20Aug 20 August. Tuesday of the Twentieth Week

Judg 6:11ff. In Gideon’s moment of doubt, his faith is confirmed by a sign from God.

Matt 19:23ff. All is in God’s hands; selfish wealth is destructive. The last shall come first.

First Reading: Judges 6:11-24

Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” Gideon answered him, “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.” Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.” He responded, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.” Then he said to him, “If now I have found favour with you, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. Do not depart from here until I come to you, and bring out my present, and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay until you return.”

So Gideon went into his house and prepared a kid, and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour; the meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the oak and presented them. The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so. Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes; and the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. Then Gideon perceived that it was the angel of the Lord; and Gideon said, “Help me, Lord God! For I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” But the Lord said to him, “Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die.” Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord, and called it, The Lord is peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.

Gospel: Matthew 19:23-30

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

The First Shall Be Last

The final phrase in today’s Gospel is one of those paradoxes that can puzzle and irritate us. How are we to know  that the first shall be last, and the last first? Faith is not fatalist or passive; and it can be strengthened by recalling God’s help in the past. The true believer will not give up but will expect miracles when they are needed. He or she is also capable of giving up everything for the sake of the kingdom.

Gideon’s faith was wavering: maybe God did marvellous deeds in the past, but maybe not. Could the ancestors have been wrong? In fact, a weak faith can be a protection against disappointment. If a person does not have complete confidence in God, in one’s spouse or in one’s church or government, he or she will not be totally surprised by betrayal or infidelity. Being ready for the worst, they had already given up on the best. Weak faith is a sort of fatalism; strong faith works on the assumption of the best. But then Gideon learns that God is about to renew the “marvellous deeds” from the days of the ancestors.

With this background Jesus’ enigmatic statements about wealth, about first and last, about human impossibilities and divine gifts begin to make sense. To a person of faith, with the memoriy of stories like that of Gideon,  with experiences of prayer and fidelity, Our Lord’s words are a summons to the  active response of faith. In God’s good time, the last will indeed be first.