First Reading: Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-18b

The Cost of Faith

1 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God. 2 Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, 'Your fathers lived of old time beyond the River, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor: and they served other gods.

15 If it seems evil to you to serve YHWH, choose this day whom you will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve YHWH."

16 The people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake YHWH, to serve other gods; 17 for it is YHWH our God who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and who did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way in which we went, and among all the peoples through the midst of whom we passed. 18 YHWH drove out from before us all the peoples, even the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve YHWH; for he is our God."

World English Bible

How difficult is making the choice to believe? We can ask the question in another way. What is the cost of faith?

After 40 years wandering in the desert, Joshua led the Israelites into of the Promised Land. The people had endured suffering and long waiting. But, taking possession of the land meant warring against the local population. Hence Joshua gathered the people together [1] and asked them the faith question [15]. How much faith did the Israelites have in God?

At the time of the settlement and afterwards, the Israelites lived in world of many gods. These gods functioned as the mascot of the local population, since they believed their existence was divinely mandated. So, to fight against a local population meant to fight against their god(s).

Joshua, then, gave them not only a choice of faith but one of national allegiance. Joshua seemed to ask them: "Are you an Israelite or not?" There was no room to waver religiously or patriotically. So, get rid of other idols [14]. The people renew their faith by a retelling of their history [16-18].

Many people wonder if the early Israelites were true monotheists. In other words, didn't they believe in only one God? As a religious philosophy, monotheism reduces all divinity to one being and denies the possible existence of any greater power. The Israelites were a migrating people, however; they did not bother with such philosophic questions. Their God was a national symbol; they rejected any other god simply because the gods were not Israeli.

As a side note, monotheism, as a religious philosophy, began with the Egyptians, not with the Israelites. However, the Israelites were the first practicing monotheists. In addition, the Israelites were the first to believe in a God that revealed himself not in the powers of nature, but in the events of history [17-18]. As such, no image from nature could truly represent the power of God; so the lack of an image became part of the Israeli faith.

Today, our wars are for monetary gain in the marketplace, not victory on the battlefield. Media floods us with seductive images that led us from faith. And, in today's multi-cultural society, there are as many diverse philosophies as ever. We face temptation at every turn. Do we stay faithful, or do we fall away? The challenge of Joshua is a relevant today as it was when he first spoke those words in the first reading.

Reflect on the power and strength of your faith. What images or "idols" tempt you to spend your time and money in wasteful ways? Which hobbies have become obsessions? How can you put God first again in life?