Joshua 5.9-12, Psalm 32, 2nd Corinthians 5.16-21, Luke 15.1-2, 11b-32Gilgal was the most rock and roll place in ancient Israel—it’s all in the name, which has more than one possible etymology. For Joshua, the name could hardly have been as important as the events that took place there. The first (coyly left out of the lectionary) makes for uncomfortable reading, and involves a renewal of the covenant; the second is the cessation of the manna. It must have been a bit like coming off emergency rations and beginning to eat real food. It might also be seen as the completion of a rite of passage. The ordeal is over, and full responsibility for an independent life has begun.
The story of the lost son in Luke 15 is, in some ways, a reprise of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness. His return to his father’s house involves an honest admission of his own responsibility for his life, and the renewal of at least two relationships. Brilliantly, the story finishes before things are all sorted out, so that we’re given a snapshot of a situation that carries hope, but no certainty. It’s a fictional story, but completely true to life.
St. Paul claimed that ’if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new’. It sounds good, but sometimes seems distant from everyday experience. How new and Christ-like do you feel just now? The point is that none of these situations represents ‘destination reached’. We may at different times identify more strongly with one or other son, or the father, or the mother—an unseen player in this story. The only certainty is the possibility of grace.