The story of Samson is one of the most memorable in the Bible. Samson was a man of great physical strength, whose power was given to him for the purpose of protecting the Israelites from their enemies.
His story is set during the time that preceded the establishment of the Kingdom of David. There was no central authority that governed the tribes of the Israelites. The people entrusted themselves to men and women called judges to direct their affairs. The Israelites were subjects of foreign rulers who cared little for their way of life and demonstrated contempt for the God of Israel. Samson is God’s response to the Israelites cries to God to be delivered from tyranny. He is remembered as one of the Israelite judges, but he was more of a weapon than anything else- and a very dangerous weapon!
Today, we learn about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the birth of Samson. Samson was chosen by God for a mission, even before he was born, and his parents are advised by an angelic messenger to take pre-cautions in regards to their son, so that he will be able to accomplish the mission that God gives to him.
The Church presents this excerpt from the story of Samson to us today as a reference point for our understanding another man of great power, John the Baptist. John, like Samson, was chosen by God for a specific mission, even before he was born.
The idea that God chooses our mission might sound strange to people like us who are embedded in a culture that prizes personal freedom and choice above anything else. One’s mission in life is self-directed- I alone choose who we are and what we want to do. God is only invited into this after our decision has been made so that he can give sanction to our choice.
Our culture’s vision is contrary to that of the Bible, where it is always much more important to conform oneself to God’s will than anything else. In fact, a self-directed life is almost always in the Bible identified with those who are placing themselves in opposition to God.
In terms of the Bible, the most important decision in regards to our lives is the decision to do what God asks you to do. It is only from this vantage point that one can accomplish one’s mission, and realize the purpose God has bestowed on you.
Today’s Gospel provides an account of how the father of John the Baptist came to know his son’s mission.
Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, is an Israelite priest, and while engaged in the prescribed rites for temple worship, he is visited by an angel of the Lord. This angel speaks to Zechariah about his son, and rather than accept God’s will, Zechariah protests, and his doubts indicate resistance, rather than acceptance of the mission his son is to receive.
This resistance to the divine plan renders Zechariah mute, since he was unwilling to praise and thank God for his son’s mission, he will be compelled to be silent until his son is born.
Then, and only then, will he be able to speak.
The idea that there are consequences for our resistance to God’s plan is repellent to many in our culture, but it is one of the great insights of the Bible. In terms of a biblical vision, the worst thing we can do is to resist God when he asks us to do his will.
Further, when you consider what resisting God’s will brings about in the lives of other people mentioned in the Bible, Zechariah’s punishment is relatively easy.
What lesson is there for us?
One way to look at Zechariah’s resistance is that what the angel announced about his son challenged his own expectations. Not only was he very quick to tell God what was possible or impossible, but also it might have been the case that his own desires for what his son would accomplish were different from what God had in mind. Zechariah was disappointed. Zechariah’s son would not fulfill his expectations.
Children are not the property of their parents. They belong to God. Every parent’s child is God’s child first and they are given over to our care, not in the manner that one owns a piece of property, but as a living gift that must one day return to the Giver.
A parent’s mission is to prepare the child for this day, and this happens when we help the child to understand that God has a purpose in mind for their life that exceeds their own desires and interests. A parent’s mission is to help their child discern the mission God gives to their son or daughter. A parent does not give their child their mission, God does. The parents duty is to help their child understand this mission and accept it.
Resisting a child’s God given mission, treating one’s children as if they are merely extensions of a parent’s desires and goals, will frustrate God’s purposes. If tempted in this regard, it might be good to remember the story of Zechariah.
Resisting God’s purposes is never without consequences.