Tag Archives: Joshua

The Last Days of Moses

The Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy describe the journey of the Israelites from Egypt up to their entrance to the Promised Land, but these books are also a biography of Moses, their great leader. They describe 120 years of Moses’ life and what he did and said.

Today, we’re reading from the Book of Deuteronomy. (Dt 31, 1-8) As his life is about to end, Moses says to the Israelites after delivering three long sermons: “I am now one hundred and twenty years old and am no longer able to move about freely.” Then he gives over his leadership to Joshua. He’s not going to cross into the Promised Land.

He doesn’t speak so much about himself or his accomplishments, his failures or regrets, as his life ends. Rather, he speaks about the Lord God and what God has done. It’s not me, it’s not Joshua, it’s not human power and wisdom that will be with you, Moses says to the people. “It is the Lord, your God, who will cross the Jordan before you.”

His words to Joshua are in the same tone:
“Be brave and steadfast,
for you must bring this people into the land
which the Lord swore to their fathers he would give them;
you must put them in possession of their heritage.
It is the Lord who marches before you;
he will be with you and will never fail you or forsake you.
So do not fear or be dismayed.”

Moses’ last gift to those who follow him is a fearless faith. A great gift to pass on.

A Pew Survey awhile ago mentioned that some scientists think we will live to 120 years old in the future. The survey asked representatives of the various religious traditions what they thought about it. I noticed the Jewish response was for it. Were they thinking of Moses?

Joshua

Our Old Testament readings for the next few days tell the story of Joshua, the successor of Moses. We think of him as a man of battles and wars, leading the Israelites in their conquest of Canaan and their possession of the Promised Land. “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down.”

We expect him as a warrior to be concerned with preparing troops for battle, getting weapons ready, strategizing for the battle, but Joshua begins his campaign by reminding the people what’s more important before all that: “Remember who you are.”

Gathering the Israelites before the Jordan River, Joshua orders the priests to bring before them the ark of the covenant, God’s pledge that they are his people, bring the jar of manna that reminds them that God sustains them. They are God’s people, not insignificant slaves. They’re God’s children, cared for, with rights and privileges and promises.

Only by remembering who they are will they be able to cross the Jordan and break down the walls of Jericho and take possession of the land.

Remember who you are.

August is Here

At the start of each month I email members of the Confraternity of the Passion and anyone else who asks a calendar indicating the scripture readings for the Mass and the feast days of the saints we remember that month.

The reason I do is that following the church calendar is an important way to grow in faith.It puts us in touch with the scriptures in our daily lectionary and the wonderful world of the saints.

Reading the daily scriptures together with fellow believers throughout the world develops a common mind, as it were. Fortunately, not just Catholics use the daily lectionary, some Protestant churches use it now too; so more Christians read the same scriptures together through the year.

Praying together can bring us together, we hope. Praying the scriptures together, which the Catholic church encouraged at the Second Vatican Council, is a step towards Christian unity. Blessed Dominic Barberi, Passionist whose feast is August 26th was especially dedicated to the work of Christian unity.

This month at Mass we continue reading from Matthew’s gospel. With chapter 14, Jesus begins to establish his church, built on Peter, a rock, but a frail man who with the other disciples must follow Jesus to the cross.

The following chapters from Matthew offer an instruction about the nature of the church. Its members must care for each other and forgive those who have offended them. At the same time they’re obliged to correct their fellow Christians, even to the point of separation from the community. (Matthew 18)

During the first few weeks of August we’ll continue reading from the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers about the Jewish exodus from Egypt led by Moses. Then we’ll read about their occupation of Canaan under Joshua and the Judges.

It’s a brutal occupation. Our lectionary softens our exposure to it by limiting what we read about it, but even so, why the violence? Why so many exterminated in the name of God? The scriptures raise questions and cause objections as well as give answers and raise our hopes.

Here’s where good commentaries and wise answers help; otherwise, we lapse into biblical fundamentalism. I’m reading the commentaries from the New American Bible, which recognize we can’t read these books as literal history. There’s a human hand at work in them.

God reveals himself progressively to the human family, which is intent on its own welfare and quick to destroy rather than build. God works in mud. Here’s a quote I like:

“Progressive revelation throughout Israel’s history produced far more lofty ideals, as when the prophets see all the nations embracing faith in Yahweh, being joined to Israel, and living in peace with one another (Is 2:2419:232545:2225Zec 8:2223), and the New Testament teaches us to love even our enemies (Mt 5:4345).” (New American Bible, Commentary)

There’s another way to look at the violence and exterminations found in the Book of Joshua:

“The theological message of the book is unmistakable. God has been faithful to the promise of the land. If Israel relies totally on the Lord for victory; if Israel is united as a people; if the law of herem is kept and no one grows rich from victory in war—then and only then will Israel possess the land.”

We’re a long way from possessing the land. “Your kingdom come.”

 

 

 

 

 

21st Sunday B: A Journey of Compassion

 

Who am I? Who are we?

Our first reading this Sunday from the Book of Joshua is all about those two questions. “Who am I?” and “Who are we?” It’s a reading worth reflecting on.

Joshua, you may remember from your bible history, succeeded Moses as the leader of Jewish people when they came out of Egypt. He’s generally remembered as a soldier who led the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land, a land disputed then and a land disputed now. The Book of Joshua is a litany of the battles he fought, beginning with the famous battle for Jericho. “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumblin down.”

Our reading today is from the end of the Book of Joshua. Joshua is over a 100 years old, and the old soldier calls together the different tribes and families of Israel to Shechem to speak to them for the last time.

Your work isn’t finished, your journey isn’t over, he reminds them. But he’s not an old soldier interested in recalling old battles or strategizing military planning for the future. You have been called by God, he tells them. Are you going to listen to that call or not, he asks them? You can drift away and follow other voices, other gods. Make your choice.

“As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord,” Joshua says.

And the people respond:
“Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods. For it was the Lord who brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He performed those great miracles before our eyes and protected us along our entire journey and among the peoples through whom we passed. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

For Joshua the most important thing is remembering who you are. It’s remembering who you are as an individual and remembering who we are as a people. Everything depends on how we choose to answer those questions.

There’s the personal call: “Who am I?” Where did I come from, who gave me life? Why am I here, what am I to do? Where am I going? What’s my future going to be? God is there in those questions. How do I answer him?

My personal call is not for me alone, though, I’m part of a call to others. We go to God together. We make this journey together.

Joshua and the people see God’s call not just as a personal call When God called them from Egypt, he called them all, the old and the young, the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, to journey together and they did. That’s the way the bible describes it and that’s the way it should be, even today. No matter how sophisticated our society gets, how difficult our circumstances are, God calls us to make the journey together.

A French geophysicist and philosopher, Xavier Le Pichon, says that the world evolves the way it should when we respect the fragility of the earth and the fragility of our human community. We advance as a people when we take care of our weakest members; our earth community advances when we respect its fragile nature.

One important way we differ from the animals,Le Pichon says, is the care we take of our weakest members. It’s a trait he finds in our earliest ancestors, the Neanderthals, over one hundred thousand years ago. One study of a Neanderthal burial ground in Iraq revealed the skeleton of a 40 year old severely malformed male, who evidently had been carried from place to place by this group of hunters and then buried with them. He would have been a burden to them, he must have slowed them down, but they carried him with them just the same. He meant something to them.

Unlike animals who cast aside their weak to die on the way, humans have developed a feeling for the weak, Le Pichon says. Like animals, they nourish and care for their young, but they reach further to the weakest. This sense of compassion separates humans from animals. It makes us humane.

Le Pichon disputes Darwin’s all embracing principle of the “survival of the fittest.” That principle, when applied to human evolution, does not take into account the spirit of compassion, he says.

Jesus, of course, taught the importance of the spirit of compassion when he told us that what we did for “one of these, the least, you did it to me.” You grow in love through your care of the least. We are truly human, made in God’s image, when we take care of the weak. We make the journey together.

Journey with Weakness

Our readings at Mass can often tell us about ourselves and our situation. The reading  from the Book of Joshua for this Sunday is an example. It’s worth reflecting on.

If you remember  your bible history, Joshua succeeded Moses as the leader of Jewish people when they came out of Egypt. A soldier, he led the people across the Jordan River into the Promised Land, a disputed land then and a disputed land now.

The Book of Joshua is a litany of the battles this great general fought, beginning with the battle for Jericho. As the spiritual says, “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumblin down.”

Today’s reading concludes the Book of Joshua. Joshua’s an old man now, over a 100 years old the bible says, and he’s getting ready to die, so the old soldier calls together the different tribes and families of Israel to Shechem to speak to them for the last time.

Your work isn’t finished, he reminds them. Our journey isn’t over. The old soldier doesn’t speak of military matters or plans for new wars. Something more important is on his mind. He reminds the people that they’ve been called by God. “Are you going to listen to that call or not?” he says to them. You can ignore that call or drift away.

“But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord,” Joshua says. And the people heartily join him in renewing their convenant with God.

“Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods. For it was the Lord who brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He performed those great miracles before our eyes and protected us along our entire journey and among the peoples through whom we passed. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

Notice that Joshua and the people see God’s call not just as a personal call. They’re called by God as a people. When God called them from Egypt, he called them all, the old and the young, the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, to make the journey together and they did.

That’s the way the bible describes it and that’s the way it should be, even today. No matter how sophisticated our society gets, no matter how difficult our circumstances are, God calls us to make the journey together.

This isn’t just the wisdom of the bible. A French geophysicist,  Xavier Le Pichon, says that the world evolves the way it should when we respect the fragility of the earth and the fragility of our human community. We advance as a people when we take care of our weakest members; our earth community advances when we respect its fragile nature.

According to Le Pichon, who’s quoted at length on a recent NPR program, one important way we differ from the animals is the care we take of our weakest members. He adduces recent studies of our earliest ancestors, the Neanderthals, in whom this surprising trait appears over one hundred thousand years ago.

One study of a Neanderthal burial ground in Iraq revealed the skeleton of a 40 year old severely malformed male, who evidently had been carried from place to place by this group of hunters and buried with them. He was surely a burden to them, he must have slowed them down, but they carried him with them just the same. He meant something to them.

Unlike animals who cast aside their weak to die on the way, humans have developed a feeling for the weak, Le Pichon says. Like animals, they nourish and care for their young, but they reach further to the weakest. This sense of compassion separates humans from animals. It makes us humane.

Le Pichon disputes Darwin’s all embracing principle of the “survival of the fittest.” That principle, when applied to human evolution, does not take into account the spirit of compassion, he says.

Jesus, of course, taught the importance of this spirit of compassion when he told us that what we did for “one of these, the least,” you did it to me. You grow in love through your care of the least.

The thought of Xavier Le Pichon is worth following. Take a look at all the material on him at NPR.