The Israelite people had conquered Canaan. It was to become their own territory. Warfare is one thing. Building up a strong, stable society is quite another. This was the task facing the Israelite people. Their leader Joshua was now old – he died, we are told, aged 110. Now in his old age he found himself wondering if this people was capable of building a godly society in which each person could flourish. For that matter, would they be faithful to God who had revealed himself by freeing them from slavery and leading them through the desert? Or, as they settled down into prosperity, would they relapse into idolatry and selfishness? So Joshua does two things. First of all he makes sure that each tribe is clear about its allotted territory. This is to minimise the rivalry and covetousness which land allocation can create. This done, he summons them to Shechem, which was a central shrine known and respected by all the tribes.
Our first reading (Joshua 24.1-2, 15-18) gives us this meeting. Joshua probes the assembled tribes. Will they be faithful to God? Of himself he says, ‘As for me and my House we will serve the Lord’ (v. 15). It is a patriarchal declaration, of course, quite literally, and yet I find it profoundly moving. There is a stoicism, a grittiness, a determination, here. He is challenging the people to find a similar strength in their devotion to God and in their shared faith. Joshua’s words challenge us too, because we live in an age which values individualism. Faith in God, it is no longer the unifying element that it once was, helping our society to know and respect values that all held in common. Religion is mocked by sceptics and betrayed by fundamentalists. Yet Joshua’s words remind us that renewal is up to each of us. We cannot hand over to others responsibility for our own lives.
Some time ago I read a newspaper report about the crimes committed by children coming from families in which there was poor parenting or almost no parenting at all. I thought to myself, before the end of this article I will come across some expert calling on the government to do more to promote good parenting. And sure enough, there it was, just such a call. I am perplexed by this attitude. Can we really hand over responsibility for family lives, including parenting, to the government? Surely it is up to each family or parent to do what they can? There is a role here for older generations to assist younger, for friends to serve as mentors, even for older children to shoulder their share of responsibility for family life. Where they do so everybody will be stronger together.