Proper 28A

November 10, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 25:14-30

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary

    Judges 4:1-7

    Author: Scott Hoezee

    Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

    If ever you want to get a sense of how screwed up, messy, and downright tawdry the world can get—and yet how just maybe God is able to stick with the whole stinking thing anyway—then you are definitely in the right neighborhood if you’re most anywhere in the Book of Judges.  I suppose it’s a testament to the faith of the Israelites in their always gracious God that they even dared to include a book like this in the canon of their sacred writings.  Me?   I think I would have left it out.   True, maybe we’d all miss the story of Samson, and Gideon’s story is the stuff that good Sunday school is made of.  Other than that . . . well, this book is as down and dirty as it gets.

    The Common Lectionary oddly enough assigns a scant 7 verses from the 4th chapter for Year A cycle, but those verses are barely sufficient to set up the narrative that consumes the balance of the 4th chapter and then takes up all of Judges 5 in the song Deborah composed to celebrate the goings-on of Judges 4.   Deborah comes off pretty well in that song (though as Frederick Buechner once mused, perhaps modesty compelled Deborah to ask General Barak to sing the parts that lauded her the most even as she stood by blushing at all the accolades that came her way via her own composition).

    It strikes me that there is little to say about Judges 4:1-7 unless you encompass the wider story, so that’s what I will do here.

    But as noted, it isn’t pretty.

    The people are once again described as doing evil in the eyes of Yahweh and so, once again, Yahweh lifts whatever blanket of protection he had used to cover the people such that a Canaanite king found them to be easy pickings and pretty well took over the Israelites and made them miserable in every devious way he could.  True to form the Israelites somehow managed to remember that they did once have a God who loved them—and whom they were supposed to love back presumably—and so they summoned up the audacity once more to ask for help from the very God whose ways they typically treated as take-‘em-or-leave-‘em lifestyle options (and they more often than not just left ‘em).

    But if there is anything astonishing in the Bible and in Judges in particular, it is how regularly God responds to such pleas.   “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me” is the adage by which most ordinary people live.  True, God may not be capable of being fooled in any ultimate sense but if there is one thing Scripture makes abundantly clear it is that God will stay faithful to his people no matter what.   “You people are going to be the death of me” God as much as says again and again in the early parts of the Bible, and a truer word was never spoken.

    Even so, God responds.  He taps the one decent person he can find, a prophetess named Deborah who also had a flair for settling disputes.  God gets through to Deborah what needs doing and so Deborah summons General Barak, who turns out to be a four-star piece of milquetoast who won’t go into battle until and unless Deborah goes with him.

    So they go into battle, things go as God predicted, but like more recent examples like Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi, a certain Canaanite general named Sisera decides that saving his own skin is more important than being courageous in battle to the end and so he high-tails it away from the battle and takes refuge in the tent of some harmless woman from a “friendly” tribe of folks.

    At this point you can cue the theme music for The Sopranos . . . “Woke up this morning and got myself a [tent peg], mama always said I was the chosen one.”    And so in a narrative twist more gruesome, bloody, and shocking than even most of the murders that did take place on The Sopranos, the woman Jael dispatches with Sisera and does so, apparently, with cool, calculating abandon.   Deborah will go on to sing about this—and adds even more graphic detail at that—and then tacks on the cruel extra vignette of envisioning Sisera’s old mother peering through the curtains to see when that boy of hers was going to amble up the driveway and come home for supper.

    It’s difficult to know how to handle these R-rated sections of the Bible.  Deborah and Barak may have sung about it—and it may be that rotten folks among the Canaanites deserved what they got at the end of the day—but as New Testament people, it’s powerfully hard to crank up joy and pleasure at all such things, especially in case Jesus’ words about forgiving our enemies and loving those who persecute us happen to be ringing in our ears.

    Perhaps one thing that can be appreciated—albeit in a minor key and with due acknowledgement of the fierce brokenness of this world—is the fact that somehow, some way, God is not undone by even the most terrible facts about this fallen world.   God’s people keep falling away from him in a kind of serial faithlessness that is sickening to behold.   The rest of the world keeps churning in violence and ugliness and brutalities of all kinds.

    Yet somehow, some way, God manages to get something done, manages to stay with his people, manages to move the salvation ball a bit farther down the field.    God consistently hits straight shots with crooked sticks and manages to pour out his dearest gospel treasure into earthen vessels and cracked pots.

    As the Book of Judges bears grim witness, the story of God’s salvation of this world is often not pretty to look at.  But many days we manage to forget that, which is an amazing fact considering that at the very center of our faith is a bloody cross on which no less than the only Son of God once met a singularly ugly demise for our sakes.   But if the extent to which God was willing to go to save us does not strike you as at least as amazing as the fact that a tent peg through the temple is also a part of the larger story, then it’s possible that time and familiarity have emptied even the cross of its true wonder and meaning.

    When the holiness of God’s divine determination to save us intersects with a  brutal world such as ours, the results are often raw and hard to look at.  But through all that agony, somehow, the grace shines through, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness is put on notice that its days are as numbered as old Sisera’s were.

    And maybe that’s some good news out of a bad news story after all.

    Illustration Idea

    From Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who.  San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979, pp. 58-9.

    Regarding Jael’s actions: “In view of the fact that her victim was a) her guest and b) asleep and c) had never harmed a hair of either her head of her people’s, it would seem that to call her deed heroic is to stretch the term to the breaking point.  As for calling her patriotic, if she had done it for love of country—maybe.   But a) her country had no quarrel with Sisera and b) if she killed him for anything but kicks, it was out of love for nothing more exalted than the idea of maybe getting a pay-off from the Israelites the next time they hit town.  It is not the only instance, of course, of how people in wartime get medals for doing what in peacetime would get them the chair.”

  • The Lectionary Psalms +

    Psalm 123

    Author: Doug Bratt

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

    Author: Stan Mast