Then Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshipped the Baals; and they abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord, and worshipped Baal and the Astartes. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers who plundered them, and he sold them into the power of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them to bring misfortune, as the Lord had warned them and sworn to them; and they were in great distress.
Then the Lord raised up judges, who delivered them out of the power of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen even to their judges; for they lusted after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their ancestors had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord; they did not follow their example. Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they would relapse and behave worse than their ancestors, following other gods, worshipping them and bowing down to them. They would not drop any of heir practices or their stubborn ways.
They failed to destroy the peoples
as the Lord had given command,
but instead they mingled with the nations
and learned to act like them. (R./)
They worshipped the idols of the nations
and these became a snare to entrap them.
They even offered their own sons and daughters
in sacrifice to demons. (R./)
So they defiled themselves by their deeds
and broke their marriage bond with the Lord
till his anger blazed against his people;
he was filled with horror at his chosen ones. (R./)
Time after time he rescued them,
but in their malice they dared to defy him.
In spite of this he paid heed to their distress,
so often as he heard their cry. (R./)
Someone came to Jesus and said, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself."
The young man said to him, "I have kept all these; what do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
The era of the judges covers two centuries, roughly 1200 to 1000 b.c., from the first Israelite invasion of Canaan under Joshua until the start of the monarchy under king Saul. In that era Israel faced successive crises, that feature in the colourful, often violent, stories of the Book of Judges. The book gathers prayers used in celebration, like Deborah’s poetic masterpiece in ch. 5, or tales told in the light of campfires at night, like the bawdy exploits of Ehud in 3:12-30 or of Samson in chaps. 13-16. Together they weave a theological thread, whose pattern marks today’s text: 1) sin leads to sorrow and oppression; 2) grief leads the people to beg God for mercy; 3) God sends them a judge or national hero; 4) peace and prosperity are restored for a time, only to degenerate again into sinful ways. And so the cycle starts all over again.
The stories in Judges often mirror our own lives. We too tend to ignore God more in time of success than of failure. The Bible sees Canaan as the land of promise, the goal of the exodus, the reward of the patriarchs who were buried in its earth. But the very prosperity of the land poses risks and temptations, inducements to selfishness and class-distinctions. Whenever misuse of talents and property leads to humiliation and loss, the theology of this book sees the chastening hand of God. The Bible sees the punishment of sin as disciplinary, to purify us anew and help us start over again.
Jesus teaches that the best use of gifts, talents and assets is to share them. All are called to generous sharing; and some may be called to give up everything and to own literally nothing for the sake of the kingdom. Radically, all are asked to share as God’s worldwide family. This links into the mystery of the kingdom, where the only worthwhile actions are motivated by love.
There is something appealing about the young man’s urgent question, that of a person seeking ideals to live by. This young man was earnest about finding spiritual meaning and purpose. It is a vital question, "What must I do to gain eternal life?" In reply Jesus named several commandments, about how to be just to others. The way to life is to be life-giving and law-abiding. This young man was not satisfied with this answer because he was already doing all of this, and felt there was more he could be giving of himself. When Jesus revealed what this "more" might be, it seemed too big an ask, He invited the rich young man to sell his property and give his money to the poor. It was too big a sacrifice, so the lad declined and went his way "grieving", perhaps wondering what might have been..
Such a challenging, austere lifestyle is not for all. Yet, for each of us, the path to life, the path God wants us to follow, will always include some self-denial and an unselfish relationship to others. By his teaching and example, Jesus shows us all what we must do to gain eternal life.