FROM A READING FOR AUGUST 23, 21ST SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
'Many of His disciples turned back and no longer went about with Him. Jesus asked the 12, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life..."' -- John 6:60-69


One of the most fascinating aspects of studying Scripture critically is discovering the different theologies this collection of writings offers.

Because of their Semitic mindset, our sacred authors presumed that when anyone dared reflect on the implications of God working in their lives, he or she would consistently come up with both/and conclusions -- something we modern Greek-thinkers abhor.

Having abandoned Semitic thought patterns almost 1,900 years ago, we're constantly striving for either/or answers to faith questions. That's one of the reasons most of us prefer catechisms over Scripture: We don't enjoy having such important questions lead to other questions.

In Sunday's first reading (Joshua 24:1-2a,15-17,18b), for instance, once the Israelites complete their 40-year trek through the wilderness, cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land, Joshua demands they stop their fence-straddling and choose between Yahweh and the other gods inhabiting Canaan.

Serving Yahweh
Though the people freely and unanimously decide "to serve Yahweh, for He is our God," they quickly discover there's no one way to render that service, nor just one way to experience Yahweh working in their lives.

Their theologies evolve as their service and their experiences evolve. Explanations which worked last year might not work this year. That's why there are at least four different (sometimes contradictory) theological sources in the Torah alone.

Such differences also carry over into the Christian Scriptures. In our second reading (Ephesians 5:21-32), the unknown author of Ephesians attempts to theologically explain the relationship between Christian married spouses, basing it on the relationship which the risen Jesus has with the Church.

Sadly, given the understanding of husband and wife's roles in his day and age, the writer identifies the man with Christ and the woman with the Church -- so, he logically concludes, "Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord."

Cultural changes
It's no surprise that theologians today, working from a different cultural understanding of the relationship between committed spouses, have developed theologies in which the wife isn't expected to be subordinate to anyone. What worked in the first century doesn't in the 21st.

We hear one of the biggest changes in biblical Christian theology in Sunday's Gospel (John 6:60-69). Though all Jesus' followers are convinced He gave us the Eucharist, our sacred authors employ different explanations to help us understand that gift.

Paul of Tarsus is the earliest theologian to deal with the Eucharist. In the I Corinthians 11 passage, he chides some in that community for not "recognizing the body." Their selfish behavior during celebrations of the Lord's Supper proves they're not experiencing the body of Christ in those participating in the celebration with them. Though the Corinthians presume the risen Jesus is in the bread and wine, not everyone presumes He's in those around them - especially the poor.

By the end of the first century AD, John takes the focus off the community and puts it on the eucharistic bread and wine. Forty-five years after Paul, the test of a true Christian now revolves around seeing the bread and wine as the risen Jesus' real body and blood.

No wonder some of Jesus' "disciples no longer walked with Him." Not everyone bought into this new theology. But many later Christians did buy into it. It's less demanding than Paul's insights. Little skin off my nose if Jesus is in the bread and wine; lots of skin off my nose if He's in the person standing next to me.