The reading from the Book of Joshua which we hear today and the statement about God that Joshua makes in it would seem to contradict much of what we hear about God's unconditional love and the free gift of forgiveness that God offers to sinners:
You may not be able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God; he is a jealous God who will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If, after the good he has done for you, you forsake the LORD and serve strange gods, he will do evil to you and destroy you. (Joshua 24:19)
This statement very concisely states the thinking or theology of the entire Deuteronomic Corpus. It is called the Theology of Reciprocity, and it fills every chapter of the Books of Joshua, Judges, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, and First and Second Chronicles. The image of God that is portrayed in these Scriptures is very anthropomorphic; it depicts God as human. God is portrayed as a human with super powers but also with human emotions and attitudes.
The Middle Eastern culture out of which the Scriptures spring was born out of a harsh and unforgiving geographical area where nature is unrelenting in its efforts to conquer the human race and the human race is just as unrelenting in its pursuit of domination of nature. Even today, tourists to the Holy Land are advised to have a bottle of water with them at all times. Tour buses come equipped with cases of bottled water in their luggage compartments. Failure to hydrate one's self will lead to dire consequences.
The relationship between people in this culture is just as exacting. If one fails in his relationship to a friend or relative, he literally cuts himself off from the lifeline that it represents. Loyalty to family and other human relationships is the chief virtue needed to survive in this culture. Hospitality and solicitude are seen as duties, not as gifts. Odd as it seems, saying "thank you" to another person for any courtesy he might do for you is seen as "ending a relationship." The way to say "thank you" is to return the favor.
Joshua's statement about God is, therefore, straight out of the Middle Eastern cultural expectations. Undoing this kind of think took hundreds of years and the greatest sacrifice imaginable on the part of God; namely, giving his own Son over to an ignominious death. By Jesus' resurrection after his crucifixion, God proves that evil is not to be regarded as punishment for sins. God does forgive our transgressions when we are truly repentant.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator