I always advise my marriage course students to "never tell your spouse, `You're not the person I married!'"

No one remains the same in a relationship. People change throughout life, but especially when they interact with others. If individuals didn't change during the course of a marriage, they wouldn't have to exchange vows. Partners wouldn't need such a commitment if they were locked into the same personalities for a lifetime.

That's why Paul, our earliest Christian author, speaks about Jesus' relationship with His community in terms of a marriage. Only those who appreciate the personal, daily evolutions marriage entails will appreciate the personal, daily evolutions taking place in our relationship with Jesus.

Eucharist

From Sunday's Gospel, we surmise that some in John's community longed for a Jesus who would always remain the same, no matter how long their relationship with Him lasted (Jn 6: 60-69). Scholars frequently remind us that the author of the last Gospel develops and explores dimensions of Christian faith which no one had previously developed or explored. John's unique theology of the Eucharist provides just one example among man in which he "goes beyond" other authors of the Christian Scriptures. Johannine experts are convinced that when the evangelist speaks about disciples who "returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Jesus" because of His radical "body and blood" teaching, John is referring not to Jesus' first disciples, but to His followers in the year 95, the point at which John's Gospel is composed. Those walking away are Christians who refuse to buy into John's new Eucharistic insights.

John, of course, doesn't regard his theological developments to be radical. He believes they're a logical evolution in his community's ongoing relationship with the risen Jesus. Like all Christians, they've come to believe that Jesus actually has the words of eternal life, that He really is God's Holy One, that no one else could ever have the effect in their lives that He has. But they also believe their faith evolves because their relationship evolves.

This belief has parallels with the covenant ceremony in the first reading (Joshua 24: 1-2, 15-17, 18). First, no one really gives himself or herself to God unless their giving is free. Second, their commitment is rooted both in what God has done in the past and a trust in what God will do in the future. This provides the background for the statement: "We will serve Yahweh, for Yahweh is our God!" The Israelites are freely entering a committed relationship with Yahweh, no matter where that relationship leads.

Like a marriage

Ironically, the new lectionary brackets the lines of the second reading (Eph 5: 21-32) encouraging wives to "be subordinate to your husbands!" They can be omitted if the lector of homilist wishes.

Until recently, no one had a problem teaching and enforcing such a command. The words are bracketed now not because times have changed, but because relationships have changed. Over the centuries, husbands and wives have taken their oneness to deeper levels. Gender roles have evolved in ways Paul couldn't have imagined or foreseen. These changes came from inside, not outside, the relationship. When a relationship evolves, things in and around the relationship also evolve.

We credit such evolution to Christian couples' determination to "be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ." Only when people commit themselves to each other in love do they being to understand the commitment the risen Jesus has to His community. No wonder Paul falls back on marriage analogies to explain how we and Jesus are one.

Can you come up with a comparison which better expresses the mystery of an every-changing oneness? Perhaps married couples should give Sunday's homilies. (08-24-00)