Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Joshua 24:1-2a,15-17,18b
Ephesians 5:21-32
John 6:60-69


August 22-23, 2015 Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

That great American writer, Mark Twain, wrote: "Most people are bothered by those passages in Scriptures which they cannot understand; but as for me, I always notice that the passages in Scripture which trouble me most are those which I do understand." I suspect that today's passage from Ephesians is one of those that troubles most people because they don't understand it. Hopefully as we reflect on it for a few minutes, we will be more like Mark Twain and be troubled by it because we do understand it.

Understanding scripture is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for those who don't want to work at it. One of the most important things that you have to do in reading scripture is to understand the context of the whole of scripture before you try to understand any one passage. Anyone who takes the first few lines of this passage and tries to use them to justify the subordination or diminishing of women is flat out wrong. Is it true that the Bible was written by men who lived in a reality of patriarchalism? Yes that is true. And is it true that very often this pervasive view of women as somehow lesser than men is reflected in many places in the Bible? Yes that is true as well. But a careful study of scripture reveals that this condition is not held up as what God wills, any more than the pervasive worship of idols or the use of violence in the name of God. The overall context of the Bible is revealed most fully in the person of Jesus, the Christ, in whom there is no male or female, no leader dominating follower.

As the author of the letter to the Ephesians states in the first line of this section, we are all of us: male, female, slave, free, adult, child, to be subordinate to one another. That is what troubles me. Every where I look I see the opposite message: I've got to be ME; I need to do it MY way; be assertive; look out for #1. How many people here woke up this morning and said, I want to be subordinate today? How many best sellers do you think you can find in the self help section that claim to show you how to be subordinate? None.

Yet this passage reminds me loud and clear what the truth is. It is not a revelation; it is a reminded of what I know deep down already. It is a reminder of what is spoken about in so many of our religious and liturgical settings. Start with that wonderful hymn in Philippians that sings of Christ being raised on high because he subordinated himself to the Father's will. How many times here in this assembly have we heard the baptismal prayers that talk about dying to self and rising to new life in Christ? Or hear Jesus' invitation to take up his yoke? And this wisdom seeps out into our culture a little as well. Twelve step programs hinge on the principle of subordinating ourselves to a higher power as the path to healing. Even in popular myths such as Star Wars, Luke Skywalker must surrender himself to the Force in order to succeed. But we resist because for so many of us subordination means to be dominated.

This passage uses the example of Jesus who subordinated himself not only to the Father but to humans, to all creation to teach us that there is a different kind of subordination that we are called to. It is very fitting that the author uses the metaphor of marriage in this context. There isn't successful marriage in this room, or in the world, where the husband and the wife would not attest to the fact that subordination is key to making that marriage successful.

I know I have told this story many times but it is still the best illustration of what this passage is talking about when it says we must be subordinate to one another. How many people have seen the movie, My Cousin Vinnie? Vinnie is a two-bit New York lawyer who has aspirations of being a successful trial lawyer. He is called down to a small southern town to try to defend his cousin and a friend who have been accused of murdering a convenience store clerk. The harder he tries in his defense strategy, the deeper he gets himself and his cousin into trouble. All along the way, he refuses to let his fiancé help him, because he has to prove to himself and everyone else that he is the brilliant lawyer. It is only when he gets himself in such deep trouble that he desperately turns to his fiancé. When he finally subordinates his ego and his skills to hers, lo and behold, he becomes the brilliant lawyer that he knew he was all along. He couldn't do it by being dominant or even independent. He could only become the wonderful lawyer that was his potential by subordinating himself to his fiancé and letting her display her talent and knowledge.

That’s the kind of subordination the author of Ephesians is talking about. And that kind of subordination is the key to understanding what Joshua and Jesus are trying to tell us in the first reading and in the Gospel . Wittingly or not, we submit ourselves to a whole series of masters who dictate where we live, how we dress, what we eat, and on and on and on. So it really isn't a question of whether to subordinate ourselves, but rather a question of to whom.

Today's readings remind us that we have a choice as to whom we subordinate ourselves, and they exhort us to make that choice very carefully because who we subordinate ourselves to shapes who we are at a very fundamental level. Will we subordinate ourselves to masters who will lie to us, fragment us, value us by how busy or productive we are or how much we consume? Or will we subordinate ourselves to a God who loves us without condition, forgives us without end, and whose only dream is for our fullness and happiness?

As we make this choice, I hope we keep the words of our responsorial psalm in mind: Taste and see the goodness of the Lord. Some of us may choose wholeheartedly, as did Joshua and his family: As for us we will serve the Lord. Some of us may be a little more tentative as was Peter: To whom shall we go? Unfortunately many will turn away as did those listening to Jesus claim to be the bread come down from heaven: This saying is hard; who can accept it?

Whatever choice we make, let us make it consciously and not just slip into it. In a few moments we have an opportunity to indicate that choice liturgically. Our parish practice of all standing while we all receive communion is a liturgical expression of subordinating ourselves to the reality of the Eucharist. It indicates that we assent to the reality that communion is not about our own personal time with Jesus but it is about forming this community more fully into the body of Christ. Choose to be subordinate to each other: these are the words of eternal life.

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