The Bible is a book of battles, both literal battles that take place on fields of combat and spiritual battles that take place in our souls.
Today’s scripture from the Book of Judges is about literal battles, wars that took place as the Israelites exerted violent force to reclaim their ancestral lands. The Book of Judges is about a warlike time, and it recalls both military defeats and victories. One of the heroes of these war stories is the warlord Gideon, who is not only described as a brilliant military tactician, but a man of charismatic religious intensity, chosen by God for the purpose of protecting the Israelites from their enemies.
The Israelites believed that God fought on their behalf and each of their military victories were credited to divine intervention. Defeats were correlated to their infidelity to God. The Israelites sincerely believed that they were justified in taking up arms against their enemies and also believed that their cause was justified by God’s command.
These beliefs might make us uncomfortable. But they are the reality of the biblical text.
The great saints and sages of the Church insisted that the war stories of the Bible be interpreted spiritually. They represent God in Christ’s resistance to the dark powers of sin, death and the devil. These are our true enemies. These biblical war stories instruct us that we make ourselves vulnerable to these dark powers if we are not faithful to God. God in Christ will act to defeat the dark powers, but we must let him, follow his instructions, and do what he asks us to do. And finally, God in Christ resists and ultimately defeats the dark powers, not through employing worldly weapons or political schemes, but through the overwhelming power of his will to love, his will to forgive, and his will to redeem. In his will to love, forgive and redeem are found the weapons of the spirit, weapons he employed to defeat the dark powers in the battle of his suffering and death- weapons that he has given to his faithful so that they can share in his victory.
Today’s scripture from the Book of Judges isn’t just about battles, it also portrays an extraordinary sacrifice in which the elements of a meal are consumed by heavenly fire in the presence of an angel.
This strange story is meant as a foreshadowing of the Eucharistic mystery, at which the elements of a meal are transformed by the Holy Spirit into the divine life and presence of the Lord Jesus. From our earthly perspective, this transformation is not perceived by the senses and we must make an act of faith that God in Christ has accomplished what he has promised. But from the perspective of heaven, from that of the angels and saints, the great transformation of the Eucharistic mystery looks very much like what is described today in the Book of Judges.
Christ warns us yesterday and today about our attachments to wealth and how such attachments can be a detriment to our ultimate purpose, which is to become ever more Christ-like, and in becoming Christ-like, become a saint.
His observation about a camel passing through a needle’s eye is about how our attachments to worldly attainments- like wealth, pleasure, power and honor, prevent us from being Christ-like. Rather than becoming like him, we become like them. Communion with Christ becomes impossible, for our attachments block our access to him.
Wealth, pleasure, power and honors are glamorous illusions and they can only be redeemed if they are surrendered to Christ and transformed by generosity, self-denial, service and humility. If this redemption is not accomplished or if we resist it, the risk to our souls is great. Eventually, these things will all be stripped away and if worldliness has been all that we are, what will remain?
In our attachments to worldliness, to wealth, pleasure, power and honors, we foolishly risk gaining the world and losing our soul!