Three texts with their own surprises today.
Deborah and Barak’s victory song ends straining against the constraints of the genre. Here’s Davis (from her Opening Israel’s Scriptures): “No sooner has Sisera ‘fallen ruined’ (5:27) than the poetic narrator takes us to an elegant house in Canaanite territory, where the enemy commander’s mother waits by the window for his returning chariot. In a surprising shift in point of view, we are admitted to the thoughts of someone we would never expect to know; through her, we see manifested the multiple and conflicting cruelties of war. With one side of her thoughts, Sisera’s mother is the heartless enemy, relishing the picture of his men dividing up the sexual spoils of war—Israelite women, ‘a womb or two for every chieftain’ (5:30). Yet at the same time, she is a woman longing for her son, puzzled that his chariot is ‘shamefully slow to come’ (5:28), more fearful than she admits to herself and her female attendants.” And if we were to let that scene shape our imaginations…
The Acts reading continues Peter’s speech at the Feast of Pentecost. Jesus of Nazareth was divinely credentialed through “miracles, wonders, and signs.” But “You, with the help of wicked men, had Jesus killed by nailing him to a cross.” But as Jesus’ resurrection makes clear, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” The reading breaks off there, to be continued tomorrow. The break invites us to wonder what comes next. Does Peter follow the lead of one of Jesus’ parables (“As for my enemies who don’t want me as their king, bring them here and slaughter them before me” [Lk. 19:27])? CEB) How is Jesus going to play “Lord and Christ”?
There’s a parallel moment in the Matthew reading. “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore…” How’s Jesus going to continue? “So I’m through with you losers and am bringing in the angels to do the job right?” (Recall “Then all the disciples left Jesus and ran away” [Matt. 26:56]!) But Jesus employs this authority to stay vulnerable: “go and make disciples of all nations… I myself will be with you every day.”
We’ve had enough bad experiences of power and authority that words like ‘lord’, ‘authority’, ‘father’, etc. can trigger. Today’s Acts and Matthew texts are important also because they let us watch what Jesus does with power and authority—also so that we can continue to learn how to use these in less destructive ways. “You know that those who rule the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around. But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wants to be first among you will be your slave–just as the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people” (Matt. 20:25-28).