(Guido Reni’s rendition of Samson slaying the Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
Daily Office Readings for Friday, August 17, 2018:
Samson is a complex character in the Old Testament–certainly deeper than what we might have learned in Sunday School as children. On one hand, he accomplishes great things. He exhibits extraordinary bravery and amazing feats of strength. On the other hand, his carnal appetite and his impetuousness constantly gets him into trouble. He’s a man who, since before birth, was part of a strict religious code–even his parents were instructed to adhere to a strict Nazirite discipline when Samson was a fetus–Yet his acts of impetuousness are clearly un-Nazirite.
In today’s reading, we catch Samson at the height of his impetuous, vindictive behavior. When Samson returns from having killed thirty men at Ashkelon (and, mind you, he killed them because they figured out his riddle with his wife’s help), he discovers that his father-in-law has sent Samson’s wife off to be with his best man. To add insult to injury, his father-in-law tries to pawn off her younger sister on him.
If you thought Samson was out of control in the previous chapter of Judges, he’s gone completely gonzo now! Still angry at the Philistines, he rounds up 300 foxes, sets fire to their tails, and turns them loose in the Philistine’s wheat fields. (The poor foxes even get thrown under the bus!)
Needless to say, this kind of behavior doesn’t go unanswered. The Philistines figure out who is behind this and burn Samson’s wife and father. Of course, Samson has to counter THAT. So he slaughters a few more of them and then goes and hides out in the cleft of a rock in Etam.
Surprise, surprise, the Philistines can’t let that go unanswered, so they take it out on the people of Judah. The folks of Judah, caught in the middle, eventually catch up to Samson with the intention to bind him up…but no, Samson gets loose and knocks off a thousand more of the Philistines with the jawbone of some poor dead donkey.
It’s a perfect example of the quote attributed to the late Mahatma Gandhi, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”
Before we dismiss Samson as an extreme case, well…let’s all take a deep breath.
Ever got bound up in an argument where we simply had to “win?”
Ever kept a contentious discussion on social media going simply to have the last word?
Ever felt jealous over another person to the point we simply can’t let them be happy but need to “guilt” them?
Yep…I think every one of us is guilty as charged. (Trust me, I’m right there with you.)
In a world where events and people leave us so polarized, before we hit that “send” button, before we open our mouth, before we start to scheme the way we’re going to one-up that other person, perhaps we need to consider the carnage we are about to leave lying around…and admit that the healing won’t start until we stop lighting fox tails and lay that donkey jawbone down. We can’t change the behavior of others, but we can change our own behavior.
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri as Interim Pastor at Church of the Good Shepherd and Chaplain of the Community of St. Brigid, both in Town and Country, MO.