Frances writes on this Sunday’s Readings :- Those of us who are very familiar with Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-32) either get worked-up about its apparent sexism or simply pass it by; it is simply so familiar that we do not need to give it any thought. Yet either way we ignore its astounding radicalism. In a world in which marriage was definitely not about fidelity and commitment; in which easy divorce was the norm and death carried off many, so that frequent second and even third marriages were very common, Paul’s teaching must have come like a bolt from the blue; insisting as it does on the total self-offering of each partner to the other. When however we take it a step further it becomes even more staggering in its risqué implications, for Paul uses the marital relationship as an analogy for that of the believer to God! Just think of it, a sexual analogy as the image of the God to man relationship; a picture of the God-Church relationship! The most intimate and personal experience a man or woman can have; or Paul says should have, is a way in which we begin to plumb the depths of our relationship with God and even more especially, of God’s to us.
Over the last few weeks we have been studying Jesus’ famous ‘Bread of Life sermon from John 6 (John 6:60-69). This week we come to the denouement as we find that the shocked disciples of Jesus; let alone the Jewish authorities, find he has just gone too far. Last week we saw that there he had intimated that the relationship between God and man was shockingly close as he spoke of the one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him…… as I who am sent by the living Father myself draw life from the Father…. so whoever eats me will draw life from me. One can immediately appreciate the links between Paul’s thought and that of Jesus. It is the closeness of the bond between Jesus and his Father and us which is so disconcerting; so troubling that even some of his followers; who thought they had understood who he was and what he meant were shocked to the core. Its implications made them very uncomfortable, just as they make us squirm. God is in us, we are partakers of the divine nature, inescapably, irrevocably. For those first followers of Jesus it was just too close, too demanding. They wanted a god who was safely in his place and kept us safely in ours and the demands the God of Jesus Christ made and makes were and are quite different.
Our reading from the Old Testament, from Joshua (24:1-2, 15-18) is at another much earlier point of crisis or decision when Israel is called upon to choose which god or gods they would worship. Israel chose Yahweh, but, as we know from our Old Testament were frequently unfaithful and had to be brought back to God by hardships and exile. For all his stringent demands, the God of Israel was always forgiving to the faithless and would allow them to turn back to him in penitence and sorrow, chastened by their experiences.
I am sure that both Jesus and St Paul deliberately used this well tried and tested sexual/marital imagery so beloved of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Hosea precisely because they too were very familiar with the fickleness of believers and the need for our constant repentance and return to the Father who loves us in Christ the Son. Ours is a continual journey to Christ and we have to learn that despite our unfaithfulness, He is always faithful and allows our return to him. What each of us is called to do is to ponder the mystery of this extraordinary God who is whilst God, so disturbingly close, our ‘second nature’, or as Paul would have it ‘our real life is Christ’. When we meet and hold God in our bodies in the Eucharist we have to remember what we are doing, and to whom it is that we are giving house-space, or rather who it is who so inhabits us that our entire being is now changed, moulded daily into the pattern of His being.