Imagine yourself smack in the middle of today’s first reading. Joshua has “gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem,” and you are right there with them. The purpose of the assembly is for all those present to renew their commitment to God. Joshua exhorts the Israelites to make a decisive confession of faith by publicly declaring who will rule their hearts. Will they give themselves to Yahweh, the only true God, or align themselves with “the gods your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt” or “the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling”? After asserting that they will never “forsake the LORD for the service of other gods,” you hear the tribes of Israel recite a stirring litany of God’s saving actions for them, beginning with their ancestors’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt up to their present life among the Amorites. That liturgy of remembrance enables them to jubilantly declare: “Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”
It is easy to picture ourselves participating in this covenant renewal ceremony because we all give our hearts to something. We can even say that we are naturally lovers because we hand ourselves over to whatever we think will complete us; whatever we believe will satisfy the deepest hungers and yearnings of our lives. This story from the book of Joshua reminds us that every person worships some god even though it may not be the true God. Joshua warns the Israelites about serving “strange gods.” Today those “strange gods” could be money and possessions. They could be our successes and achievements. Or maybe our strange god is making sure we always get what we want and always have our way. When we look back over our lives, we discover that we forsake the true God for strange gods all the time.
And whenever we do, we learn that no matter how alluring those strange gods might be, none can offer us the life and peace and goodness and joy and hope that the only real God can and always has. And so today, let us join our ancestors in the faith in joyfully proclaiming: “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
Paul J. Wadell is Professor Emeritus of Theology & Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a member of the extended Passionist family.