Lectionary Readings for Mar. 10. Joshua 5:9-12, Ps. 32, 2 Cor. 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
This week the readings all relate to a theme of forgiveness and starting anew. The Joshua story is particularly intriguing. Here Joshua leads the new generation of Israel into the promised land. Their wandering (punishment for disobeying God) is finished, and they are brought into a fertile land where they can settle, grow food instead of gathering manna, and start over in trying to be a nation of God.
These are new beginnings for Israel. But what about Moses? He is barred from the promised land even though he is a prophet whom God knew face to face, and "was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt..." (Deut. 34:11) Moses was left out because he had "broken faith" with God. (Deut 32:51). How is this forgiveness? Moses has repented and ends his life with praises for God and blessings for Joshua, his successor, but is still excluded. Moses sees the land but can't touch it.
This says a lot about what forgiveness is and isn't. It is a restoration of relationship. God and Moses end up on good terms and Moses is remembered as one of the great leaders of Israel. It is not, however, a forgetting or erasing of the past mistake. Moses still has to deal with the consequences of his actions. There is a good starting over, but from a changed place. A new leader moves forward with the people, and Moses blesses him.
2 Cor. 5:17 "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see everything has become new." This too, is a starting over from a changed place. Things are not put back the way they were. The old passes away and the new begins.
I wonder how forgiveness works for the characters in the prodigal son story. The older son is bitter about the old passing away. He doesn't want a new start for himself or anyone else. The younger son is restored in relationship, he belongs with his family again-but he will never get back what he squandered. His inheritance is still gone. He has relationship but no living. He still must deal with the consequences of his bad decisions. The father has his younger son back-but that son will not inherit any land or authority-he has to figure out a new way of being family now, but he is ready to start fresh. The older son, the heir, is now the lost one in terms of right relationship. He has a living, land, and authority, but no relationship. This work of forgiveness, no matter how wonderful it sounds, certainly is hard work for all involved!