Accepting the Hard Sayings With Faith

User’s Guide to Sunday, Aug. 22

The crucifix is seen against a backdrop of stained glass in St. Ignatius Church in Paris.
The crucifix is seen against a backdrop of stained glass in St. Ignatius Church in Paris. (photo: Photo by Dag Heinrichowski / Unsplash)

Sunday, Aug. 22, is the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass Readings: Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Psalm 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21; Ephesians 5:21-32 or 5:2a, 25-32; John 6:60-69.

“This saying is hard; who can accept it?” The Gospel (John 6:60-69) for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time in Year B opens with the response of many of Jesus’ disciples to Jesus’ words in the previous section of John 6. Jesus has just told his disciples that his “flesh is food indeed,” that “he who eats me will live because of me,” and “he who eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:55, 57, 58). 

The struggle of the doubting disciples was believing that Jesus was God. In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus looks to the Twelve, asking them also if they doubt. Simon Peter speaks for the group, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). Because they have been given the gift of faith, they believe that Jesus is God.

What Christ gives us is the gift of consuming God through the accidents of bread and wine, and while he underwent a bloody sacrificial death, he only underwent it once in time. This same sacrifice is made present in every single Mass, and we participate in it with the knowledge of Jesus’ resurrection and our hope of eternal union with him. When we hear the Bread of Life Discourse and believe in Jesus’ words, we can thank the Father for granting this faith to us.

The Psalm response is continued from the 19th and 20th Sunday in the lectionary, leading us to pray with different verses of Psalm 34. We hear of the Lord’s justice toward evildoers and his mercy and healing toward the distressed and brokenhearted. He wants to draw us ever closer to him, especially through our reception of the Eucharist — his Body and Blood.

The second reading from Ephesians 5 gives a teaching to which one might also respond, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” The long-form option opens with the call to all Christians to “be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21) and continues with more details for husbands and wives. Wives are told to “be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22) in a manner like the call of all Christians. Husbands are given a harder, deeper responsibility of loving their wives “even as Christ loved the Church” (Ephesians 5:25). Christ “handed himself over for [the Church] to sanctify her, cleansing her […] that he might present to himself the church in splendor” (Ephesians 5:26-27). 

These calls are challenging to live up to. A husband must give up his life entirely for his wife, being solicitous for her holiness through his own sacrifices. A wife must accept this love, let herself be nourished and cherished, and seek to join her will with the rightly ordered will of her husband. Both must do this with true charity, remembering the call to be subordinate to each other out of reverence for Christ.

The covenant of marriage is one that couples must renew regularly in their hearts, as Joshua asks the Israelites to do with the Lord at the end of his life in the first reading (Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b). The Lord freed us from the slavery of original sin, and he performs the miracle of giving himself to us as food every day at Mass. Let us renew our promise to serve him faithfully and ask for the grace to do so, no matter how hard we find these sayings, as we pray, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).