“Holding Out for a Hero”
Rev. Tasha Blackburn
October 27, 2019
Once I was walking in a pasture that held sheep. I saw several small groupings of sheep and lambs, jumping and baaing together. Then, around a bend, I saw a solitary lamb. Even from a distance you could tell that he was blind for it was clear he could not see where he was going. His head was bloodied from continually running into the nearby fence and he was alone in his suffering. It was such a sad thing to behold.
It is like when we see a soldier who has been wounded by war. We feel such sadness when we see someone who is suffering because of outside factors. He is the lamb who cannot help his own blindness and who does not ask to suffer like this alone. It is sad.
But when the soldier then abuses his family, or threatens his workplace and his life goes downhill because of what he has done; in short, when his suffering is because of his own sin, when his blindness is self-inflicted and the wounds are from fights he has started himself, well that is worse than sad. It is shattering.
We well know that you don’t have to be a soldier to know about battles in this life. All of us face at least a few. And it is easier for us if we focus on the way the world has damaged us, or an outside enemy has caused our wounds. But the painful truth is that sometimes we are the ones who have wounded ourselves. And sometimes, when we struggle and life is hard, sometimes we deserve it. While there is no clean side to sin, this is certainly the messy side of it.
Samson is just such a person, bloodied by self-inflicted wounds. Samson was supposed to be special. He was set apart from the beginning, a Nazarite from birth, because God had big plans for him. But Samson spends his life proving he is not very special. Instead he is plenty selfish, a bit of an idiot, and prone to terrible violence.
Imagine this, by the time he is blinded and bloodied by the Philistines in our scripture today, he has already killed—at minimum—1,030 people. That is not counting however many people he killed in what is described in chapter 15 as “a great slaughter.” Samson is not so clean as our solitary and suffering lamb. It is difficult to love him; and difficult to root for him because we are pretty sure he is getting what he deserves.
Some of you have been coming to the Sunday School class on the book of Judges as we’ve been learning about it in worship this last month. Those who have done that have had the opportunity to meet these Judges characters up close and personal. Last week, we were discussing the judge Gideon, his antics and his failures. A member of the class raised her hand and said, “I don’t see how God didn’t get tired of trying to work with Gideon and just give up and move on to someone else!”
How indeed? It is such a good question to ask—a good question about Gideon, or Samson, or me, or you. For who should God turn to instead? When God decides to give up on someone, who should God work in and through instead? Who among us would provide God with more?
I have said it before and I will say it again, we miss the entire point of scripture if we believe this is a book full of heroes. Scripture does not introduce us to heroes in these pages. Instead, scripture introduces us to the God who, over and over again, continues to work with and through frail and fraught human beings. Sometimes God even manages to work great and amazing things through them. But that is the point: God works his greatness through them; they are not great themselves.
Samson could have had greatness worked through him. But he chose a life of pridefulness instead. He thought he was as strong as he needed to be and so he didn’t feel he needed anyone else. Of course, as we see him there—his solitary and suffering figure—we can see—even at a distance—how blind he has been. For he has been a captive for a long time, not just since the Philistine’s bound him.
In Samson’s day, having your head shaved meant you were a slave. It meant you were owned by someone else and your life was not your own. Samson, bound and bald, has clearly met that fate but he was just as enslaved when he had a full head of hair. His outside enemy was simply the final detail because he has been suffering in his captivity for a long time. And it has been of his own doing. We all know it; we all see it. He is a menace to himself and others. Now he is getting what he deserves.
And yet. And yet. When it seems Samson will be left to his fate, that he will reap what he has sown, we read this most pregnant of sentences; this most charged of clauses. We read, “But the hair of his head began to grow again…” This shaved slave who is so captive to his sin—his hair begins to grow! His hair, which was the symbol that God was with him, it starts to grow. His brokenness is not the end. At the end, Samson does not get what he deserves.
All of us have a little bit of Samson in us—some pridefulness, a quick temper—and some of us have a lot. We can be callous and actively work to push people away, we can lash out and frighten others and ourselves, we can be blind to what a life with God could be like because we are so consumed with what we are owed here and now. We may be a Samson. We each certainly know one. Samson’s can be hard to love—they are not as simple as the sweet, lonesome lamb.
But, for all the Samsons here today, God has placed in your life that same “and yet.” Things may be bleak—you may be broken by what holds you captive and suffering because of the work of your very own hand. And even in the middle of that, especially in the middle of that: the hair of your head will begin to grow again. Even if you sink in the sin of your own making, God does not give you what you deserve.
The world will look at Samsons and they will only see what is obvious. They just see bad behavior and wasted promise. They see someone who deserves whatever suffering he gets. But God does not see that. For God, Samson is simply a blind and bloodied lamb who is so terribly lost. That is what God sees in Samson, even Samson. Even Samsons.
Our Bible is not a book of heroes. If it were, how could it be for any of us? No, it is a love letter; a love letter to all who have fought battles, who are bound and captive and bloodied. It is especially written for those who did it to themselves. It is a letter that pours out the message over and over again: I promise you won’t get what you deserve. Amen.