Summary: Year C. 4th Sunday of Lent March 25th, 2001 Joshua 5: 9-12
Year C. 4th Sunday of Lent March 25th, 2001 Title: Joshua 5: 9-12
Title: “Stop, to smell the flowers”
The first Passover in Canaan was a “memorial” of the night forty years earlier when God began to deliver the slaves, and so a memorial of where they were coming from. It was also a “moment,” a momentous new beginning that opened the future and so a celebrative anticipation of where they were going. The same divine providence, once manifested by the giving of daily manna, will take a different form appropriate now to new conditions, namely, their ability to grow their own crops. God will continue to be active in their lives, but in new ways. He has not deserted his people as they leave the desert.
Once they saw past the different details, once they “crossed over,” they could see that Joshua was doing the same things Moses once did. Moses had Passover, so did Joshua. Moses led them through the sea and Joshua led them through the river. Moses removed his shoes at the divine command because the ground was holy, so did Joshua. What God did through the leadership of Moses, he did through Joshua and will do through his successors. Joshua is portrayed as a mirror image of Moses, yet without flaw or hesitation, the ideal leader who keeps Moses’ teaching in its entirety. A minor figure in the Pentateuch, he now emerges into the limelight, much as did Jesus vis-à-vis the Baptist. To his contemporaries Jesus, the Greek form of his name, would have been called “Joshua.”
The people celebrate their new status by reviving and revising old customs, even borrowing one from another culture to express their dreams for the future by remembering the experiences of the past. In celebration the past and future meet.
In verses two to eight, not in the liturgical text, during the forty years of wandering in the desert circumcision fell into neglect. It was a rite of passage practiced by most peoples in the region, including the Egyptians. The most notable group who did not practice circumcision were the Philistines, Israel’s archenemy and contender for the same land. It was a rite of passage, performed at the onset of sexual maturity symbolizing the male’s eligibility to marry, becoming a warrior and entering a new status as an adult member of the community. The Hebrews gave it even deeper significance. It was a “sign” of God’s everlasting covenant going back to Abraham. In later times it was performed on infants eight days after birth. It came to have spiritual meaning as “circumcision of the heart,” meaning an opening of one’s self to God’s love and service. The physical operation on the flesh was seen as an analogy to a spiritual cutting away that opens the heart and removes the rebellious nature that separates one from God. As such, symbolically at least, it would extend to females as well. Those closed to God- Jew or Gentile- could be called “uncircumcised” whether physically true or not. In this text Joshua has all the men circumcised as a rite expressing a new relationship with God in the new land.
In verse nine, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you,” the Hebrews have crossed the Jordan and are in the Promised Land. The “reproach” refers to their slavery status while in Egypt. It may seem to refer to their being uncircumcised and now newly circumcised. However, the generation that left Egypt would have been circumcised since even the Egyptians practiced it.
In verse ten, “encamped at Gilgal,” along with Shechem, Shiloh and Bethel this was a very ancient place of worship, possibly originally a Canaanite shrine. Samuel anointed Saul as the first king here, though, historically speaking, later than this. Probably, the Ark of the Covenant was kept here at one time. Thus, it was a holy place made more holy by the fact that the Passover, last celebrated in Egypt, was celebrated for the first time in Canaan - after forty years of wandering and upon entrance into the land to begin a settled life of farming. Having crossed the river at the end of their journey, just as they crossed the sea at the beginning, they celebrate this ending by the very rite they used to begin because it also marked a new beginning- from nomad to farmer, pioneer to settler, traveler to dweller.
On the evening of the fourteenth of the month: The fourteenth would be the first day of the full moon, a beginning of the first month of the year, another beginning, Nisan. The wilderness generation becomes the new Israel.
In verse eleven, “on the day after the Passover they ate of the produce of the land,” this would be the fifteenth of Nisan. Besides the Passover celebration, and in accordance with what became a fixed tradition, the Feast of Unleavened Bread was connected to Passover. It probably was taken from the Canaanite harvest festival and given additional meaning by associating it with the Exodus tradition. Up to the time they became farmers the Hebrews would have no reason to celebrate a cereal feast of harvest. Now it would remind them of the haste of their departure from Egypt and the bitterness of their oppression.