19Aug 19 August, 2017. Saturday, Week 19

Saint John Eudes, priest

1st Reading: Joshua 24:14-29

At the covenant ceremony at Shechem, the whole people promise loyalty to God

Joshua said to all the people: “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

The kingdom of God belongs to hearts that are as pure as little children

Little children were being brought to Jesus 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.

Fundamental Option

Today’s Scriptures 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 we saw yesterday, the final chapter of Joshua describes a covenant ceremony from Shechem, where the tribes recited their “credo” or confession of faith, and declared their intention of following God’s guidance, as a people. Today’s reading outlines the liturgy where this declaration was made. It was a dramatic interaction between the Levite and the people:

  • Levite, “Decide today whom you will serve.”
  • 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 other formalities take place: recording the decisions in the book of the Law; setting up a large stone as a memorial of the event. Then with a formal blessing the people were sent away “to their inheritance”. They took away from the service a serious, definite sense of personal responsibility towards God.

The gospel provides another, more joyful example of this. After some argument, 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.

Jesus and the children

We’re told how some parents brought their children to Jesus for him to lay his hands on them and say a prayer to bless them. It links in with what people think and feel when they bring a child to be baptised. Parents instinctively want what is good and life-giving for their children. Those Jewish villagers recognized Jesus as someone through whom God was working in a life-giving way, and so they brought their children to him. In our own time, parents who appreciate Jesus and his message and life will feel the same desire to bring their children to him. They recognize Jesus as God’s personal gift to us and they want that gift for their own family. But when parents try to bring their children to Jesus sometimes they meet with obstacles of various kinds, even in the form of Jesus’ own disciples who tried to prevent it from happening.

This gospel shows a a struggle between those who wanted to have Jesus bless their children and those who objected to it. When the disciples resisted the parents’ desire for a blessing on their children, Jesus was not a passive spectator. He insists that the children MUST be allowed to come to him. The gospel assures us that in our own efforts to bring our loved ones near to the Lord, and to bring ourselves to him, Jesus himself is on our side. The strength of his desire to have others meet with him and, thereby, find life will overcome the various obstacles that are placed in the way of our loved ones coming to him. We need to trust that our God will find a way of bringing people to him, in spite of the resistances that may be there, of whatever kind. [MH]

Saint John Eudes, priest

Jean Eudes (1601-1680) from Ri in Normandy (France), was an Oratorian priest and parish missionary, zealous in serving the sick and the marginalised. He founded the Congregation of Jesus and Mary and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity.