Today's first reading comes from the second chapter of the Book of Judges. The first chapter of that book describes how the Israelites conquered and settled the Promised Land. They did not, however, drive out the previous occupants as God had ordered them to do. They allowed some to stay among them as laborers.
That was a big mistake. Why? The Israelites were already prone to idolatry. Remember the golden calf? Now they were surrounded by the “gods” of the Canaanites, Amorites, and other groups.
The temptation proved to be too much for the Israelites. They began serving the Baals, the “gods” of the people living among them. Perhaps they were hedging their bets. If the Lord didn't come through for them, maybe one of the other “gods” would. Perhaps they were trying to please their neighbors and keep the peace. Perhaps they were just rather lazy and found it easier to serve idols than to serve God.
In any case, the Israelites sinned in a major way, and they soon paid the consequences. God allowed their enemies to control and plunder them. Everything they did turned to disaster in their hands. Essentially, He brought His disobedient people to their knees.
Then they cried for help, and God sent them judges, who delivered the people from danger and guided them in God's ways. Every time they had a judge over them, the people did well. They flourished and conquered their enemies. But when the judge died, the people went back to their old ways of idolatry. Pretty soon the misery of sin's consequences set in again, and the people cried out for help. God sent another judge, and the vicious circle continued.
Before we judge the Israelites too harshly, we should take a close at our own lives. We can easily fall into the same pattern of sin, consequences, repentance, and return to sin. Take some time to examine your conscience and discover your own vicious circles of sin. Then ask God to help you break them with an outpouring of His grace.
Tuesday – The Most Insignificant One
Who says there isn't humor in the Bible? Just look at today's first reading. Gideon is busy beating out wheat in a wine press (quite a task in itself) to keep his precious crop from falling into the enemy's hands. Suddenly an angel appears to him with a startling message: “The Lord is with you, O champion!” Without missing a beat or even expressing shock at seeing an angel, Gideon basically responds with an “Is that so?” If the Lord is with us, he wonders, how come all these horrible things are happening to us? How come He's abandon us to our enemies, the Midianites?
The angel doesn't answer Gideon's questions. Gideon should already know the answer; the people have sinned and turned away from God, and now they are experiencing the consequences of their bad choices. Instead, speaking for God, the angel delivers a challenge: “Go with the strength you have and save Israel from the power of Midian.”
Can you imagine the look on Gideon's face when he hears that? His response is “Who??? Me???” How can I save Israel? My family is the lowest in the tribe of Manassah, and I'm the most insignificant one in my father's house. I'm nothing. I'm nobody. What can I do?
The angel, still speaking for God, is quick to reassure him. God will be with Gideon, and with God's power, this lowly, insignificant young man will cut down the Midianites to the very last man.
Gideon finds this very hard to believe. Can you blame him? He asks to prepare an offering for the Lord and then follows the angel's directions to place the meat and unleavened cakes on a rock and pour out the broth. Then the angel adds a dash of drama. He touches the offering with his staff, and fire surges up from the rock to consume the food. Then the angel disappears.
Gideon, poor fellow, panics. The Lord is quick to reassure him, and when Gideon stops shaking, he builds an altar to commemorate all that has just taken place. He isn't quite ready to accept his mission yet; that will require several more signs. But he is starting to realize that God often chooses the least, weakest, most insignificant person to perform His greatest tasks.
Is He choosing you?
Wednesday – Last Minute Believers
People often say that they are uncomfortable with the parable Jesus tells in today's Gospel. It just doesn't seem fair. Some fellows work hard in the hot sun all day, and others stand around goofing off in the marketplace for most of the day, yet they all receive the same wage. That seems to go against all our ideas of work ethic and just rewards. The guys who worked longer should be paid more, right?
The landowner, and Jesus with him, asks the complainers, “What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?”
Are we envious because our Lord is generous? Are we offended because someone who experiences a genuine deathbed conversion will worship beside us in Heaven? Do we whine because we slog along in our faith year after year while new Catholics zip along ahead of us, basking in their newly-found intimacy with God?
Instead of grumbling, shouldn't we be rejoicing with these last minute believers? Shouldn't they inspire us to pick up the pace in our own faith life and capture a bit of their joy? Shouldn't their example help us break us out of our rut and truly appreciate the great gifts God has given to them and to us?