The reading for Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015:
Joshua 6: 1-16, 22-23
How do we interpret this story of the walls that tumble down? Do we see it as a sign of Joshua's faithfulness?
That's how I was taught the story as a child. Joshua had great success, like Moses and Aaron before him, because he followed God's commands and went to improbable places and had victories that no one would have predicted. As children, we were encouraged to put our trust in God and believe that we, too, would be able to make walls come down.
As a grown up, I think about the metaphorical walls that might be standing in my way. Some days there are moods and mindsets that act as a wall. I have no trumpet, but I do have other powers. I can pray or I can practice looking for the good in my life or I can make lists of all that's going well. I can get out of my own head and go hand out food at the food pantry. I can work on a quilt for refugees--the sewing of a seam eases my anxious brain.
We all have walls that are standing in our way. Do we need a different job? Do we have relationships that need repair? Do we have old patterns of behavior that inflict pain?
That's the easy interpretation of the Bible reading for Sunday. As a grown up, however, I'm also interested in the other side of the story. As I read the story of Joshua, I think of those people under siege in that walled city. And the story doesn't give us an easy ending for those people. The walls come down, and they're slaughtered, every last one of them, except for Rahab and her family who sheltered the Israelite spies.
The Israelites get a homeland, but at an enormous price to the people who are already there, inhabiting the land. And we will see this dynamic over and over again throughout human history.
Traditionalists will say that the people are slaughtered by Joshua's army because they believed in the wrong gods and the wrong ideas. But I know that's the story that the winners always tell: the winners always think they have God on their side.
I'm enough of a student of history to know that we should be careful before we find comfort in that success story. The winning side can all too easily become the losing side. Many of the refugees who are flooding Europe's shores once were living middle class lives in a peaceful land.
I think of the different story that Jesus came to tell us. Jesus calls us to always--always--help the poor, the destitute, and the outcast. But that is not enough. Jesus also calls us to participate in Kingdom building. We are to work to transform the world so that nobody will be poor and outcast. We are to work towards a world where everyone has enough, where no one has to be displaced or slaughtered for the success of a different group.