Catching some of the news in the past week, not only from Haiti, but from Afghanistan… I can only imagine what it’s like to be a woman living in Afghanistan right now… for the past 20 years, the US has pushed back the Taliban and maintained a semblance of peace. Now that the US has started pulling out, The Taliban is reimposing Sharia law over the country, which means women no longer have any rights. What’s worse, if anyone associated herself with the US while we were occupying the country, she now has a target on her forehead. Those women who aren’t already dead are trying to erase any associations – shredding documents – burying their phones – putting on their burkas and trying to blend-in - submitting to the male-dominated regime. They no longer have a choice…about how they live, about religion, about education, about kids, or even how they dress. They are less than second-class citizens in their own home.
It reminds me of an interview a few years ago of an Islamic woman who became Christian. By the way, She lives with a constant death-threat now, because: You do not have a choice to leave Islam. Second – she talked about videos that some men were making in order to help Islamic men be better heads of their households. One title was “How to beat your Islamic wife into submission”. <pause>
This may be the kind of thoughts that come to mind as we read our second reading: Paul tells us, “Wives be subordinate to your husband”. As many times as I’ve preached on this reading – as much as I KNOW this is not what it sounds like, I can’t help but bristle at that statement – feeling in my heart what many women must think when they hear that. Women in our culture – women sitting here right now – have too often been treated without the respect they deserve – and historically, this passage was used as a justification for men to impose their wills on women… giving them no real choice.
However, Paul was writing to a culture not unlike what I just described in Afghanistan. Women were less-than second-class citizens in their own homes. Paul is trying to raise Christian families out of that culture. While you and I would likely use different words which would be less misunderstood, the sentiment he’s trying to communicate includes guidelines for BOTH husbands and wives. Seriously – listen again to the first line of that reading: Brothers and sisters: Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. He’s addressing both husbands and wives – both should be subordinate. He then gets more specific: Women are to be subordinate to their husband… or another translation might be ‘submissive’… SUB-MISSIVE which literally means “under the mission” of the husband. What is the mission of husband? He tells us in the very next line… Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her.
In other words – the mission of the husband is to give himself completely for his bride. That means we are to lay down our very lives for the sake of our bride! What bride WOULDN’T want to put herself under that mission? What bride would NOT want to allow her husband to love her that way? Just as Christ gave himself completely so that we could become part of the body of Christ, the husband’s job is to give himself completely so that “the two can become one flesh”. Noone hates his own flesh, so we cannot treat each other without respect and love.
Still – we may find ourselves saying “this is a hard teaching, who can accept it?”
Jesus heard that same statement in today’s Gospel as he was teaching his disciples perhaps the most important lesson of His ministry. The disciples could not accept that he REALLY meant they had to eat his flesh. That goes against their deeply entrenched Jewish beliefs that eating someone’s flesh would be sacrilege. Because they couldn’t accept that one teaching, many of them walked away. While that is sad, for me it is the BEST reason I’ve found for believing that Jesus really meant what He said… See, If he was only speaking symbolically, he would immediately have said – wait guys – don’t leave! I was just using a metaphor – you know – my body is LIKE food…. C’mon back now.
No – instead Jesus upped the ante several times, using words that made it VERY clear he was talking about really eating his flesh. Instead of clearing up any misconceptions, he says, “does that shock you?”. Then he doubled-down again – even asking his inner-circle of Apostles… do you want to leave too??
He gave them a choice. They could accept his teaching and continue to follow – or they could go back to living like the rest of the culture. Many of them chose to go back to their old lives…. Over this one, central teaching.
Which takes us back to that first reading: Joshua was the leader who took over as leader after the death of Moses. After conquering the promised land, Joshua gave them the choice: decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling.
In other words, there is a whole culture around you – and you’re going to be tempted to conform to that culture. You’re going to be tempted to chase after false gods of money, sex, power, and fame.
Joshua laid the choice before them – allowing them to walk away if they wanted – but He made it very clear which answer is the path to true joy: “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
You and I have that same choice today – not just a once-in-a-lifetime decision, but we have to choose each and every day… each moment even! We can choose to conform to the culture … but the path to true joy is through this one-flesh union with Christ himself.
Unlike many people in the world, WE have the choice – something we should no take for granted. We have the choice to walk away. But hopefully we’ll all answer as Peter did: “to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. “
Now is the time for you and me to decide. In the words of Joshua:
“If it does not please you to serve the LORD,
decide today whom you will serve,…
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”