Last week we read from the first book in what the Scripture scholars call "the Deuteronomic Corpus." The underlying theme of these books is the understanding that the Israelites have that the Sinai covenant is conditional. God will protect them IF they are loyal to the covenant. So when disaster falls, they immediately look for the culprit who has brought this misfortune upon them through his disobedience of the Law.
This week we read from the Book of Judges, the second book in this body of work. We will hear of twelve judges. Six of the stories will be rather brief, but six of them will be lengthier. The most famous of the judges would be Samson. However, he is only one of twelve. These men and women were instrumental in calling Israel back to fidelity to the covenant. When we listen to the stories in this book of the Bible, it is difficult to believe that the Israelites swore allegiance to God in the final chapter of the Book of Joshua.
Depending upon your interest, you might be disappointed that the Lectionary for Mass only chooses four passages from this book. (This week we will only hear the stories of two of the judges because of a feast day on Thursday.) It is difficult to get a true sense of the contents of this book from those four passages.
I am sure that the Church chooses not to include the whole book in the Lectionary for Mass because the stories are somewhat repetitive. As Carroll Stuhlmueller once wrote about these stories: “a theological thread weaves its way. . . 1) sin always brings sorrow and oppression; 2) pain and slavery induce people to cry to God for mercy; 3) God replies by sending a liberating judge; 4) liberation brings a new period of peace that degenerates into injustice and sensuality.” This pattern is repeated twelve times in the two hundred years between the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan under Joshua and the reign of King David.
It is important to remember as we read these stories that they are important because they reveal that God's love is unconditional, that God is the model of forgiveness, that it is God who forgives seven times seven times.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.