For August 26, 2012: Proper 16, Year B

The Reading            Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

The book of Joshua tells of the complete conquest of Canaan, though that conquest was more like a gradual encroachment. In any case, at the end of his long life, Joshua presents all the people with a choice: to follow the gods of the world around them or to enter into a covenant—a formal treaty—to be faithful servants of the Lord.

The Response            Psalm 34:15-22

The Epistle            Ephesians 6:10-20

The Old Testament lection omits the verses in which Joshua tells God’s people that they—we—are bound to fail to follow the Lord as we ought. Psalm 34:18 hints at the way out, and today’s reading from the letter to the Ephesians underlines it: what keeps us in righteousness is the power of the Lord.

The Gospel            John 6:56-69

 

Further thoughts

The lectionary selections today are an interesting mix. In the Old Testament reading, Joshua, having led Israel to ownership of Canaan, confronts the people of Israel with a choice between the old gods and The One God and more or less dares them to pick the right one. They brightly announce their allegiance to the Lord. The lectionary cuts off before the verses in which Joshua repeats the question, twice and with rising skepticism, then, after announcing that this is a covenant, tells them flatly that they’re going to fail at keeping up their end.

Joshua’s right, of course: when it comes to keeping covenants with God, they are—I am—no darned good. The flesh, as Jesus says, is useless. My insufficiency is partly a matter of meatheadedly human bad choices, but it is also simply that being righteous enough and compassionate enough and smart enough and simple enough and alive enough for God, all at the same time, takes more God-ness than even the best purely human being can manage under his or her own power. It requires more more than I can even really imagine.

Which leaves the unimaginable. The epistle offers God’s armor against superhuman enemies, which makes sense—but the gear is that of the Roman legions, who, though Rome has made Ephesus splendid and wealthy, are regarded with the esteem one reserves for playground bullies. In the gospel, Jesus presents as the means to salvation his own body and blood to be eaten and drunk—a flagrant violation of the foundational laws of the Torah, in which even animal blood is much too holy to take lightly, and thus literally unbelievable.

Both sets of instructions pull me way outside my comfort zone. That seems to be the point. I can’t plan or reason or bargain or scheme my way to being righteous and compassionate and smart and simple and alive enough for God. I can, however, say “Yes, with God’s help”—though with the package comes the sobering truth that God’s help may come to me from sources I’d thought myself better than or by means that may turn my world entirely upside down.

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