Imagine this scene from The Hobbit, just after the company of Dwarves have survived their escapades in Goblin town. Bilbo had gotten separated from everyone else, and they're wondering where he might have gone. Thorin, who doesn't have a lot of trust or confidence in Bilbo, thinks he has given up and abandoned them to head back to the Shire. But after this less-than-supportive declaration, Bilbo emerges from behind a tree and says he's back. Most of the company accepts this with a mixture of disbelief and joy. But Thorin is still suspicious and demands a further explanation:
Gandalf: What does it matter? He's back.
Thorin: It matters. I want to know. Why did you come back?
Bilbo: I know you doubt me. I know you always have. You're right. I often think of Bag End. I miss my books, my armchair, my garden. See, that's where I belong. That's home. That's why I came back. You don't have one. It was taken from you. But I will help you take it back if I can.
It was this scene that flashed in my mind when I read this passage from the first chapter of Joshua:
So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’”
But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.” (Joshua 1:10-15)
I don't think I fully realized that not all the tribes needed to cross the Jordan river to claim their inheritance. For two and a half tribes, their long journey was over. They were already home. But they still had to send their fighting men to help the other tribes claim their land. This was their Bilbo moment. But was also more than that. It struck me as a very clear picture of how the family of God really is one big family, who is expected to band together and help out, even at personal cost and sacrifice.
What impresses me most about Bilbo's story is that despite Thorin's consistent doubt, Bilbo sticks with the quest until the very end. That's no small thing. Could I do that? Stick with someone who doubts me? Cross a river to help someone fight for their promise when there's no guarantee of coming home again?
But isn't that kind of the whole point of the Gospel? To be love in action and live a life that points to the hope I've found?
You are to help them until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you. ...That's home. That's why I came back. You don't have one. It was taken from you. But I will help you take it back if I can.