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A Scripture Reflection for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

by Stephen Bevans, SVD | August 23, 2018

A Scripture Reflection for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 26, 2018



Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b

Psalm 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21

Ephesians 5:21-32

John 6:60-69





This past week many of us in the church have been—to use the words of Chicago’s Archbishop Cardinal Cupich—shocked, horrified, and disgusted at even more revelations about the extent of the sexual abuse of young people by clergy and religious in the six dioceses of Pennsylvania. This was in the wake of the allegations against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who voluntarily took himself out of ministry and resigned from the College of Cardinals. All of this reminded me of the advertising slogan for the 1980s movie “Jaws 2”—“Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water!” We had every right to think that we had finally gotten to the bottom of all of this, sixteen years after the Boston Globe precipitated the crisis that led to the US bishops instituting a “zero tolerance policy” for those clerics and religious who were credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors. But now we see there is more, and there is no doubt that other dioceses in other states will be opening their files. The deep shame of it all continues.

Where shall we go from here? For some, perhaps for very many, leaving the church, getting away from the sick clerical culture that has caused such suffering in so many, is the only way to go. I don’t blame them. I’m tempted to do so myself. But perhaps reflecting on today’s readings might help us keep focused in what really matters. Rather than a self-righteous exit from the church, perhaps a resolve to commit ourselves anew to our vocation as disciples will be what really counts. It’s worth pointing out that Joshua’s commitment is not to serve Israel, but to serve Israel’s God. This is to whom the people of Israel commit themselves as well. Peter too, in the gospel reading, when asked if he too would go away because of Jesus’ “hard saying,” replied that he would continue to follow—not just to be part of a group, but to follow Jesus himself: “You have the words of eternal life.”

We’re not asked to commit ourselves to the church today—certainly not to the leadership of the church in any case. We are asked to commit ourselves anew to our God, and to Jesus who reveals God what God is really like. We are asked to commit ourselves to God’s mission—working with God in creating what Fr. Greg Boyle calls “radical kinship,” where God’s dream for humanity and all creation becomes a tangible reality. In our second reading from Ephesians, Paul is trying to express that in terms of the love that married couples bear for one another. Unfortunately, over the years, the way Paul has expressed it has been interpreted as husbands dominating wives and wives accepting it humbly and patiently. This interpretation is just wrong. What we have to realize is that our God wants no domination, no inequality, but the equality and participation of all. This is why Pope Francis calls on all disciples to convert and repent and work together for a real renewal in the church, and puts a lot of blame on clericalism. Every baptized person, he says, “should feel involved in the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need.  … It is impossible to think of a conversion of our activity as a Church that does not include the active participation of all the members of God’s people.” These quotes are from Francis’s Letter to the People of God released this past Monday, August 20.

It strikes me that more than ever we need to be Catholics on Call—not responding to the call of the church, but to the call of the God whom Jesus shows us, the God who alone has the words of eternal life. It strikes me that more than ever we have to follow God’s call to be true disciples, and perhaps take the risk of responding to a call to ministry in our church. Only if we respond to God’s call deep in hearts is there any chance of making our church what Pope Francis quotes from Vatican II: “a sign and instrument of communion with God and the unity of the whole human race” (Document on the Church 1)

“Do you also want to leave?” I couldn’t blame you if you did. The situation is truly a shameful one. But I hope not. If we respond to God’s call, we might together renew our sinful church.


The above image is from the Public Domain.

Author information Stephen Bevans, SVD

Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD, Professor Emeritus of Mission and Culture
S.T.B., S.T.L., Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome; M.A., Ph.D., University of Notre Dame; Study: University of Cambridge

Steve Bevans is a priest in the missionary congregation of the Society of the Divine Word and Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD, Professor Emeritus of Mission and Culture.

After completing his Licentiate in Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1972, he served as a missionary to the Philippines until 1981. In 1986 he received a Ph.D. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame and has taught at CTU since that time, officially retiring from the faculty in 2015.

He is the author or co-author of six books and editor or co-editor of eleven, including Models of Contextual Theology (2002), Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today (2004), and An Introduction to Theology in Global Perspective (2009). In 2013, he edited A Century of Catholic Mission, and, in 2015, with Cathy Ross, Mission on the Road to Emmaus: Constants, Context, and Prophetic Dialogue.

He is a member of the World Council of Churches' Commission on World Mission and Evangelism.

Books written by Steve Bevans

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