The greatest episode in the entire Old Testament, the event that defined the nation of Israel as a people, is that journey from slavery in Egypt to new life and freedom in the Promised Land. Remember it was Moses who led the people out of Egypt, and through the Red Sea. For forty years he led them through the dessert. But Moses was not the one who would eventually bring them into the Promised Land. That task was given to a young man named Joshua.
The Book of Joshua—which we heard from in our first reading—describes how Israel had to fight to take possession of the Promised Land, and how they had to fight to keep it. Our first reading this morning occurs after they have already taken possession of the Land. All of the surrounding nations have been conquered: the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, the Amorites, and the list goes on (Joshua 3:10, 24:12).
But Joshua, now at the end of his life, recognizes that there is still one more battle left to fight, one great challenge that could possibly destroy everything they had accomplished. That challenge, of course, is the faith and the fidelity of the people themselves.
Would they forget the God who freed them from slavery in Egypt, the One who conquered their enemies and established them in the Promised Land? Would they turn away from Him to serve other gods instead? That was the danger. And so Joshua gathers all the tribes of Israel at Shechem and says,
“If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
It was a powerful call for fidelity, and we know that the people responded to that call. Echoing the exact same words as Joshua, they cry out, “We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God” (Joshua 24:18).
An awful lot has changed in the thousands of years since those events took place, but the world we live in is not so very different from the world of Joshua and the people of Israel. We, too, are called to live out our faith and to remain faithful to the Lord in the midst of a land filled with many gods. I would like to point out a few of the more obvious ones that are more than prevalent in the culture we live in.
The first obvious god of our culture is materialism or consumerism. Our society is practically driven by the desire to buy, to consume, to accumulate stuff.
The other day I went to a furniture store because I needed a small chair for a desk that my parents own. That’s all I was there for. But I found myself walking through all the little showrooms, checking out all the other living room sets and end tables, all the nice bookshelves and mahogany desks. There was a lot of nice stuff there. I began to think of reasons why I might need to buy some of these items, and where I might be able to use them. Suddenly it occurred to me: I don’t even have a house! I live in a room in the rectory! Why on earth was I even looking at these things?
I think we are all susceptible to the false gods of consumerism and materialism, the need to have the newest stuff, the latest fashions, always something more or better than what we already have. It’s all right to want nice things and to own nice things, but when our things start to own us, when we become possessed by our desire to possess, then we need to ask ourselves whether or not we have begun to bow to the false god of consumerism.
Another one of the false gods of our time is what could be called a misused or misunderstood concept of freedom. In his encyclical letter Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II talks about our culture’s tendency to exalt freedom itself almost to the point of idolatry (Veritatis Splendor, #54).
Instead of being free to follow God’s will for our lives—free to do the right thing, free to live the right way—we often want, instead, to be free from God’s will, free from any of the restrictions that keep us from being who we want to be, doing what we want to do.
Nowhere is this more present than in the areas of human sexuality and what some have come to refer to as “reproductive rights.” This past Thursday, the FDA approved the drug called “Plan B”, for availability without a prescription. If you are not familiar with this drug, then maybe the following description will be helpful. It’s from the website of the Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops:
The FDA describes Plan B as ‘a contraceptive drug’ and equates its side effects to those of ordinary birth control pills. While Plan B can prevent fertilization, the manufacturer admits it may also prevent a newly-conceived embryo from implanting and surviving in the womb. This is properly understood as causing an early abortion.
Advocates of “Plan B” are hailing it as a great day in the development of “reproductive freedom.” They are saying it is “a victory for women’s health and for the American people” (Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Patty Murray, statement August 24, 2006).
But as Americans and as Catholics, we have to ask ourselves: How many more unborn children have to be sacrificed to the false gods of “freedom” and “choice” before our nation finally comes to appreciate the tremendous value of the gift of every human life?
God doesn’t have a “Plan B.” He only has a “Plan A,” and that is a plan of love and life, and a plan for the respect of the dignity of every human being. We need to learn that plan, and follow it, before it’s too late.
Consumerism, materialism, a misunderstood freedom, the gods of ambition, power; these are just a few of the false gods that are so prevalent in our culture today. There are countless others that vie for our attention and our convictions as we struggle to live out our Catholic faith and follow Jesus Christ in this world.
Now, more than ever, we are in need of men and women like Joshua, who will stand up and say, “We will not follow these gods that are contrary to our faith and oppose the very God who created us.” We need men and women who will stand up with Joshua and say, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
And may those around us recognize our conviction, and see that we really do stand for something far greater than ourselves, and may that inspire them to echo the words of the people of Israel: “We also will serve the Lord, for He [also] is our God” (Joshua 24:18).