Psalms 1 and 4; Judges 4: 1 – 24 and Luke 4: 16 – 30
The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera. Judges 4: 1 – 2
And (Jesus) said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town’. Luke 4: 24
O God, the strength of all them that put their trust in thee: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without thee, grant us the help of thy grace, that in the keeping of thy commandments we may please thee both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Collect for First Sunday after Trinity
Although Israel had experienced the power of God during the period of the exodus from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan, they soon forgot the covenant they had made with God at Sinai. Under Joshua the initial phase of the conquest of the promised land was accomplished. The land was divided among the tribes and, while the elders who had known Joshua were alive, things had gone well. But idolatry came to be tolerated among them, and intermarriage with the Canaanites was common. The book of Judges describes the ups and downs of the forgetfulness of the Israelites, as sometimes they were ruled well (as under King Ehud), but then drifted away. It seemed to take another military calamity, or period of foreign oppression, to wake them up from their neglect of God and His ways, and then they would cry out for help accompanied by promises (soon forgotten) that they would be obedient.
Sisera, the enemy commander with nine hundred chariots, was a very real threat. But under Deborah’s leadership, a divine instruction was given to Barak to mobilise ten thousand soldiers, who duly routed the enemy. Sisera escaped on foot and sought refuge in what appeared to be a friendly tent. However, we read that Jael the wife of Heber, who had seemed sympathetic to Sisera, then hammered a tent peg through his temple while he slept. The chapter ends with King Jabin of Canaan subdued by God and a period of forty years of peace ensuing. If you look ahead to the beginning of chapter six you will see how things then went badly wrong yet again and they came under oppression from Midian for seven years. The cycle of spiritual decay and disobedience went on, with intermittent revivals as we shall see next week.
Move ahead to our reading from Luke 4 and we see Jesus at the beginning of his teaching and healing ministry. All seems to be well as Jesus – the local lad who had become an itinerant teacher – addressing people he would have known well from his upbringing in the Nazareth synagogue. He reads from the scroll of Isaiah (our chapter 61) and then sits down to teach. The people are agog to hear him and readily received his opening declaration that the prophecy was being fulfilled that very day, marvelling at the grace of his words. However, the mood changes rapidly, as Jesus discerns that it is the reputation of his recent miraculous deeds in Capernaum that is actually attracting them. He perceives they really just want to see the gimmick of apparent tricks, and that their very familiarity with him (as with earlier prophets meeting with hostility on home territory) meant his message would fall on stony ground. The vehemence of what Jesus said – hard-hitting, but true – turned the atmosphere instantly to one of aggressive protest. Luke recounts that all in the synagogue were filled with rage, drove him out of town and were about to hurl him from the cliff on which the town was built. Jesus is described in verse 30 as passing through the midst of them and going on his way. How he achieved this is unknown, but presumably by sheer majesty of character.
How similar this all seems to the events of Palm Sunday, with initial adulation from the crowds turning to shouts of ‘Crucify him!’ within a few days. How fickle people can be, often finding the courage of the mob to say or do things that may be out of character. As with our Old Testament passage, we see how easily apparently God-fearing people can fall into the sin of rebellion against God. Our Collect captures this thought by identifying our mortal natures as being at fault. Without God’s grace and strength ‘we can do no good thing’. The writer of the Collect clearly has Psalm 1 in mind where, in verse 2, those who are blessed are the ones who take their delight in the law of the Lord. These faithful people are like trees planted by streams of water, with strong roots, nourished constantly, and bearing fruit in its season. Psalm 4 is also helpful in directing our thoughts in a God-ward direction. Whatever temptations and threats may come upon us in life, we pray that the light of God’s face will shine on us and keep us in spiritual security and peace, trusting God for everything.
Kevin Boak, Lay Reader