Gaudete Sunday

Lectionary: 33

The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.”

The human being, created in the very image and likeness of God, is created for freedom; we cannot bear the bondage of slavery. It is a "reproach" upon the slave and the owner, an onus of shame that persists even when the owner has been stripped of ownership; and the slave, restored to freedom. 

The Hebrews felt the "reproach of Egypt" as they marched through the Red Sea and into the Sinai Peninsula. It remained upon them through their forty year sojourn in the desert, a wasteland which no one would even want to claim. 

Only when they came in sight of their Promised Land, a "land flowing with milk and honey;" and only when they had enjoyed the fruit of that land rather than the manna of the desert, were they finally relieved of that reproach. 

Living without shame included freedom to worship a God of their own choosing and owning the land they had been given. In today's first reading we hear of the great feast to mark the new freedom of the Hebrews. Later, in Joshua 24, they will accept a renewed covenant with the Lord, binding themselves and their children for all time. 

Our freedom will never be a freedom to do whatever we want to do. There is no such thing. Freedom "in the image and likeness of God" is the ability and impulse to break out of one's bondage to self and enter a binding covenant with another person. 

Catherine Lowry LaCugna, in her book on the Holy Trinity, God For Us, writes of freedom: 
We are accustomed in the West to think of freedom as the result of perfect self-possession, the greater the degree of autonomy and self-determination, and the prerogative of unlimited choices. Freedom, in other words, is located in the consciousness of a spiritual subject who acts, disposes, determines.
(But) for (Orthodox Theologian Father John) Zizioulas, freedom belongs to the arena of ecstasis and self-transcendence.... It means conformity to the image of God in us. 
Following Father Zizioulas, she goes on to show how "God our Father" exceeds himself by utterly abandoning godself in "begetting" God the Son and "bringing forth" God the Holy Spirit. 

As any leader cannot ask followers to do what she is unwilling or unable to do, our God invites us to self-abandoning love because the Father has done so already. We have seen that in Jesus' crucifixion. Saint John's gospel graphically describes that total self-abandonment as his bodily fluids -- his breath, water and blood -- drain from his crucified body. Even the Holy Spirit seems vanquished by his ignominious death. 

As Christians we too abandon ourselves in love, especially in the sacraments when we are baptized in the Water, inhale his Spirit, eat his Flesh and drink his Blood. There is no more intense or exhilarating act of freedom short of martyrdom. In his presence we have been relieved of the "reproach of Egypt" and the shame of slavery.

We have heard this reading from the Book of Joshua on Gaudete Sunday because the Promised Land is in sight. We can see Jerusalem, Calvary and the Cross from here. As the Prodigal's father rushed to meet his son so are we rushing to meet our Savior as he is raised on the cross and rises from the dead. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

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