The fifteenth day of Lent
Friday after 2 Lent
Just as every Sunday is a little Easter, every Friday is a little Good Friday. The new life that is celebrated in the light of every Sunday begins in the shadows of Friday when we remember that the Son of God "went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified." Darkness and light are persistent themes throughout the sacred history that is presented to us in the Bible, from the darkness at creation which is broken when God said, "Let there be light," to the darkness at the sixth hour on Good Friday that cannot overcome the Light of the world even as he hangs dying on the Cross. The cosmic struggle between darkness and light is represented again and again in the smaller struggles we read about in the history of God's people and each Friday in Lent we are reflecting on one of those prefiguring events.
Judges 16:18-19, 21-23, 25-26, 28-30
When Delilah saw that Samson had told her all his mind, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, "Come up this once, for he has told me all his mind." Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her, and brought the money in their hands. She made him sleep upon her knees; and she called a man, and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him.... And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with iron fetters; and he ground at the mill in the prison. But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.
Now the lords of the Philistines gathered to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to rejoice; for they said, "Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand." ...So they called Samson out of the prison, and he made sport before them. They made him stand between the pillars; and Samson said to the lad who held him by the hand, "Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, that I may lean against them." ...Then Samson called to the Lord and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me. I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be avenged upon the Philistines for one of my two eyes." And Samson grasped the two middle pillars upon which the house rested, and he leaned his weight upon them, his right hand on one and his left hand on the other. And Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines." Then he bowed with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people that were in it. So the dead whom he slew at his death were more than those whom he had slain during his life.
Abel was murdered, Joseph was sold into slavery, but Samson was the agent of his own descent into darkness. He was a man who had it all: the hand of God was upon him from the moment of his conception and he was endowed with superhuman strength. He used his strength against the enemies of his people, but his story is not so much the story of a great hero as of a man of great passion whose great gifts were also his downfall. He came to believe he was invincible and could have anything he wanted. Finally, passion overcame sense and he found himself in the hands of his enemies who bound him, blinded him, and made him a slave. Even at the end, Samson's motives are mixed. He calls upon God for help and exacts a terrible price from the Philistines for their enmity. Samson sacrifices himself: this is certainly of benefit to his people, but the truth is that he does so out of personal vengeance--"for one of my two eyes." We see our own humanity in Samson as he fails to see beyond himself and seeks only selfish revenge. We also see how God can use both the evil that sometimes befalls us and even our own mixed motives to accomplish his purposes. Finally, we are able to look ahead to the one who suffers betrayal and humiliation, and yet goes to his death, as a sacrifice for all, with words of forgiveness on his lips.
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