Faith sharing groups are forming for the Fall. It will be a six week session starting around 9/30 or 10/7. Suggested times are an hour before each Sunday Mass, or other times during the week if there is interest. Please contact the Rectory at [email protected] or call 718-625-1177 to join.
First Reading – Aug 26
The book of Joshua is the sixth book of the Bible. The first five books, Torah/ Pentateuch, began with the creation of the world and concluded with the death of Moses as the Hebrews were entering the promised land. Before dying, Moses tells the Jewish people and his successor Joshua:
18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today. 19 If you do forget the Lord your God and follow other gods to serve and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. 20 Like the nations that the Lord is destroying before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 8:15
The book of Joshua not only tells the story of the military conquest of Canaan by Joshua and the Hebrew army but the increasing realization by the Hebrews of this wisdom of Moses: History reveals that the God of the Hebrews is powerful and faithful and that “wealth” in every sense of the word can be found only in a relationship with Him.
This relationship is formed and maintained by covenants. There were several kinds of covenants and ceremonies surrounding them. We have seen the covenants which join the people to God and each other as a family. This is sealed and maintained by offering a sacrifice and then having a meal. Originally this was literally done as a family with the father presiding but eventually was stationed in the temple with priests offering the sacrifice. Today’s reading reveals another kind of Covenant one that joins a clan or tribe to a superior power usually a king. Crossword puzzle aficionados will know it as a “suzerainty” treaty. It would be celebrated by the entire people at key moments in history and follow a traditional formula. This would have been common throughout the ancient near east. Tribes would need to connect with other tribes and peoples to survive in a very dangerous neighborhood.
This instance comes at the end of Joshua’s life.
1 Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem, summoning their elders, their leaders, their judges and their officers. When they stood in ranks before God,
2 Joshua addressed all the people: Joshua 24:1–2 a
He has led the people well and his passing will require a commitment of the next generation. Although the form that they will use to express this commitment will be common to their world the content will be completely different. They will proclaim that their God and not a political or military entity will be their most binding commitment.
Scholars have found 6 elements to these treaties throughout the ancient near east, and we find all of them in Joshua 24. As part of the format is to list what God has done for them somewhat extensively, we will give only the outline:
- The Preamble: The more powerful Party gives his titles, as always in Judaism God is not bound by human titles but only shows how he has revealed himself as he who brought Abraham to the land of Canaan. 24:2/3
- The historical prologue: God reminds the people of the many deeds he did for them most importantly leading them from Egypt but also the battles which allowed them to conquer the land. 24:3-13
- The stipulations of the treaty:
14 “Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve him completely and sincerely. Cast out the gods your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt and serve the LORD. 24:14
Although not strictly part of the treaty, the book includes a dialogue between Joshua and the People.
15 If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” But the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD for the service of other gods. 24:15-16
It is important to note here the reasoning of the people”
17 For it was the LORD, our God, who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He performed those great miracles before our very eyes and protected us along our entire journey and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 24:17
God has revealed himself in history not in myth and legend and they have responded in kind.
This is where our passage ends but we should look at the rest of the chapter to see the completion of the treaty.
- The recording of the treaty:
So, Joshua made a covenant with the people that day and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem, 26 which he recorded in the book of the law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak that was in the sanctuary of the LORD. 24:26
This would in most circumstances be in the temple of the God of the more powerful King, but God reigns everywhere, and it is seen in His laws and statutes.
- The invocation of the witnesses:
27 And Joshua said to all the people, “This stone shall be our witness, for it has heard all the words which the LORD spoke to us. It shall be a witness against you, should you wish to deny your God 24:27
The witnesses would normally be important elders of both parties, but God is His only witness.
- Curses for disobedience
If, after the good he has done for you, you forsake the LORD and serve strange gods, he will do evil to you and destroy you.” 24:20
They are usually more elaborate, but God speaks clearly and briefly.
These re-commitment ceremonies took place during times of crisis. Crisis usually means a situation that has spun out of control and must be fixed. We usually speak of crisis management: restoring some degree of stability and order. Remember the financial crisis of 2008? Emergency measures were instituted, and the situation was managed well enough that there was not a complete financial meltdown. There was however no radical change.
There can be however another kind of crisis. Our word derives from the Greek word “Krisis” – break. It took on the meaning of an inevitable judgement that would divide a time or life: before and after. Interestingly, it enters English as a medical term. The crisis was the time when the illness would either kill or leave. Joshua’s impending death was a krisis: the people either had to participate in this ceremony and stay with their God or refuse and go elsewhere.
This prepares us for Jesus. Knowing Jesus cannot be managed – it requires acceptance or rejection. It is a krisis: there is a before and after truly knowing and accepting him. This is the most basic time of change and challenge, but there can be others. Our present bishops’ accountability scandal is such a krisis. This is a sickness that could be unto death; we will speak in the future of a before and after whatever the outcome, but whatever answer emerges will be from the Gospel.