Today’s first reading presents a story from the Book of Judges that parallels St. Luke’s narrative of the Annunciation and Incarnation of Jesus Christ — the story of Samuel.
The implication of pairing this passage from Judges with the Announcement of John the Baptist’s birth in today’s Gospel reading is that both of these figures point forward to the Coming of Christ. The fact that both stories bear strong similarities with the Archangel’s Annunciation to the Virgin Mary also suggest that, in some way, Samuel is what we call a type of Christ, which is problematic, given Samuel’s checkered past.
What are we to make of this?
First, a note on Parallelism and Typology in the Bible
When stories run parallel to one another in the Bible, or in any good literature for that matter, it suggests that the similarities between events are being used to reinforce a significant theme, a literary device called parallelism.
Often we find persons or events in the Old Testament whose characteristics resemble important persons or events in the New Testament, so much so that we can’t help but insist that the former points toward or prefigures the latter, a type of Biblical foreshadowing called typology.
So, for example, Moses the lawgiver and David the anointed king are types of Christ, since in an imperfect way they embody the types of characteristics that the people of Israel ought to identify with Christ, when he comes. We emphasize here in an imperfect way, because if all types of Christ had to be perfect as Christ himself is perfect, there would be no types of Christ.
None of us can measure up to that standard. After all, Moses was a vigilante, David an adulterer. Both were outlaws and murderers. On account of their sins they ended their life in desolation. Then again, Christ too suffered on account of sin, and having been betrayed, died feeling abandoned by his Father. It’s odd how crooked lines run parallel in the Bible.
Odd too is the story of Samson. Before we consider how this beast of a man could possibly stand out as a Christlike figure, let us first consider his shortcomings, just to get those out of the way.
Samson: An Un-Christlike Christ-figure
Failed marriages and prostitutes — the man had a wicked track-record with women. He slaughtered 30 men and plundered their garments just to satisfy a bet he lost. He then storms off pouting and swearing vengeance on the Philistines — not because they are the enemies of God’s people — because he lost a bet to them. Upon returning, He find his Philistine bride married to another man, the best man at his wedding, and a Philistine — starting to sound like a type of Christ? Not really.
And we’re only getting started!
He eats honey he found in the carcass of dead animal and gives some to his parents to eat without telling them where he got it. That’s not just unclean from a kosher standpoint, that’s just unclean!
Finally, the man’s a fool. Time after time, he tells his secrets to women (they happen to be Philistines) who betray him to his sworn enemies (who also happen to be Philistines). Is there any moral to this story other than don’t fall for Philistine women?
And what does any of this have to do with Advent?
We’ll get to that in a moment. For now, we can at least establish that Samson was not good at making friends. Not a team player. Let’s put aside his shortcomings (for the time being) and move on to what makes him a type of Christ.
How is the Lion Killer like the Gentle Lamb Lead to the Slaughter?
Let’s start with what the liturgical readings for today tell us. Samson’s unlikely birth was foretold by an angel. That story is echoed twice more in the stories of the Prophet Samuel and John the Baptist, before culminating in the story of Jesus. The accounts are thereby linked such that these forerunners point forward to the coming of the Messianic King: Samuel to David; John to Jesus; and hence, the story of Samson too points forward to the coming of Christ the King, who would come to redeem his people, Israel.
Samson was a Nazirite, that is, consecrated to God in the womb, like Samuel and John; and hence, like Christ.
Samson slaughters a lion, with relative ease, because of his God-given strength; hence, like Christ, he fears no evil.
He is handed over to his enemies by the Israelites, his own people, only to seize the opportunity to destroy the enemy, in an unlikely way, by wiping them out with the jawbone of an ass he found lying on the ground — thus overcoming and destroying evil, in an unforeseen manner.
One might envision the wrathful Samson as Jesus, who makes a whip out of chords and flips over tables in the temple, unimpeded. Wrathful Samson might have even entered the pharisees’ minds when they questioned Jesus on that matter, to which Jesus responded by alluding to the destruction of the Temple.
In accord with God’s plan, Samson is betrayed by his beloved. His enemies blind him, torture him, and mock him. Samson prays to God one last time, asking to die in an act of sacrifice that would bring down Israel’s enemy (which in the Bible is always an allegory for sin). With arms outstretched pressing on the pillars supporting the temple, Samson offers up his body, the temple comes crashing down, and the leaders of the Philistines are all destroyed. The final victory over the Philistines would belong to David, the Anointed King of Israel. The final victory over sin would belong to Christ.
We have it on good authority that Samson’s name and example belong among those who bear witness to Christ with their faithful lives. As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews says:
By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with the disobedient, for she had received the spies in peace. What more shall I say? I have not time to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, did what was righteous, obtained the promises; they closed the mouths of lions, put out raging fires, escaped the devouring sword; out of weakness they were made powerful, became strong in battle, and turned back foreign invaders. (Heb. 11:31-34)
None of those mentioned in this passage lived spotless lives. Apparently, as far as God is concerned, that’s not the point we should focus on here.
Though we are sinners, like all types of Christ in the Bible, we are still made in God’s image and likeness. After all, Jesus Christ is like us in all things except for sin. That is why we can look beyond the ugly shortcomings in ourselves and others to see Christ in the advent of everyday.
If we can see Christ in these unlikely icons, we can surely see him when he comes again.