13Aug 13 Aug, Saturday of Week 19

Josh 24:14ff. The covenant ceremony at Shechem continues; the whole people promise loyalty and obedience to God.

Matt 19:13ff. The kingdom of God belongs to people whose hearts are pure as these little children.

Personal Responsibility

Today’s texts summon us to a clear, personal decision for the Lord, and also to a childlike spirit before the mystery of life. The covenant ceremony at Shechem provides the occasion to step forward and to pledge oneself anew to the Lord. Jesus commends the spontaneity of children, a spirit which adults ought never to lose.

As mentioned yesterday, the final chapter of Joshua describes a covenant ceremony from Shechem, where the tribes recited their “credo” or confession of faith. Today’s reading outlines the liturgical action. Even so many centuries later we admire the psychological power and dramatic interaction between the priestly Levite and the people:

Levite, “Cast out the gods your ancestors served…. Decide today whom you will serve…. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

People, “Far be it for us to forsake the Lord. We will serve the Lord. He is our God.”

Levite, “Now, therefore, put away the strange gods.”

People, “We will serve the Lord, our God, and obey his voice.”

After this dramatic interchange involving the entire community, the liturgical formalities take place: recording the decisions in the book of the Law; setting up a large stone as a memorial; probably the pouring of blood on the stone and on the people to symbolize a single life between all the people and the Lord (see Exod 24). Then with a formal blessing the people were dismissed, similar to the final action in our liturgy today. They take away from the service a serious, adult stance on personal responsibility.

The gospel provides a new context for this. We hear Jesus say, “Let the children come to me. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” As we allow the impact of today’s readings to be felt in our lives, we realize that our following of the Lord must be clear and simple, pure and spontaneous like that of a child.

First Reading: Jos 24:14-29

“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of Go; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. Joshua said to all the people, “See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God.” So Joshua sent the people away to their inheritances.

After these things Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being one hundred ten years old.

Gospel: Matthew 19:13-15

Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.