No one can deny that it’s been difficult to find hope and direction in the world this year. We’ve had to face one challenge after another – the coronavirus, the reality that racism still exists in our world, and the violence and destruction that has taken place has left us wondering if this culture of fear and hate will ever come to an end. We may feel helpless, almost like we can do nothing that will make this situation better. I know I’m not the only one who has prayed fervently for an end to the disease, hate, and fear that plagues our country, and yet these things continue. Why hasn’t God intervened? Has he abandoned us to this punishment of fear and sadness?
Three thousand years ago, a young man named Gideon was wondering the same things.
Before we start talking about Gideon and how he relates to us, you need to know his story. You may or may not already know his story – before last week, I didn’t. If you’re like me, linked here is Judges 6, which tells the story of Gideon’s calling. Go read it (it shouldn’t take long), and then report back here. Ready? Go!
Got it? Good. Let’s recap.
God was upset with the Israelites because they had disobeyed his commands and had begun to worship false gods. Because of this, he allowed them to be taken captive by the Midianites, who reduced the Israelites to poverty and servitude. After seven years of this, the Israelites cried out for God’s help and begged Him to save them from the Midianites. Their prayers were answered in the form of Gideon. A messenger of the Lord appeared to Gideon (although Gideon didn’t recognize him for what he was), and called him to save Israel. Gideon, unsure that the person he was speaking to was really God, asked for a sign. The Lord gave it to him in the form of fire coming out of a rock. Gideon, now realizing who he had been talking to, was scared for his life – but God assured him that he was safe. God then told Gideon to destroy the altars to the false gods in Israel and to build an altar to the Lord. Gideon was scared of what his family and the community would think, so he dismantled the altar during the night, so no one would see him. Then Gideon was “clothed with the spirit of the Lord,” and summoned soldiers and messengers from all around. Even after this, Gideon was still unsure that God was really calling him to save Israel, and asked for two more signs. God fulfilled both of them. In Judges 7-8, Gideon goes on to conquer Midian and peacefully rule Israel for 40 years.
While most of us probably aren’t called to conquer our neighboring city and become their ruler (let me know if you are – I’d love to talk), I think Gideon’s story applies to the present day more than one might think at first glance.
When the angel appears to Gideon and tells him that the Lord is with him, Gideon’s response sounds similar to what ours might be – “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” (Jgs 6:13). When God tells Gideon to save Israel, he protests: “Please, my Lord, how can I save Israel? My family is the poorest in Manasseh, and I am the most insignificant in my father’s house” – like us, Gideon feels as if he can’t do anything to help the situation (Jgs 6:15). He is too young, too poor to solve the problem. Like we might be when God calls us to enact change, Gideon is afraid – he dismantles the altars at night, so no one will see him. And finally, even after he has been “clothed with the spirit,” Gideon still feels unworthy and unsure of this task, and asks God to send him two more signs.
God always calls us to be a change in the world, to make the world a better place. In the papal document Evangelii Gaudium (Latin for Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis states that “it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear” (EG, 23). Preaching the Gospel to all means to spread the love of Christ to all; to speak out against hate, and things that violate Christ’s love; and to live joyfully as witnesses of the Gospel. We may be scared to do these things – we’re facing daunting topics, especially as young people whose voices are often dismissed or ignored – but God assures us that we are meant to do them, and that He will be with us along the way. God tells Gideon to “Go with the strength you have, and save Israel from the power of Midian. Is it not I who send you?” (Jgs 6:14).
“Go with the strength you have,” God tells us. No more, no less. The strength we have is enough; God will work through us and with us despite our fear. He will draw upon our strength to complete His mission.
“Is it not I who send you?” God asks. Even if we don’t have faith in our own strength, God reminds us that it is He who sends us – He who desires us to complete the task. He will enable us to do whatever He wishes us to do, and will give us the grace to accomplish the task he sets before us.
We can’t go out into the world and strike down the coronavirus, racism, or violence with swords. I would venture to say that even if we could, I’m not sure God would want us to. But we can start fighting these things in small ways, and at the same time, preach the joy of the Gospel.
Start making homemade masks, and pray for the people who will wear them. Write letters to people in nursing homes who can’t receive visitors. Pray for families who have lost loved ones to the coronavirus.
Educate yourself about the racism that still exists in our world today. Do not be afraid to speak out against it. Sign petitions or contact your local legislators to ask for justice for those who have been hurt. Pray a rosary for an end to racism in our country, asking Our Lady to protect and watch over us.
Pray for those whose businesses have been destroyed by rioting. If you’re in a position to do so, and you have permission from your parents (or your parents are willing to work with you), work to rebuild your community. Don’t forget about the homeless, especially during this time of chaos – talk to them, and see if you can do anything to help.
If ever you are daunted by what you set out to do, remember how the messenger of the Lord greeted Gideon: The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior! You too are a mighty warrior for the Lord. He is with you wherever you go, always there to console you in your fear.
“Go with the strength you have,” says the Lord. “Is it not I who send you?”