Testing doesn't always come in ways that we expect. We tend to think of difficulties, injustices, struggles, and suffering as the usual challenges to our faith. But sometimes success and prosperity can be equally challenging. That's what happened to Joshua and the people of Israel in today's First Reading.
This passage from the Book of Joshua is part of what is known as the Pact of Shechem. Shechem was centrally located in Palestine, and therefore a good meeting place for the different tribes. It also had religious significance. Abraham had built an altar there, and Jacob had bought land there and buried some left-over Mesopotamian idols there.
When Joshua called the tribes together at Shechem, therefore, it was an important event. It took place at the end of Joshua's long and successful career as Israel's leader. Joshua had taken over after the death of Moses, leading the people into the Promised Land and then masterminding their conquest of that land. Under his rule, Israel had experienced political, economic, and cultural prosperity and success. Yet, as he feels death coming on, Joshua considers it necessary to call a gathering of all the tribes.
At that gathering he challenges them to consciously renew their commitment to God. He knows that prosperity can breed arrogance and laziness. He knows that the idol worship of the nations they had conquered, the nations they now inhabit, was still seductive. He recognizes that if the Israelites are going to keep their faith alive and strong in this new chapter of their history, they need to make a firm, conscious renewal of their most deeply held convictions. In our lives, too, when all is going well and smoothly, we need to make our own pact of Shechem, reaffirming our commitment to serve Christ, not just to seek success and comfort.
When faith grows in the heart of a Christian, a lot of other virtues start growing, too: wisdom, courage, humility, hope, and Christ-like love. If we want to grow in these virtues, our faith has to become more conscious, more mature. But how can we help that to happen? The same way that Peter and the other Apostles did. This moment of crisis occurred after they had been living and traveling with Jesus for two years. During that time they had gotten to know Jesus in a personal way.
The Lord was not distant or abstract; the Lord was their companion, leader, and friend; they had a personal relationship with Him. So, when the moment of crisis came, the moment in which their faith was challenged, they were ready to respond. Even when they couldn't see the whole picture themselves, they believed that Jesus could, and they knew that Jesus, the good shepherd, the "Holy One of God," would guide them well.
Sooner or later, every Catholic faces a religious crisis, a situation in which our faith is challenged, in which we don't understand fully why God does what He does or asks what He asks. That is the moment when we can rise to a new level of spiritual maturity, but only if we have been nourishing our faith by getting to know Jesus Christ, the person, through a conscious life of prayer and sacramental life. If our Catholic faith has been reduced to following a list of rules and routines, it will be much harder to survive and thrive in those moments of testing. Certainly, God will never give up on us, but unless we have a real relationship with Him, we may end up giving up on Him. And there is no greater tragedy in life than that.
Our Lord is asking us what He asked the Twelve: "Do you also want to leave... as so many others have done?"