After the victory recorded in Judges 4, the song of celebration. This is a political telling, that sets what has taken place in a very particular context. Though all the tribes of Israel benefit from Barak’s victory, only some of the tribes came out to fight alongside him. Others are left – or, ought to be – with great searchings of heart. This is a song of judgement on Israel, as much as a song of triumph. A warning to those who put attending to their own concerns ahead of helping their neighbours, who are also their sisters and brothers.
And having honoured Deborah as the mother of Israel, and Jael as most blessed of women, the song turns to the mother of Sisera, who intuitively knows that something has gone wrong but who – encouraged by her ‘wisest’ ladies-in-waiting – desperately holds on to the false hope of business-as-usual, the powerful exploiting others; powerful women condoning the exploitation of other women by powerful men.
The song concludes with the hope of a lasting freedom, a return of light after the darkness of night.
In the Gospel reading we see a summary of Jesus’ activity of going through the towns and villages. Like the judges of old, he is calling people to his side, in the Lord’s cause. And as the judges found, there were many who wanted the benefits of deliverance without its cost, who turn up for the party after the dust has settled. Others make a cautious, half-hearted response; but these, too, are left with a great heart-searching to be done.
Jesus is the latest in a line of those sent to gather the people together, only to find them resistant. Yet he holds on to a vision that people will gather from east and west, from north and south – whether they are the ones you would expect or not. A people defined not by tribal self-interest, but by a bigger story. One that scorns death; that does not fear laying down a life it cannot keep in exchange for life that cannot be lost. On those who sit in darkness, in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, a great light has dawned...