JESUS’ FOLLOWERS OPPOSE HIS TEACHING ON THE EUCHARIST AND ON MARRIAGE
A HOMILY FOR THE 21ST SUNDAY IN YEAR B
Joshua 24: 1-2, 15-18; Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6: 60-69
Today’s readings touch on two of Jesus’ teachings that his followers found hardest to accept: on the Eucharist and on marriage. Jesus often faced opposition from his “enemies”, but on these two subjects he faced opposition from his followers and disciples too.
Today’s Gospel comes at the end of John chapter 6 in which Jesus works the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes and explains that the true bread and nourishment that he gives is not ordinary material food but the heavenly nourishment of Divine Teaching and his own flesh and blood for us to eat in the Eucharist.
Many of his followers say “This is intolerable language. How can anyone accept it?” and John tells us that “after this many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him. It’s a key moment in Jesus’ public ministry in which truth wins out over popularity.
You know, it is hard to believe in the Eucharist and Jesus says as much in today’s Gospel: “No one can come to me unless the Father allows him”. In other words, our own human thinking alone cannot arrive at this truth – we can only do so with the faith given us by the heavenly Father.
Faith demands that we make a choice. Jesus demanded such a choice from his Apostles when he asked “What about you, do you want to go way too?” Peter’s answer is enlightening and worth pondering on in our own faith journey. He says “Lord, whom shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe.” He is saying, in effect, “Lord we don’t get it; we don’t understand what you’re saying; but we believe you and there’s nobody else worth believing, there’s nobody else worth following.” Ultimately this too is why we today believe that the Eucharist is truly Jesus’ sacred body and blood – because he said so.
In the Second Reading we find some of Saint Paul’s presentation of the Christian teaching on marriage, specifically on the importance of submission and sacrificial love between husband and wife. This is not very popular teaching today since “submission” is no longer in vogue, but we must remember that as well as saying wives should submit to their husbands Saint Paul also said that husbands must “die” for their wives. Isn’t this the greatest act of submission? The key to understanding this passage from Saint Paul is the very first line when he says that husbands
and wives should “give way to one another in obedience to Christ.”
Saint Paul then repeats Jesus’ teaching that a “man must leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one body” in marriage. When we read this teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark (chapter 10) Jesus adds “Therefore what God has joined no man can divide”. Matthew tells us that later on when Jesus was alone with his disciples they questioned him about this, a polite way of saying what we often hear today: This is a hard saying, who can accept it? What you demand is too difficult. People won’t be able to live up to it”. But yet again, Jesus choses truth over popularity and did not change his Divine Teaching. Rather, he emphasised it even more by explaining that re-marriage after divorce is akin to adultery.
Yes, the teaching of Jesus and his Church on marriage is not always easy, but it is the teaching of the one who nourishes us with the Divine Word of God and the one who has the words of eternal life. Jesus had hard and difficult teachings, but he was also kind, merciful, and welcoming, and he knew that these hard teachings could only be accepted in faith. The Church today, in faithfulness to Jesus, continues to teach his “hard sayings”, choosing truth over popularity, but also in faithfulness to Jesus the Church continues to be kind, merciful, and welcoming.
In the national debate over the re-definition of marriage it is looking more likely that all adult Australians will be granted a choice in a national plebiscite. I am reminded of how the nation of Israel was given and made a choice in today’s First Reading at what is known as the “Assembly of Shechem”. There the people of Israel, newly arrived in the Promised Land, made their choice that they would not follow the false gods and ways of the other peoples around them but would continue to worship and follow the one true God who had rescued them. As a nation we may soon have the choice between marriage as taught by Jesus in God’s plan with a man and a woman, husband and wife, mum and dad, or a more modern notion of marriage between partner A and partner B, parent 1 and parent 2. May we be wise enough as a nation to choose truth, to believe and follow the one who is worth believing and following, the one who has the words of eternal life!
MARRIAGE & FAMILY SUNDAY 26 JULY 2015
Genesis 2:18-24, Romans 12:1-2.9-13, Matthew 19:3-6
WHAT DO WE WANT: A FULLY HUMAN WORLD OR A BRAVE NEW WORLD?
In chapter two of their Communist Manifesto of 1848 Karl Marx and Fredreich Engels advocated for the ‘abolition of the family’ as being integral to their desired state-controlled communist utopia. Almost 170 years later in 2015 the family, thank goodness, has not been abolished. Families are still here and they are going strong, even if we can observe signs that our society may be inching ever so slowly towards the world that Aldoux Huxley imagined in his perhaps prophetic 1932 novel Brave New World, one of my favourite books. See if you can recognise any early warning signs in our society of this brave new world of Huxley’s.
In Brave New World there exists a futuristic dictatorship one world state in which there are no families. Natural procreation has been abolished and all human life is produced through reproductive technologies. Genetic engineering is used to breed workers of differing abilities in a strict caste system; embryos are raised in hatcheries; children are raised and educated, or rather indoctrinated, in large state-run nurseries; euthanasia is compulsory at age 60; and the world’s population is permanently limited.
There’s more: critical thinking is discouraged; “high” culture has ceased to exist and been replaced by movies; spending time alone is considered abnormal; hedonism is encouraged and rampant; sex is for fun, not for intimacy or procreation; hallucinogenic drug taking is common if not universal; and consumerism is fed by an abundance of material goods.
And since these genetically modified, artificially mass-produced human beings still have a religious yearning within them, true religion has been replaced by the worship of the letter “T” in recognition of the world’s first mass-produced product: the Model “T” Ford. Mass-production is fine for a motor car, but we know that God never intended human beings to be mass-produced, or to be ‘produced’ at all. God intended for each of us to be created!
Whether it be an absolute communist vision of the world, Aldoux Huxley’s brave new world, or any other type of new world order, radical social change requires radical family change. That’s because the family is the very foundation and building block of society, or as the Church prefers to say, families are the living cells of our society. When the cells change a body changes; when the cells are sick the body is sick; when the cells are healthy the body is healthy. And so it is for families and society. As Pope Saint John Paul II famously said: “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live”. In our own time, changes in marital and family life have certainly played a central role in the huge societal changes of the Cultural Revolution since the 1960’s.
For some years now there has been no hiding from the fact that families are under huge pressures: economic, social, and moral pressures. All families feel the strain of these pressures, some tragically so. But
this does not make God’s beautiful and simple design for families and society obsolete. And it certainly should not discourage us from drawing attention to God’s design. In fact, quite the contrary. Now is precisely the time to shine a bright light on God’s beautiful design for marriage and family.
God’s beautiful design centres on a man and a woman falling in love, perhaps even breathtakingly so, as when Adam first saw Eve and had his breath taken away, saying “Ah, at last, this is the one! This is the one I will spend the rest of my life with, bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”. The man and woman’s physical and personal differences attract and complement each other.
In God’s beautiful design man and woman come together as equal yet distinct helpmates in the great and challenging adventure of marriage, of forming a family and of building a fully human world, not a “brave new world”.
In God’s beautiful design the man and woman who come together in marriage do not model themselves on the behaviour of the world around them but offer their bodies exclusively to each other - freely, faithfully, and fruitfully - to become one body. In effect the spouses say to each other what Jesus says to us in every Mass: “This is my body given for you.” In God’s beautiful design the man and woman, either naturally or by adopting or fostering, can become a Mum and a Dad, a mother and father.
In God’s beautiful design the family unit of mother, father, and children provides a sure and secure environment with a sense of belonging. The world can be a big and scary place, but the family provides the opportunity to experience unconditional love and merciful forgiveness; it provides the opportunity to learn human virtues and social responsibilities; and it creates a small domestic church, a community of faith and prayer united in and under God.
These are benefits to be enjoyed by all in the family: children, Mum and Dad. In fact, whilst there are and always will be some exceptions, social research shows that family life based on intact marriage delivers the best outcomes for all: including longer and happier lives, better mental health, greater educational attainment, and increased productivity and income. This is what the social research shows.
And, according to Dr Patrick Fagan of the Washington-based Family Research Council, when religious practice is included in family life the results for children are even better. Last year, summing up the research, he said: “Religious practice and prayer are good for marriage, but when marriage and worship are combined in family life, children thrive even more.” (As reported in News weekly 6 Dec 2014)
In Christian Sacramental marriage God unites husband and wife to each other in an unbreakable bond that no man or woman can divide. This brings great benefit to the spouses and to their children. Through the sacrament God also gives married couples the grace they so surely need to lay down their lives for each other and for their children and to endure and triumph over whatever difficulties may come.
Today on this inaugural Marriage and Family Sunday in the Diocese of Armidale we give thanks to God for his precious gift of marriage and family life; we acknowledge the pain of those for whom marriage and family life has not been all that God desires for them; we acknowledge and thank the many men and women who give valuable witness to the world through their marriage in good times and in bad; and above all we pray: we pray for God’s grace upon all married couples and families and we pray that men and women will continue to respond generously to God’s invitation to lay down their lives in marriage. A fully human world depends upon it.