PM: Psalm 33
Today’s readings are, in effect, the stories of three men, each of whom had a job to perform and who, in the course of that performance were discredited or plotted against. Each had a mission and more than enough obstacles in the way of that mission, yet each, in his own way, did what needed to be done.
Samson was, in a way, like Isaac, Samuel, even John the Baptist, in that he was born to a childless couple who had pretty much given up hope of any child at all. From birth he was dedicated as a Nazirite, a dedication to God involving several specific actions: no contact with corpses, refraining from eating or drinking anything that came from a vine (specifically grapes and wine), and the hair must not be cut. That last one played an important part in Samson’s story. Samson’s weakness seemed to be his love of (or lust for) women. Delilah the Philistine was able to worm the secret of Samson’s great strength out of him but she wasn’t the first to use that tactic on him, merely the last one. Once she had the secret she merely waited for Samson to fall asleep and then beckoned in a barber to perform his tonsorial duties. Samson lost his strength, was captured and blinded by the Philistines and put on display like a chained bear. His revenge was to use the strength gained from the regrowth of his hair to pull down the temple in which they were exhibiting him, killing himself but also a huge number of Philistines in the process. It was a deliverance for the Israelites
In the epistle, the deacon Stephen was giving a lengthy oration in front of the council trying him for blasphemy. The speech covered salvation history from Moses to Jesus and, in the reading for today, he is discussing the difficulty Moses had with people who didn’t really accept his leadership or his mission. While Moses was on the mountain conferring with God, the people took things into their own hands and had Aaron make them an idol they could see and worship like the Egyptians. Moses returned to resume leadership over the recalcitrant Israelites although many of them died as a direct result of their disobedience and, many of their descendants would be sent into exile in Babylon for repeating the errors of their ancestors in the desert. Moses survived to bring the Israelites to the borders of the Promised Land but was forbidden to enter it. He died alone but undoubtedly peacefully with God watching over him. Stephen did not die quietly but rather was stoned for his faith. Both accomplished their tasks during their lifetimes which is not a bad epitaph.
Jesus, like Stephen, was killed for doing his job although the Jewish hierarchy and the Romans thought of him as a blasphemer and a troublemaker. Funny how people who do their jobs conscientiously often are seen that way. At any rate, Jesus was doing the things he was supposed to: teaching, preaching, healing, exemplifying what a life lived in God and totally with God was supposed to look and be like. He gained followers during his all-too-brief career as an itinerant preacher and healer but after his death his message spread like wildfire. It is still spreading, but the full import of those teachings has not been realized as there are still poor, hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned, oppressed, damaged and dying people who haven’t yet benefitted from the kind of help Jesus offered and instructed his followers to continue to offer.
Samson had a career as a strong man, able to defeat enemies like a superhero yet he had feet of clay when it came to women. Did Moses have a weakness? Perhaps impatience was his biggest flaw. Stephen probably had weaknesses but they were not part of his story, only the strength of his commitment to the Christ in whom he believed so fervently. Jesus didn’t have a weakness unless it was a heart wide open to the disadvantaged. Yes, there was the Syrophoenician woman who begged for his help but who Jesus tried to rebuff. She didn’t take no for an answer and in her persistence, Jesus changed his mind. Was that a weakness or was it a teaching moment, when he showed his disciples yet again that all should be heard and helped, even if they weren’t people whom the disciples would normally have expected to tend.
From Samson I think I should learn that when someone consistently tries to worm something out of you, even if that someone is a person you’re crazy about, perhaps that’s a sign that maybe that person isn’t the right one to establish any kind of long-term relationship with. Another thing is to not have secrets that anybody would want to know, especially if it could make things dangerous or even deadly.
From Stephen I think I should learn that sometimes service can get you in real trouble but that standing for your beliefs and doing your job, even when the cloud of potential harm or death hangs over your head is the right and honorable thing. If, when threatened, you can calmly give a good speech that directly bears on why you were doing what you were doing, you might win some converts to your position but it might still end up badly. You have to try anyway, though.
From Moses I think the lesson is to keep going forward, even when those surrounding you are busy trying to go in another direction.
From Jesus there are so many lessons to learn that I don’t know that anyone could literally learn them all much less practice them. I’m supposed to try my best, however, and trust that God will look after me. Thinking about it, the trusting part may be the easiest.
From Jesus there are so many lessons to learn that I don’t know that anyone could literally learn them all much less practice them. I’m supposed to try my best, however, and trust that God will look out for me. Thinking about it, the trusting part may be the easiest.
Whether it is holding off people who want to have some leverage, standing up to enemies, herding cats, or getting the message of the gospel across in a way that makes others want to pass it on, I can look to the four men in today’s reading, all of whom faced the challenge of delivering their message.
As every good performer knows, whether it is a great punchline or a message of hope, delivery is everything.
“Philips Galle – Sansão Destrói o Templo dos Filisteus” by Philips Galle – . Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –