There’s a wonderful spiritual, Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho. It draws upon the images in the story from ancient Israel, where Joshua, following on from Moses, led the armies of Israel after they fled from slavery in Egypt into the Promised Land of Canaan. Having crossed the Jordan River, before them lay the final hurdle, the city of Jericho. The story tells of Joshua and the armies circling the city and on the seventh day, blowing trunpets and shouting as the ‘walls came tumbling down’ before them.
Whilst there is no archeological evidence to support the story being an actual event, that is not the point. Before the people could embrace the freedom encompassed in the promise of new life in a new land after centuries of slavery, there is always one more hurdle; one final barrier that has to be overcome before their claim and experience of freedom can be realised. The spiritual reflects this as the rising chorus crescendos through the repeated refrains of ‘Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho…’ until the final line of triumph – ‘and the walls come tumbling down’. There are verses with story but it is this image of Joshua breaking through the barrier of the mythic walled city that stands before the final destination, that offers power and hope.
The African-American slaves of the Americas drew upon this image of liberation from slavery and deliverance into the Promised Land of freedom and life, to drive their own hope for deliverance from slavery, segregation and oppression. The walls that they cried out against, blew their metaphorical trumpets against and prayed against, were the walls of racism, hatred, abuse and oppression – the laws that legitimated slavery and oppression. Eventually, these walls ‘came tumbling down’!
The mythic ‘walls of Jericho’ stand before all of us as we journey through life, making our way in this world, seeking meaning, purpose and hope for our existence. All of us face these barriers, final or otherwise, to freedom and new life. In personal life there are barriers of fear, grief, guilt and shame, powerlessness, expectations (of self, family, soceity or culture), addictions and addictive lifestyle, living with disability or chronic ill, physical or mental, health or the presence of abuse, violence and other forces from outside that leave us trapped or oppressed. We confront a barrier before or around us.
There are also walls that confront families, communities and nations. For Australia, there are the (mostly) invisible walls of shame and guilt that lie below the surface as they are handed down through generations. The struggle of our indigenous peoples exists as an hidden wound that contiunes to float through the sub-conscious of our nation’s life, occassionally surfacing. The crisis is closely associated with land and spirituality versus ownership and domination. It is a wall that we need to confront and break down to bring liberation and life to all people. The ongoing critical issues surrounding refugees and asylum seekers, the puitive measures that have been employed to deny people freedom out of fear and political expediency, must be confronted. The world watches on with the same disbelief we manifest towards other nations where human rights abuses occur. There are very serious issues for those who are locked away on Pacific Islands without recourse to justice, proper health care, family connections or anything we consider basic human rights. There are still children kept locked away in these detention centres, despite denials of government. They are not criminals but desperate people who have left desperate and fearful situations. This ‘wall’ casts a pall over our whole nation and until freedom is established we will all feel the darkness and impact of the actions of our own governments.
The world faces the largest barrier ever confronting human life and freedom on this planet – the human impact on the earth and its environment. Through exponential growth in the human population, the uses of outdated forms of energy and the vast destruction of habitats, especially huge forests, has wrought an irreversable impact. We know it through Climate Change but there are myriad other effects of human habitation and abuse on the planet. We have entered into a new geological era that is called the Anthropocene – the age in which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environement. Despite copious overwhelming scientific reports, there is still denial and vested interests who would have us believe it is irrelevant. It isn’t! It is our ‘Jericho’, the walled city that has to come down before humanity can move into a new freedom and life through working with the earth and changing how we impact our environment. This walled city surrounds us and entraps us as the ‘elegant tenacity of the status quo’ keeps us stuck in a moment we can’t get out of, to quote U2. How will the walls come tumbling down? Who will cry out, blast the trumpet and reveal the walled city for what it is?
There are many walls that we need to confront as we seek life and hope.
This week we continue to read of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the cross (Mark 10:46-52). He comes to the city of Jericho, the last stage before entering the Holy City of Jerusalem. Echoes of the ancient Israelite story resonate through Mark’s story. There are barriers before them that need to be brought down, walls that block the ways of freedom and hope for people. This story is one bookend of a section where Jesus seeks to turn human expectation and undertanding upside down. The liberating power will not come through the typical means of violence and warfare, of a warrior king who will ride into Jerusalem, claim authority and lead the armies against Rome and bring victory under God. This populist hope is not God’s way! Jesus also confounds the human lust for glory and power, of being considered ‘great’. Jesus reverses the ways of human deliniation whereby some are greater and others less, some of more valuable and others less, where we are driven to pursue fame, fortune, power and glory and only the beautiful, strong, wealthy etc are valued. The greatest must become the least and those who enter God’s Realm become childlike. Losing life and giving up the pretensions of cultural expectation lead us into new life and new freedom. The walls come down when we shuck off the cloak of expectation and familiar ways of violence, accumulation and acquisition, power and glory and choose to become the least in order to serve. It is this contradictory path of love that opens blind eyes and deaf ears and rigid hearts to embrace a communal way of life that lives with and alongside others in inclusive, gracious love.
The two bookend stories of this section are of two blind men receiving sight – one sees clearly and the other throws off the cloak of cultural expectation for the beggar and follows Jesus in this new way of life. Blind Bartimaeus sees what the sighted disciples cannot and offers an example for all of us to confront the walls of ignorance and resistance, of oppressive forces and enslavement by embracing the vulnerable love of God and walking in this new way of humble, gracious love! Let us follow this life-giving, loving way!