:22 marks the beginning of the household code of Ephesians. This code forms a major portion of the parenesis in the second half of the letter and runs through Ephesians 6:9.

Ephesians 5:21 serves as a heading for the household code. The primary principle of the household codes is that of subjection. Early Christianity seems to have taken over these codes from Hellenistic Judaism, which in turn adapted them from the Stoics. The codes set forth the duties of wives, husbands, parents, children, masters, and slaves.

In the New Testament these codes are often given a Christian veneer generally by the addition of the words “in the Lord” to the injunctions. Occasionally, however, as in the present instance, the process of Christianization goes much further.

Ephesians provides a unique elaboration of marriage as a parable of the relation between Christ and his Church. In this theological expansion of the code, the author of Ephesians has brought together a remarkable variety of traditions.

He takes the statement about the unity of husband and wife in marriage from Genesis 2:24.

He portrays the Church in the language of Levitical purity. The command to love one’s neighbor in Leviticus 19:1ff provides the basis for Ephesians 5:27.

An early Christian kerygmatic formula is reproduced in Ephesians 5:25, and a baptismal-liturgical formula in Ephesians 5:26.

In Ephesians 5:23 and 5:29 the Pauline figure of the Church as the body of Christ reappears, but with Christ as the head of the body, a development that may be of Gnostic origin.

With these materials the author has skillfully interwoven two parallel themes—the duties of husband and wife, and the ecclesiological theme of the relation between Christ and the Church. We may sort out the two themes as follows:

22 Wives, be subject to your husbands
23 The husband is the head of the the wife
24 [a repetition of verse 22]
25 Husbands, love your wives

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
31 Citation of Genesis 2:24    22 as to the Lord

23 as Christ is the head of the Church
24 the Church is subject to Christ
25-27 as Christ loved the Church
. . . without blemish

29 as Christ does the Church
30 we are members of his body

32 interpreted mystically of Christ and the Church

By presenting this passage in two columns, we get a clue to the author’s procedure.

He began with the duty of the wife to the husband as set forth in the household code with its slight Christianization (“as to the Lord”).

He then expanded the code by drawing upon a number of kerygmatic, liturgical, and ecclesiological traditions, and then supplemented the household code itself by drawing upon the tradition on the other side of the column.

As a result, the marriage relationship is transformed from one in which the wife is simply subjected to the husband without qualification into one in which the husband is to devote himself unreservedly to the love of his wife.

Thus, the household code 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.

Finally, the two columns are clinched together by the citation of Genesis 2:24. On the literal level, this text speaks of the union of husband and wife. But this is a mysterion. It has another, higher level of meaning, portraying the unity between Christ and the Church.

The author’s doctrine of the Church is not built up from below, from a natural understanding of marriage; rather, his understanding of marriage is built from above, from a theological understanding of the mystical union between Christ and his Church.

Gospel: John 6:60-69

This pericope forms the conclusion to the discourse at Capernaum on the bread of heaven. Following as it does John 6:51-59, it appears to contradict that section, especially in John 6:63.

Having insisted in John 6:51c-59 that the believer must eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man in order to have eternal life, Jesus now tells his hearers that “the flesh is of no avail.”

But “flesh” here is not the Eucharistic flesh of John 6:5lc-59; as in John 3:6, it means “the natural principle in man which cannot give eternal life” (R. B. Brown).

Similarly, “spirit” here means what it means in John 3:6—the life-giving Spirit that will be given as a result of the ascension of the Son of man to where he was before (Jn 6:62).

Our passage, therefore, is not speaking of the sacrament but of the reception of the revelation of Jesus as the heavenly wisdom, the bread from heaven. In other words, it refers back to John 6:35-50, not to John 6:51c-59, which, as we have seen, are best understood as a later redactional addition.

It is Jesus’ claim to be the revelation of God in John 6:35-50 that many of the disciples find to be a hard saying, not the Eucharistic teaching of John 6:51c-59. Yet, there are some who do accept his claim, namely, the Twelve. And in a scene parallel to the synoptic episode at Caesarea Philippi, the section concludes with a confession of Peter (Jn 6:68b-69).

Thus, as throughout the Fourth Gospel, the division of spirits is determined by the acceptance or rejection of Jesus as the life-giving revelation of God.

The evangelist, of course, is thinking not only of what happened in Jesus’ ministry but of a similar division of spirits in his own community. The many disciples who abandoned Jesus, and Judas Iscariot, who was to betray him (Jn 6:64; cf. 6:70-71), typify the Gnostic Docetists in the evangelist’s own day.

 

Reginald H. Fuller
 

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson