Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Private Vengeance

Daily Readings
Psalm 89:1-18 + Judges 8:4-32 + Hosea 11:1-11 + Titus 1

Quote of the Day
He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it. Titus 1:9

Daily Text: Judges 8:13-21, 22-23
13When Gideon son of Joash returned from the battle by the ascent of Heres, 14he caught a young man, one of the people of Succoth, and questioned him; and he listed for him the officials and elders of Succoth, seventy-seven people. 15Then he came to the people of Succoth, and said, "Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me, saying, 'Do you already have in your possession the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna, that we should give bread to your troops who are exhausted?'" 16So he took the elders of the city and he took thorns of the wilderness and briers and with them he trampled the people of Succoth. 17He also broke down the tower of Penuel, and killed the men of the city.
18 Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, "What about the men whom you killed at Tabor?" They answered, "As you are, so were they, every one of them; they resembled the sons of a king." 19And he replied, "They were my brothers, the sons of my mother; as the LORD lives, if you had saved them alive, I would not kill you." 20So he said to Jether his firstborn, "Go kill them!" But the boy did not draw his sword, for he was afraid, because he was still a boy. 21Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, "You come and kill us; for as the man is, so is his strength." So Gideon proceeded to kill Zebah and Zalmunna; and he took the crescents that were on the necks of their camels.
22 Then the Israelites said to Gideon, "Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also; for you have delivered us out of the hand of Midian." 23Gideon said to them, "I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you."

Lectio What one word or phrase from the Daily Text leaps out at you? ‘Comment’ below.

Private Vengeance
Gideon, with the LORD’s help has won the battle, and is now in hot pursuit over the Jordan to do the mop up work of battle. Intriguingly, he is refused bread for his 300 men in two successive communities. Why? Could it have been because the leaders of the communities understood that Gideon was misusing his authority in pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna? He threatens the two communities, but presses on to finish the work he is to do, primarily to capture the two commanders, Zebah and Zalmunna, which seem to be his exclusive preoccupation. Then he returns to the two communities and carries out his threats, flailing the leaders of one with ‘thorns of the wilderness and briers’ and destroying a tower and putting to death the men of the second city.

Following that he turns to Zebah and Zalmunna and asks them about a previous raid they had led. They give him the details and suggest that those they killed resembled Gideon. This is the heart of the matter. He swears a terrible oath, one which breaks the commandment not to do what he has just done, Exodus 20:7. Those ‘resembling’ Gideon had been his own brothers, and now he kills the two commanders in revenge, but only after his eldest son, Jether, refuses. This request of his son is also a problematic issue. Maturity is not Gideon’s strong suit.

The story of Gideon is continuously a mixed one. He serves the LORD and he doesn’t. He carries out God’s commands against Midian precisely, and then uses the LORD’s army for private vengeance. Later he refuses to become king acknowledging that the LORD is their king—an important insight into God’s relationship with Israel. But he demands an almost royal allegiance from the people exhibited in his request for gold from the booty the soldiers have collected and makes a golden ephod, evidently a very elaborate priestly garment that like a magnet draws people of Israel to his town and to him as diviner and judge, and in the process the people bow before this ephod as an image in an manner unacceptable to any true follower of YHWH.

Gideon exhibits a streak of maliciousness and vengefulness in all of this seen with the people of Shechem, Penuel, and the commanders of the Midianite troop, that surfaces again in his son Abimelech. By and large he called the people back to YHWH, but it was not to the purity of faith exhibited by Joshua before him. Still, his own intimate experience with the God of Israel, must have marked his life in spite of these visible weaknesses. He was honored all his life and Israel left off worshipping the Baals throughout his lifetime.

Meditatio What would you add to this commentary on the Daily Text? ‘Comment’ below.

Of Rivers, Theologies, and Persons Infamous
Roger Williams, 1771
by Brendan Galvin

The Woonasquatucket, the Sakonnet, its rocks
a terror to hulls, the Taunton, Warren, Swansea
and Moshassuck—boundary waters all,
each involved in our discordances. With
Massachusetts grinding away on one side
and Connecticut on the other, poor Rhode Island
seemed a miserable grain of corn between.
I could say those rivers contribute to this
Narragansett Bay as the sects we admitted
flooded our colony. The Sakonnet might be
the Familists, who believed in direct
inspiration from the Holy Spirit, God’s Law
written on Adam’s heart when His breath
quickened the clay. How many days did I stumble
across the gadfly Samuel Gorton wandering
among the trees at Shawomet, conversing aloud
with the Creator? And let the Pawtuxet River—
where that two-legged beast Richard Chasmore
practiced his lust on a heifer, and William
Harris tried to work his land-lust—stand for
the Quakers, their reliance on a “Divine Light”
within. The Woonasquatucket we might say
represents the Anabaptists, or perhaps
the Antipedobaptists, or the Seventh-day Baptists
or Six Principle Baptists, for we welcomed
whatever Baptist arrived, one and all, even as
these rivers contribute to this bay. Grindletonians,
Ranters, Socinians, Antisabbatarians. With liberty
of conscience all might think as they would,
Anglicans, Jews, even Papists. And so
to Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
came some who held that the Lord was present in
hogs, dogs, and sheep, or that a harlot
was sanctified when she married a godly man.
Conjure any theological point and we housed
its espouser or defender, so long as he made no riot,
provoked no gusts, caused no false military
alarms, and took no part in plots and diggings,
as with Irish pirates or Dutch grave-robbers.
Nor would we welcome persons infamous,
as William Baker, much given to consorting
among Mohegan squaws at Pequot,
nor various wandering self-made squires and “sirs,”
as Captain George Wright, who flew like a cowbird
from bed to bed across these colonies, Plymouth
to Newport to New Netherlands, where he continued
his ungodly sports, apparently with Dutch approval.
Nor the Widow Messenger’s daughter,
Sarah Neale of Boston, great in the belly though unwed,
with a mouth abusive and unstoppable, who called
our town a cage of unclean birds, and yet
would live among us to spite our teeth. The rigider
colonies call us Rogues Island, the latrina
of New England, where everyone thinks otherwise
from everyone. Still, we agree upon freedom of thought
and the walling of civil government from church.
There is no lopping of ears or lives to enforce orthodoxy,
no witch-burning. We have drunk deeply from
the cup of great liberties, none deeper, but I tell you
the din and clash of opposing doctrines has
converted me to a Seeker, one who awaits the cure
of the Second Coming, and wishes some days I had never
sold my trading post at Cocumscussoc, that nest
down this bay in the Narragansett country where
no disturbing hand could reach me, whose name
when I say it to myself is as salutary as
two crows calling across its benign coves.
Image #44:51

(Alternative poem? Include under ‘comment’ below.)

Oratio Conspire to respond with an act of kindness for someone you encounter today. Make it loving, low key and low risk. Hold a door, clean a car, give a flower, notice the unnoticed, make Christ’s love real. Write your experience below under ‘Comment.’

Contemplatio Enjoy what God is doing through you.


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