Recently, a fellow mourner and I consoled one another over our recent losses. My friend remarked that her mom had done all concerned a great favor by living simply for the past decade or so. She hadn’t left many worldly goods to go through. As she listed the few treasures that remained, my friend included “The Joshua Books.” Immediately, my own collection of the same came to mind…
Sometime in the early eighties, the first in this series of books by Father Joseph Girzone appeared. Most of us who know them refer to the collection as “The Joshua Books.” Each is a tale of a present day visit to humanity by Joshua, the contemporary Jesus of Nazareth. I have read them all, and I admit to being very accepting of Father Girzone’s portrayal of what Jesus might be like if he visibly joined us on this earth today. Indeed, the Jesus Father Girzone offers is very much in keeping with the Jesus we encounter in Mark’s gospel (Mark 7:1-8; 14-15; 21-23). Each of this Sunday’s scripture readings challenges us to reflect upon the same subject-rules, rules, rules!
I suppose each of us has suffered unpleasant encounters with authority figures whose love for the rules they uphold far exceeds their love for the rest of us. In JOSHUA IN THE HOLY LAND (Girzone, Joseph F., Macmillan Publishing, New York, 1992), Father Girzone places Joshua in the midst of just such an encounter. Early one Saturday, Joshua walks through an Orthodox Jewish settlement. He offends some of those he passes on two counts. First, Joshua carries a backpack. This is considered work, and work is not allowed on the Sabbath. Secondly, Joshua hurries along, seemingly to attend to some very important business, which is absolutely forbidden on the Sabbath. As Joshua walks, some of the men he passes express precisely what they think of Joshua’s Sabbath activities. When Joshua responds that it is rigidity such as this that prevented their ancient counterparts from recognizing him two thousand years earlier, the men attempt to do him violence. Joshua is saved by the unexpected arrival of a friend who whisks him away from the crowd before they can act upon their wrath. Apparently, these men determined that violence is allowable on the Sabbath when the work involved is their own!
Each of Sunday’s readings illustrates quite beautifully the intent and the spirit of the law handed down to us through the scriptures and the tradition of the Church. The first reading from Deuteronomy (4:1-2, 6-8) describes Moses’ presentation of the Ten Commandments to the Jewish People. Throughout their years in the desert, the people exhibited over and over again just how hard-hearted they could be. They desperately needed someone to direct them toward an appreciation of their humanity. In response to their need, God inspired Moses to present them –and, ultimately, us- with the Ten Commandments. These precepts were intended to help the people to love and to rely upon their Creator and to love and to cherish one another. Thus, the Lord God chose to draw goodness from his people with ten simple rules. The second reading from James (1:17-18, 21-22, 27) celebrates the goodness that comes in everything offered from above, especially in the simple rules that draw the best of human goodness from within us.
Perhaps it was this gospel that gave Father Girzone the ammunition with which he armed Joshua for his encounter in that neighborhood. How amazed Joshua seems that for more than two thousand years his brothers and sisters continue to value the letter of the law far more than they value one another. Perhaps this gospel arms us with the challenge to consider our own use of the Law as we journey through this life. Are we similar to the Scribes and Pharisees in the demands we place upon others and upon ourselves? Are we just as eager to join the crowd who will not work on the Sabbath, but will do violence on the Sabbath to their brother who sees things differently than they?
Sometimes, it is our disapproving looks and attitudes that damage others far more than a fist or a rock ever could. Jesus’ requests regarding the Law are quite simple. He asks that we do our best to be our best. When we fail, Jesus asks that we forgive ourselves, forgive one another and get on with the business at hand. That business, by the way, has nothing to do with tracking the failings of ourselves or others. It has everything to do with loving one another as Jesus would and as only we can.
©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved