The first reading from the book of Joshua (24:1-2,15-18) is well chosen. The nomadic people with their desert God, Yahweh, have survived the wandering in the Sinai wilderness, have crossed the river Jordan and invaded the land of Canaan. The story started to be preserved and felt relevant when the tribes began to settle. The conquered Canaanites have agricultural and fertility gods, and their religion serves them well for they are successful farmers. But the invaders want to settle and live off the land they have conquered. As well as the attraction of this other religion, they see that its adherents are much more successful farmers. The temptation is strong to move to their religion, but the reading describes Joshua calling for a reaffirmation of commitment to Yahweh by all of the tribes. This is surely a story that deserved being preserved in their bible and is thought-provoking for all of us, even to this day. The 12 verses omitted in our selected reading recount the numerous times that God enabled the people to conquer other tribes and nations and showing the superior power of their God.
The second reading is the next short section from the letter to the Ephesians (5:21-32) after those which we have had over the last few Sundays. The start of the reading for today is part of a sentence that began two verses earlier. The writer has said (verse 19 and 20) that you shouldn’t get drunk on alcohol, but should be filled with the Spirit; he goes on to explain what this implies, that is, singing each other’s praises with hymns etc. to the Lord, giving thanks to God and (where our reading begins) “showing respect to each other in awe of Christ,” and the sentence continues “ladies to their men as to the Lord.” Some of the modern English translations show something of our problem today with the apparent subordination of wives to husbands. The writer is elaborating for (new) Christians the implications of their new-found beliefs; it’s the practical details of life within one’s community and particularly within the family – husband, wife, children and servants. This is not unlike the recommended best within the secular society of their time and location, but the principal purpose is not the support of the state but the building up of the church, the Body of Christ; and Jesus showed these attitudes in His life on earth, lived out for others even to the point of death. But when applied to us these old accounts in our Sacred Scriptures need their essential message extracting and re-locating in the contest of our culture and indeed within the lives of each of us. The core message surely is, that there should be harmony between people, for Christians should know that they are the physical presence of Christ in the world today (i.e. the Body of Christ) and should relate to each other accordingly, (and to other people and the environment).
The Gospel reading from John (6:60-69), puts the call to commitment in a Christian context. After the explanation of Himself as the true bread of life, i.e. the wisdom and the way for us to live, Jesus has said unless you eat this flesh of mine you shall not have life within you – that’s the ‘hard saying,’ that the disciples refer to: ‘the intolerable language’. That was last week’s reading but listen to this reading advising us not to take this literally, when it says the flesh profits nothing, it’s the spirit that is important, it’s the spiritual meaning that makes sense; and through Jesus the Spirit is present in our matter-of-fact world. And Jesus is the Son of Man, the ideal human who in the future will be joined by all. So our celebration of Communion is a time to take to ourselves the life of Jesus, committing ourselves to live how he would live if He were in our shoes (which in a non-literal sense He is!). If the Body is the physical presence of a person, then the whole of creation is in some way the body of Christ.