The opening of chapter 3 sets the stage for the entire period of the Judges and even beyond that until the exile to an extent. The nations left in the land because Israel failed to clear them out, will not be a snare for them and a thorn in their side.
This begins a cycle of them falling into serious national sin, then they are subjugated by one or more of these nations, then they cry out for deliverance and are answered, but as soon as the Judge dies they go back to sin. It’s easy to look at this and think “wow, why are they so stupid to keep doing the same thing over and over” but in the course of our Christian lives this story is our story too. We often fall into the same sins and then have to repent and try to turn from it, but we may fail a dozen more times, and each time God is willing to bring us back like the father from the prodigal son.
Some of the Judges have very average stories, their fight for freedom would’ve been hard and arduous, but wouldn’t stand out as a story, but then some of them have details that stay with you forever. Two of those we read today, one where an enemy king is so fat that his assassin looses his sword in his abdomen, and the other is the general for the king of the Canaanites being chased by Deborah and Barak when he enters the tent of who he assumed was a neutral party. His assumption was very wrong, and he ends up with a tent peg driven through his temple for his mistake.
We hear two back to back parables in the beginning of the 18th chapter of Luke. The first teaches is to be persistent in prayer, and continue praying even when we feel like we aren’t getting an answer. The second teaches us to be humble in prayer and always recognize that we are sinners who’ve been given a priceless gift by God, and our will should always be subordinate to his.
Three principal parables on prayer are transmitted to us by St. Luke:
-The first, “the importunate friend,” invites us to urgent prayer: “Knock, and it will be opened to you.” To the one who prays like this, the heavenly Father will “give whatever he needs,” and above all the Holy Spirit who contains all gifts.
-The second, “the importunate widow,” is centered on one of the qualities of prayer: it is necessary to pray always without ceasing and with the patience of faith. “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
-The third parable, “the Pharisee and the tax collector,” concerns the humility of the heart that prays. “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” The Church continues to make this prayer its own: Kyrie eleison!
While the Pharisees were a major political/religious group that was well respected and supported by the majority of the population, a tax collector was the worst kind of sinner. The way Roman taxes worked was they set a quota for an area or populations, and then farmed out the collections to independent contractors who got to keep whatever they could rob, steal or extract from the populace.
So not only were they collaborating with the occupying forces, like the Vichy regime in France during WWII, they were also deeply dishonest and thieves for the most part. There may have been honest tax collectors, but in the public mind they did not exist, which makes Jesus using them in this parable even more of an explicit example of a sinner.