Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Friday, May 13, 2005

Crossing Over

Daily Readings
Proverbs 20 + Joshua 3 + Deuteronomy 31:30-32:52 + Romans 14

Quote of the Day
See now that I, even I, am he; there is no god besides me. I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and no one can deliver from my hand. Deuteronomy 32:39

Daily Text: Joshua 3:1-4, 9-11, 14-17

Early in the morning Joshua rose and set out from Shittim with all the Israelites, and they came to the Jordan. They camped there before crossing over. 2At the end of three days the officers went through the camp 3and commanded the people, "When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God being carried by the levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place. Follow it, 4so that you may know the way you should go, for you have not passed this way before. 9Joshua then said to the Israelites, "Draw near and hear the words of the LORD your God." 10Joshua said, "By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: 11the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan.
14 When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. 15Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, 16the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.

Crossing Over
This apparently historically based account has become a liturgical recital. This becomes obvious with the reference to the ‘levitical priests’ (vs. 3), the sanctification requirement for purity purposes (vs. 5) and the obvious unspoken reference to the exodus crossing of the Red Sea or Reed Sea, as it may be. Such liturgical reenactment at a later time, and reflected here, does not mean that YHWH’s people did not cross the Jordan into the land. Certainly, they did.

Clearly, God is with them. Aaron is gone, Moses is also dead, but YHWH continues with his people. This assurance makes all the difference. Leadership charisma is important, but it is not definitive when it comes to following the LORD. The LORD is entering the land before them. Joshua’s instruction to the people to set out following the ark ‘so that you may know the way you should go, for you have not passed this way before’ (vs. 4a) speaks to all who give their lives over to following God. How often we are aware that we are in unknown territory and that we need direction. We want a word from God, a pointer. We have the scriptures, but they seem not to apply to the specific case we are puzzling over. Of course, when we have explicit references to our situation, we often would rather not hear that word. Our ambivalence betrays us. “Lord, how long will you put up with us?”

The Story of Joshua
Alicia Ostriker

The New Englanders are a people of God settled in those which were once the devil’s territories.—Cotton Mather, The Wonders of the Invisible World, 1692

We reach the promised land
Forty years later
The original ones who were slaves
Have died
The young are seasoned soldiers
There is wealth enough for everyone and God
Here at our side, the people
Are mad with excitement.
Here is what to do, to take
This land away from the inhabitants:
Burn their villages and cities
Kill their men
Kill their women
Consume the people utterly.
God says: is that clear?
I give you the land, but
You must murder for it.
You will be a nation
Like other nations,
Your hands are going to be stained like theirs
Your innocence annihilated.
Keep listening, Joshua.
Only to you among the nations
Do I also give knowledge
The secret
Knowledge that you are doing evil
Only to you the commandment:
Love ye therefore the stranger, for you were
Strangers in the land of Egypt, a pillar
Of fire to light your passage
Through the blank desert of history forever.
This is the agreement.
Is it entirely
Clear, Joshua,
Said the Lord.
I said it was. He then commanded me
To destroy Jericho.


Blogger Norm said...

This particular patch of geography is rich in biblical history.

1400 years later, John the Baptizer baptized Jesus at the same loop in the Jordan River where Joshua miraculously crossed, which is also the same spot where the Prophets Elijah and Elisha parted the waters and crossed miraculously to the east bank. This ford in the river, which is located directly opposite of Jericho, was known as Bethabara, or Beit ‘Abara ("house of the crossing") and is called Al-Maghtas in Arabic.

Less than two kilometers east from this point of the river is place where Elijah ascended into heaven "on a chariot of fire and horses of fire" (2 Kings 2: 5-14). In New Testament times, the site of Elijah’s ascension became known as Bethany, the village of John the Baptist (Jn1:28). (This Bethany is not to be confused with the village of Bethany near Jerusalem, where the Bible says Lazarus was raised from the dead.)

1:57 PM  

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