See Part 1. Let’s take a look at a different aspect of the crisis – the “cover-up.” We turn to the Book of Joshua, just after the destruction of Jericho, the city of sin. The spoils were supposed to be dedicated to the Lord and put in His treasury in the camp… or else.
1 But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel. [Achan wanted some gold for himself. What belonged to God, and to the whole camp collectively insofar as they offered it together, was held back for personal gain. While Achan’s remote intentions are unclear, surely he sought to advance himself politically and socially.]
2 Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, “Go up and spy out the region.” So the men went up and spied out Ai.
3 When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.” [After the victory at Jericho, the archetypal city of sin, the Hebrews are feeling very good about their position over Canaan. They have grown presumptuous and inattentive to their own sinfulness.] 4 So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water. [How strange that with our comparatively few clergy we used to be effective at converting the world, but now things are different. Something has happened… And often, the people who don’t worry about the numbers, or who have no real plan to reverse their trend in ordination numbers, are part of the problem, as we have been seeing.]
6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8 Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?” [Joshua realizes the harm that has been done to their reputation… The defeat at Ai will become an incentive for attack from the whole land.]
10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction. [So, what is sacred that has been hidden? It is the priest’s life itself… It belongs to God, and to the Church. It does not get to be treated as his own, it cannot be hidden away – it must only be “hidden” with the Lord, like all sacred things, but then its flaws are in view for all to see. Just like the spoils of Jericho, every priest is taken from among sinful men and made sacred to the Lord. And if some priest is not a good “offering,” he must either be reformed or discarded.]
13 “Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them. [Israel is to be reminded through this consecration that they are not a normal people, they are God’s own inheritance. This gives them insight into how egregious this crime is, and why they have failed to conquer Ai – and will continue to fail until the situation is remedied.]
14 “‘In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe the Lord chooses shall come forward clan by clan; the clan the Lord chooses shall come forward family by family; and the family the Lord chooses shall come forward man by man. 15 Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the Lord and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!’” [The investigation begins. It is thorough, and the stakes are made clear from the beginning – the one who is guilty will pay with his blood. Nothing less will suffice as punishment.]
16 Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was chosen. 17 The clans of Judah came forward, and the Zerahites were chosen. He had the clan of the Zerahites come forward by families, and Zimri was chosen. 18 Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was chosen.
19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.” [The little piety that is in Achan’s heart is taken advantage of by Joshua to profit the whole camp, and ultimately, Achan’s own soul.]
20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 21 When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” [One must wonder what would have happened had Achan continued trying to hide the spoils. Surely, it would have turned out even worse for him and for all Israel than it is about to.]
24 Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. 25 Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.”
Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. [Achan finds himself in a fate similar to that of Sodom and Gomorrah – utter destruction, along with the destruction of his incidentals, in this case his possessions and his children. Nothing of the wickedness of Achan must be allowed to continue on, lest something so terrible be repeated. Furthermore, an example must be made. Despite it seeming like Achan’s children are wronged here, perhaps they, too, were complicit in the cover-up. There are other ways to explain their demise, but this is certainly a possibility. Why did the children not turn over their father to Joshua, or at least return the stolen goods? Surely, they knew about the crime…] 26 Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. [A memorial to deter future wrongdoers.] Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since.
The things which belong to the public honor of God, such as the integrity of priestly life, cannot stay hidden away. Some might accuse me of “magical thinking,” but it seems confirmed by experience that priests leading double lives usually do not make many converts, do not devote long hours to the confessional, and do not deliver that kind of preaching which moves to greater faith, hope, and charity. They might indeed attract much curiosity and intrigue, they might make the parish a lot of money, they might be great social activists, but the real spiritual battles are not being fought by them. Such a man is forced to stay away from what is truly holy by the weight of his own conscience… Either his sin must go, or the Lord must go.