4th Sunday of Lent: Prodigal People

The Crucifixion:

Our series continued this week with a review of the many ways of interpreting the effects of the Cross.  We asked the following questions:

How do you experience the Love of Jesus?

Do you think that Jesus atoned for your sins?

Have you seen the victory of Jesus in this world?

The talk, hymns and prayers may be found on our podcast, but the discussions are key and we urge you to attend the final session at Grace Church this Thursday.


First Reading

Fourth Sunday in Lent

March 31, 2019

Jos 5:9A 10-12


Today’s reading marks an important transition in the history of Israel. We must see it, however, as part of a larger story in which Joshua plays a key part. He is clearly Moses’ successor but is both more and less than that.

The Israelites have been wandering in the desert for 40 years. They were not abandoned by God, indeed he has taken a great and personal interest in them. He has cared for them spiritually, giving them the law, and physically providing manna. They have resisted both: worshiping a golden calf and grumbling about the food. Indeed, after forty years only Moses, Joshua and Celeb remained of those who left Egypt. Moses was permitted to see the promised land but only Joshua and Caleb were allowed to enter it.

This was at Gilgal:

20 At Gilgal Joshua set up the twelve stones which had been taken from the Jordan,

This reflects Moses action at the beginning of their time in the desert:

4 Moses then wrote down all the words of the LORD and, rising early the next day, he erected at the foot of the mountain an altar and twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. Exodus 24:4 (NAB)

The comparison continues:

In the future, when the children among you ask their fathers what these stones mean, 2 you shall inform them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan here on dry ground.’ 23 For the LORD, your God, dried up the waters of the Jordan in front of you until you crossed over, just as the LORD, your God, had done at the Red Sea, which he dried up in front of us until we crossed over; Joshua 4:21-23

This brackets off the Exodus, although it took 40 years of penance and conversion God has fulfilled his promise:

8 Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the country of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Exodus 3:8 (NAB)

This had a predictable effect on the peoples of the Canaan:

1 When all the kings of the Amorites to the west of the Jordan and all the kings of the Canaanites by the sea heard that the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan before the Israelites until they crossed over, they were disheartened and lost courage at their approach Joshua 5:1 (NAB)

Yet one thing remained. They needed to be seen clearly as the People of the Lord

2 On this occasion the LORD said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelite nation for the second time.” 5 Though all the men who came out were circumcised, none of those born in the desert during the journey after the departure from Egypt were circumcised. Joshua 52. 5

Circumcision was the distinctive physical reminder that the Jews were a distinctive people. That the males were not circumstanced was a sign of the disobedience of the “founding generation” in the wilderness years.

6 Now the Israelites had wandered forty years in the desert, until all the warriors among the people that came forth from Egypt died off because they had not obeyed the command of the LORD. For the LORD swore that he would not let them see the land flowing with milk and honey which he had promised their fathers he would give us. Joshua 5:6 (NAB)

The people who were purified in the wilderness are now able to be truly marked as people of God. This will allow them to be ritually able to celebrate the Passover.

10 While the Israelites were encamped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they celebrated the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth of the month. Joshua 5:10

Thus, the first act of the exodus was celebrating the Passover and now it is the first act in the promised land;

11 On the day after the Passover they ate of the produce of the land in the form of unleavened cakes and parched grain. On that same day 12 after the Passover on which they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased. No longer was there manna for the Israelites, who that year ate of the yield of the land of Canaan. Joshua 5:11–12 (NAB)

The manna had fed them in the desert while they were wanderers but now they have their own land and can live by its produce but they will have to earn it.

3 While Joshua was near Jericho, he raised his eyes and saw one who stood facing him, drawn sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you one of us or of our enemies?”

14 He replied, “Neither. I am the captain of the host of the LORD and I have just arrived.” Then Joshua fell prostrate to the ground in worship, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” 15 The captain of the host of the LORD replied to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy.” And Joshua obeyed. Joshua 5:13–15(NAB)

This is clearly a reference to God’s appearance to Moses at the beginning of his mission in Exodus 3

3 So Moses decided, “I must go over to look at this remarkable sight, and see why the bush is not burned.”

4 When the LORD saw him coming over to look at it more closely, God called out to him from the bush, “Moses! Moses!” He answered, “Here I am.”

5 God said, “Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. Exodus 3:3–5 (NAB)

This prepares Joshua for his role as a chieftain. He will fulfill it with bloody efficiency. This is distasteful to our modern sensibilities. We need always remember that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob clearly works in and through history and that means with the people as they are. This can be as we have seen disconcerting. It should not distract us from the basic reality of this passage; the form of leadership may change, but the source is always from God.