After forty years wandering in the wilderness the people of Israel under Joshua enter the Promised Land today (Joshua chapter 3 is read at Morning Prayer). It is by the most roundabout of routes and through the midst of the River Jordan, that parts before them, as the Red Sea had parted before Moses and the previous generation. There was to be much bloodshed ahead of them; they were not entering an empty land, but one prized by other than themselves. We recite them often enough: “the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Gergashites, the Amorites and the Jebustites.” For the next two and a half weeks the Book of Joshua will, at times, make for difficult reading.
We may well think, “Well, what has changed?” in a world where the strong still impose their will on those unable or unwilling to oppose them. Religious persecution is a significant element in the struggle between one people and race and another, and, as the world has seen, no one religion has the monopoly, from the persecuted Coptic Christians of Egypt to the appalling Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar, amongst many others, in recent years. Today we recall in the Church’s calendar, an historic event, but one not forgotten, namely, the Martyrs of Uganda 1885-7. The Uganda Martyrs were a group of 23 Anglican and 22 Catholic Christian converts, living in the historical kingdom of Buganda, now part of Uganda, who were killed between 31st January 1885 and 27th January 1887.
In the reading from St Luke today (chapter 9: 37-50) Jesus, having descended from the Mount of Transfiguration is wrestling with a world in discord, and the inability of the disciples to help in a situation of a father’s only child in torment. He describes what he sees as a “faithless and perverse generation”, but then, deals more gently with an argument amongst his followers as to who was the greatest. He brings a child to his side, and speaks of those who will receive a child as those who will receive him. These very contrasting reactions help us to wrestle within ourselves as to how Jesus, as Son of God and Saviour, is leading his followers, in a world that prizes domination above equality, and strength and contention beyond the power of love.
Our wrestling with these things will not put right what is well beyond our power, but for every soul who listens to the voice of Christ and sees the child at his side, the world is a better place, and a step is taken, albeit tiny, towards a fairer and more loving humanity, of which we are a minuscule part.