19Aug 19 August 2013. Monday of the 20th Week

Judg 2:11ff. An introduction to the era of the Judges: they move from misery to prayer and God gives them a judge-saviour, then the cycle starts over again.

Mt 19:16ff. To fully follow Jesus, we must not only keep God’s commandments but share with the poor.

First Reading: Judges 2:11-19

Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshipped the Baals; and they abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord, and worshipped Baal and the Astartes. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers who plundered them, and he sold them into the power of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them to bring misfortune, as the Lord had warned them and sworn to them; and they were in great distress.

Then the Lord raised up judges, who delivered them out of the power of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen even to their judges; for they lusted after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their ancestors had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord; they did not follow their example. Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they would relapse and behave worse than their ancestors, following other gods, worshiping them and bowing down to them. They would not drop any of heir practices or their stubborn ways.

Gospel: Matthew 19:16-22

Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Cycle of Repentance

The era of the judges cover two centuries, from the first settlement in Canaan under Joshua until the inauguration of the monarchy under king Saul. This era saw great changes and problems facing the people of Israel. The Book of Judges captures it in popular stories, at times echoing the sanctuary, like Deborah’s poetic masterpiece in ch. 5, or the soldiers’ campfire at night, like the humorous, even bawdy story of Ehud in 3:12-30 or of Samson in chaps. 13-16. Throughout these tales weaves a theological thread, its pattern seen most clearly in today’s text: 1) sin always brings sorrow and oppression; 2) grief leads the people to cry to God for mercy; 3) God replies by sending a judge or national hero; 4) the new peace and prosperity degenerate into injustice and sensuality; so the cycle starts all over again.

The story of the judges often mirrors our story too. Often we find it harder to deal with success than with failure. The Bible sees the land of Canaan as the land of promise, the goal of the exodus, the reward pledged to the patriarchs who were buried in its soil. Yet that land is also a risk, a temptation, an inducement to selfishness and sensuality. Israel’s deepest instinct is in their determination to return to the land: from the slavery of Egypt, from the exile in Babylon, from their present diaspora around the world. Moments of glory like the era of David and Solomon turn out to be more important for what they later symbolize than for what was materially achieved. Their memory in times of loss and destruction led Israel to visions of peace and messianic glory. When the misuse of talents and gifts leads to sorrow and loss, this theological introduction to Judges recognizes the hand of God in the punishment. Throughout the Bible the punishment for sin is seen as disciplinary, to purify and sanctify us anew and enable us to start over again.

In the gospel Jesus declares that the best use of our gifts, talents and assets is by sharing them with others. Everyone is called to this positive and generous interaction; and some may even be called literally to give up everything and to own nothing for the sake of the kingdom. Sooner or later all are asked to share of our best. We are being led deeply into the mystery of the kingdom where actions are not judged by worldly wisdom but by the instincts of faith.