Those of us who use the two year Daily Office lectionary are in the midst of Judges, the bible’s version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales populated by every sort of villain and hero with literary morals buried in unexpected places. I’ve often wondered what caused this collection of stories to come to us in the form that we now have them, and whether they were used by the teachers as entertaining object lessons within a deeper catechism of the faith.
This morning, for instance, we were introduced to Micah and a young “Levite” from Bethlehem. It’s an odd story right from the start. Micah stole an enormous fortune in silver from his mother and then gave it back. His mom, grateful to him for returning what he stole, celebrated by having some of the silver cast into an idol that was installed in a classy little household shrine. Micah was at least old enough to have a son whom he installed as an ersatz priest for this no mix, no fuss, instant religion. That’s Micah.
Then along came the young “Levite” from Bethlehem who had been previously introduced as being of the family of Judah. Now one can either be of the tribe of Judah or the tribe of Levi, but it has to be one or the other. So it appears that our young “Levite” was masquerading as a legitimate levitical priest, possibly because he truly desired to be one. In any case, the story will go on for a few more days in which the plot will be enriched by duplicity upon duplicity climaxed by the story of the tribe of Dan, whose ethical behavior makes Pancho Villa’s gang look like a band of angels.
What we get out of the book of Judges is the story. What we don’t get is the extended moral teaching that must have followed from it. That is left to our imagination. Suppose you were telling this story, with appropriate eerie embellishments, sitting around the bonfire at church camp. How would you finish it as a moral lesson that would bring the campers back to a greater, more profound awareness of their own lives in relationship with God? Would it include anything at all about the presumed prehistory of these people that included Moses, Joshua and Deuteronomy? Would there be a place for Jesus and the Resurrection? Does it relate in any intelligible way to our own day and time as experienced by campers around a bonfire? How about to business executives around a conference table?