11 Aug, Thursday of Week 19
Josh 3: passim. At God’s direction Joshua and the priests carrying the ark step into the Jordan, whose flow stops to provide the people a safe crossing.
Matt 18:21ff. Forgiveness many times. The parable of the pardoned official, harsh towards his own debtors.
Change of Heart
In the first six chapters of his book, Joshua’s story is modelled on outstanding moments in the career of Moses. Through parallels to the crossing of the Red Sea and the sanctification of the people before Mount Sinai (Josh 3:5; Exod 15; 19:10-14), the celebration of Passover (Josh 5:10; Exod 12), the manna (Josh 5:12; Exod 16:4) and the appearance of the Lord (Josh 5:13-15; Exod 3:13) this author is emphasising continuity. The succession from Moses to Joshua is thoroughly in the spirit of their original inspiration. Nonetheless, the modeling of Joshua on Moses is not slavish or total, but adaptive to the new situation. The manna ceases; and circumcision which had been neglected during Moses’ days is reinstituted. The crossing of the Red Sea and of the River Jordan must be applied to our own lives, and in this we are helped by the prophet Ezekiel and the evangelist Matthew, through parables on how to handle difficult moments in our life.
After the two verses of today’s reading the rest of Ezekiel 12 describes two symbolic actions. He carries all of his belongings through a hole in the city walls, silently with his head covered, so as to see the land no more. He eats his bread and drinks water in a state of trembling. These action parables fascinate the people and absorb their attention, offering them a period of grace to think and pray. But then they ridicule Ezekiel, and at that point he declares the meaning of his action, “This oracle concerns Jerusalem and the whole house of Israel within it.” We too may need to look again at people or events we tend to ridicule, and cross-question our motives; for we too can be a “rebellious house” having eyes that see nothing, ears yet hearing nothing – because we do not want to see the whole truth, or hear the real consequences of our actions.
Perhaps the most difficult barrier (“Red Sea” or “Jordan”) to cross is the need to forgive our neighbour. How often must we do so?, we ask. We do not want the Lord’s simple answer, “seventy times seven times.” So he tells us the story of the king who forgave us a very serious debt – so how are we unable to forgive the debts of our neighbour who owes us so much less? The underlying dynamic here is not “justice” but as we read in the story, the king was “moved with pity.” We are questioned by this parable: do we make it possible for others to appeal to our patience? Here is a major “River Jordan” to pass – the need for patience with those who have not cooperated fully with us and have delayed payment. And this parable is not about optional, higher sanctity, for our eternal salvation depends on it: My heavenly Father will treat you in the same way, unless you forgive each other from your heart.
Matthew concludes with a statement of Jesus’ moving elsewhere, his typical way of ending one of the major sections of his gospel. This parable on heroic forgiveness ends the great section on discipleship.
First Reading: Jos 3:7-10, 11, 13-17
The Lord said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.'” Joshua then said to the Israelites, “Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God.” Joshua 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: the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.”
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. Now 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, the 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. While 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.
Gospel: Matthew 18:21-19:1
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, is lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.
So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.