For March 10, 2013: 4 Lent, Year C

The Reading            Joshua 5:9-12

The book of Joshua relates how Israel’s obedience under Joshua and God’s faithfulness led to the good life in the land of Canaan. Today’s reading begins after Joshua has obeyed God’s command to circumcise all the males born since the flight from Egypt: now that they can keep passover, God’s abundance begins to flow.

The Response            Psalm 32

The Epistle            2 Corinthians 5:16-21

In the reading from Joshua, we heard God in Canaan proclaim an end to Israel’s disgrace. In notoriously lawless first-century Corinth Paul picks up the theme, but with a twist: we have a clean slate by God’s grace—and with it, orders to share this great good news of reconciliation by all means through Christ with the whole world.

The Gospel            Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

 

Further thoughts

The book of Joshua was almost certainly written centuries after Joshua’s death, to contrast Israel’s obedience under Joshua and God’s faithfulness with Israel’s later disobedience that led to exile in Babylon in the 7th century BC. Today’s reading from the book of Joshua recounts the return of Israel to Canaan after that forty-year walk through the back country with very boring rations—manna and the occasional quail—while the whiners who left Egypt died off. Now the men born during the hike are finally on Canaanite soil and newly circumcised, so all are ritually able to celebrate Passover, and on the next day they get their first taste of real bread and real grain.  The lesson is clear: Good things will happen to me if I obey God, and bad things happen when I don’t. That seems fair: obedience from one side, goodies from the other. Psalm 32 tweaks the message a little: bad things happen when I fail to admit what I’ve done wrong, but confessing is itself enough to begin to bring relief. The psalm promises, though, that the faithful will always end up all right, so it’s still fair.

In the second epistle to the Corinthians, things get turned around. Paul tells elsewhere of trying his formidably pharisaical best to be God’s good little boy, only to discover that even his best falls far short. Instead, he says, what gets him and me reconciled to God is God’s love, unconditionally. That’s good for me. But then I think of Them—the people who’ve disrespected me or hurt me, even intentionally: God’s love, unconditionally, is what reconciles them, too, and they are no less entitled to it than I. How fair is that?

As to Jesus’ parable we’re often told that the father is God and that the sons are us, with the elder son as the one not to be. I think it’s more complicated than that. The elder son lives right and is interested in fairness: can I see those traits in him, or in someone I’ve labeled “holier-than-thou”, without dismissing them as sheer cussedness, and can I emulate him when it’s appropriate? The younger son has materially damaged the family economy and his relationship at least with his brother, and it’s not clear whether his change of attitude is genuine repentance or calculation, but he at least has the sense not to keep hiding: can I accept both forgiveness and the need to repair the damage I’ve done, and can I call myself out when I’m unauthentic without banishing myself? The father has been a fool, perhaps: can I run as enthusiastically and unilaterally as he without leading someone else into temptation?

More to the point, can I balance all three roles in myself? Can I love justice without using it as a bludgeon? Can I ask for what I need while not taking undue advantage? Can I respond as unconditionally as God to the hungers, needs, and nakednesses even of the Them I would prefer to avoid?

It isn’t fair, no: it’s Love.

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