I'm a Cincinnati Reds baseball fan. I have tickets to twenty games each year. But, I miss quite a few of these games, like today's game, because something comes up which is more important, like a birthday party for one of my children or grandchildren. I'm not an avid follower of the Reds. When they are losing, as they are this year, I don't go out of my way to see them.
For the past few Sundays, we have heard Jesus tell those with him about the Eucharist - his flesh and blood present in the appearance of bread and wine. These people are following Jesus because they heard about his miracles -multiplying the loaves and fishes, healing people. Now, they have come to see and hear Jesus first hand. Jesus tells them: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." But the people respond: "This saying is hard, who can accept it?" So, most of them walk away from him.
Those who walked away were fans of Jesus, like I'm a fan of the Reds. They were not avid followers or disciples. Jesus wants disciples, not fans. He says to the apostles: 'Do you also want to leave?" Later he tells his apostles to make disciples of all nations. That's the message for us today: be disciples of Jesus, don't just be fans. Jesus asks us to accept His teachings, including those of his church, based on faith. Accept all of them, even those that you don't fully understand, like the Eucharist, trusting Jesus great love for us.
This wasn't easy for the followers of Jesus as we hear in the Gospel. And it still isn't easy today. We think we know better. We want to pick and choose what we will believe. Our society tells us that some teachings of Jesus are good, like loving our neighbor, while others, like the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, are not viewed as relevant in these enlightened times.
For many Catholics today, it's easier to accept the Eucharist than it is to accept the teaching of Jesus' church regarding our relationships. We'd rather listen to Doctor Phil or to Oprah in these areas than to Jesus' church.
Today's reading from chapter 5 of Paul's letter to the Ephesians about the relationship between husband and wife is probably the most misunderstood and controversial scripture passage. But, if properly understood, this passage helps us see the intended relationship between husband and wife in the marriage covenant. And, just to be clear, this relationship is not one of master to slave or of dominance by the husband.
Clearly, our society is struggling with marriage and the relationship between husbands and wives. The divorce rate has skyrocketed over the past fifty years and now we're even struggling to define what marriage is. So, it is important for us to take a hard look at the timeless wisdom of our Church in this area.
Five times in this reading St Paul compares the relationship of a husband and wife to the relationship of Christ and his church. St Paul is telling husbands that a husband is expected to be willing to sacrifice for his wife to the point of death as Christ did for his church and a wife is expected to receive and return this love. This kind of love excludes every kind of submission by which the wife would become a servant of the husband.
This passage in Ephesians can be summed up as follows: the husband is the one who loves. The wife is loved, so as to love in return. While both are called to love and to subordinate themselves to the other, the husband initiates the gift, and the wife receives the gift. In fact, this relationship is stamped into their bodies. Men and women are created by God to be equal but different. In their creation, they are complementary.
To live these teachings, we need the grace that comes from receiving the sacraments regularly, especially the Eucharist. I know that many of you may be thinking as Jesus' fans did: "This is hard, who can accept it." Are we fans of Jesus or disciples of Jesus? Do we sacrifice our time and treasure for him? Can we accept and live those teachings of Jesus which we don't understand?
For many years, I was a fan of Jesus. I knew his commandments and followed them. For me, Jesus was a judge and I tried to follow his rules. I certainly didn't know God as a loving father. Then, after a marriage encounter and a life in the spirit seminar, I began my long journey to develop a relationship with Jesus. Slowly, I began to become his disciple and to feel the joy of his love. I began to develop a greater love for the Eucharist and to attend mass more frequently. Of course, this process for me is far from complete; I have a long way to go.
Today, I'd encourage each of you to begin your journey to get to know Jesus. Become his disciple. Trust in him. Know and follow the teachings of Jesus' church not because you understand them but because they came from Him. Feel the peace and joy that comes from following his plan instead of yours.