Pentecost 19 October 20, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14—4:5; Luke 18:1-8

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

The parable in today’s gospel

is often called

the parable of the Unjust Judge

but it could just as easily be called

the parable of the Persevering Widow.

 

She got

the justice she deserved

despite being a woman and a widow

in first century Palestine . . .

 

a woman, with no voice outside her home,

a widow, apparently without a son,

and so, with no man

to speak for her in public.

 

She was alone and vulnerable,

her desperation evident

in her continual appearing

before the local magistrate

 

despite his constant refusal

to take up her case.

 

 

It was no secret

that the judge

was not a God-fearing man.

 

In fact,

he seems

rather proud of it.

 

Not being a God-fearing man,

he felt no obligation

to observe the Torah’s mandate

to care for the poor and unfortunate,

especially widows and orphans.

 

Nor, apparently, did he care

about doing the right thing

for the people

who brought their cases before him.

 

His decisions

had more to do with

what would best serve

his own public persona.

 

In the back of his mind,

he was always aware

of the opinion of others . . .

 

For he did not sit

on a high bench

in a closed courtroom

away from the public eye.

 

 

Plaintiffs came before him

in the marketplace

bringing their concerns small and large,

from a quarrel with a neighbor

to accusations of theft,

adultery,

even murder . . .

 

while

supporters of both parties,

along with the interested

and the curious,

looked on,

making their own judgments.

 

 

At first, the widow

was just a minor annoyance,

like a fly

buzzing around his head,

to be impatiently batted away.

 

But her constant pleading

day after day

in the sight of all those onlookers,

astonished at her audacity

and perhaps moved by her plight,

soon became a major embarrassment

to the judge.

 

 

In a culture in which honor

was the core value,

his judicial honor,

and possibly his livelihood,

were at stake.

 

So he relented.

 

In the New Revised Standard Version,

the translation of the Bible we use,

he rationalized his surrender

this way:

“I will grant her justice,

so that she will not wear me out

by continually coming.”

 

The original Greek text

uses a word associated with boxing

which, instead of “wear me out”

could be translated,

“give me a black eye . .  . “

 

I will grant her justice

so that I won’t lose face,

so that I won’t be shamed,

won’t lose my position

of importance and power.

 

The persevering widow

had backed him

into a corner.

 

 

And isn’t that how

the poor, the outsiders,

the powerless,

when they have had no voice

and no one to stand with them,

have always had to operate

to obtain what is rightfully theirs . . .

 

by subterfuge, stratagem,

out-maneuvering

those who hold all the cards . . .

 

A world

where no one

has to resort to such tactics

to obtain justice

might look a whole lot

like the Kingdom of God.

 

 

That the parable

introduces the judge

before the widow

suggests that its focus

is on the judge,

the insider,

the one with the power

to do what he will,

the one who does not fear God

or have respect for anyone.

 

 

“If such a person,”

asks Jesus,

“if such a person

will finally give to a widow

what she deserves,

(and that only to avoid

a loss of face),

 

how much more will God,

whose very nature is Justice,

vindicate those

who cry out to God?”

 

God will not long delay

in helping God’s chosen ones,

God will quickly grant justice to them.

 

 

And in that assertion lies a problem for us . . .

and a challenge.

 

The problem:

 

From the time of Adam and Eve until now,

from what we are able to see,

justice for the vulnerable

and disenfranchised

of this world

comes slowly, if at all.

 

 

How can we possibly reconcile

the promise of this parable

with the desperation and need

we see all around us . . .

 

in the poor,

the oppressed,

the victimized,

the discriminated against,

whose cries for justice

seemingly die out unanswered?

 

Perhaps we can’t reconcile it

because that’s not what the parable

was originally about.

 

It follows

a lengthy and dire passage in Luke’s gospel

laying out the suffering and danger

that will come

with being a Jesus follower . . .             [

Luke 17:20-37]

 

Remember how the parable begins:

 

“Jesus told the disciples

a parable about their need to pray always

and not to lose heart.”

 

Luke’s purpose

was to encourage

the small community

for whom he shaped his gospel.

 

 

The example of the Persevering Widow

was for a church

trying to survive in a hostile environment

some 40 or 50 years after the

death, resurrection, and ascension

of Jesus . . .

 

. . .  eagerly expecting, in their lifetime,

his promised return

and the establishment

of the kingdom he proclaimed

 

. . . . and, in the ever-lengthening interim,

struggling

with how to remain hopeful and faithful

 

and perhaps feeling unheard by God:

 

“Give us the kingdom now.”

 

The response:

Pray always and don’t lose heart.

 

How to be faithful disciples

in the meantime.

 

 

The challenge for us

in the still-lengthening meantime,

 

in our very own, very mean, time:

 

the parable is not so much about

what we can expect from God

in the future,

but rather, what God expects from us

right now

for the sake of the future . . .

 

The parable’s promise of justice

for God’s “chosen”

must not be limited to the members

of small beleaguered

Christian communities

of the past

or today,

 

for from the beginning

God saw all that God had made

and called it “very good”

 

and God has chosen

all of it,

humans and animals

and all the natural world,

to live in the embrace

of God’s expansive justice.

 

 

So what does faith look like

in this world of hurt

where multitudes,

unlike the widow,

go to their graves

never having seen

the justice they deserve?

 

The followers of Jesus,

and all lovers of God,

are meant to be God’s promise of justice

active in the here and now . . .

 

are meant

to hear, to listen to, to respond to

the cries of God’s poor and needy,

to do justice for and with

the disenfranchised among us.

 

To hear, to listen, to respond,

to pray, not lose heart,

and act.

 

 

 

Perhaps we might see

in the persevering widow

our sorrowing and persevering God . . .

 

pleading with us

to set aside our own

self-centeredness

and self-interest

to do justice

for all God’s people,

all God’s Creation . . .

 

God pleading with us

to be God’s voice

proclaiming justice and peace

in a divisive and violent time.

 

Who among us,

hearing the pleas of the widow,

seeing the callousness of the unjust judge,

will step forward to stand with the woman,

and all like her,

to add our voices to their demands?

 

 

I don’t find my parsing of this parable

particularly satisfying –

 

it’s not very neat is it?

 

but then we don’t preach

a gospel of satisfaction and neatness here,

do we?

 

 

Satisfaction and neat solutions

are not what God has in mind.

 

Discomfort is more like it . . .

 

discomfort with the way things are,

driving a stubborn determination

and perseverance

to be part of the way

things can and should be.

 

 

One of the prayers the presider may choose

to collect or sum up our Prayers of the Assembly,

(our intercessions for the church and the world)

asks God to

“Mercifully accept the prayers of your people,

and strengthen us to do your will.”                                   [BCP p. 394]

 

A dangerous prayer,

coupled with the dangerous prayer

we all pray together

at the end of our liturgy:

 

“Send us now into the world in peace,

and grant us strength and courage

to love and serve you

with gladness and singleness of heart . . .”

 

 

The God of all justice chooses to act

in and through us

to right the wrongs of this world,

no matter how inept and foolish and weak

this strategy may seem.

 

The God of all power

chooses

a way of powerlessness

revealed by the cross,

 

a way of crucifixion

for the sake of resurrection,

 

a way we follow

in our own baptized and cruciform

and, yes, risen lives.

 

We may wish this were not the way.

 

Like Jacob,

we may wrestle with the God

whose way this is,

and come away wounded.

 

But if we hold to the struggle,

hold to God,

we will also come away blessed.

 

We who have been baptized into Christ Jesus

were baptized into his death,

so that just as Christ was raised from the dead,

we too may walk in newness of life.

[paraphrase Romans 6:3-4]

“Will you strive for justice and peace

and respect the dignity of every human being?”

we are asked at our baptism

and every time we renew our baptismal vows.

 

“I will,” we say, “with God’s help.”

 

It’s on us . . .

with God’s help.

 

And so our need . . .

our need . . .

 

to pray always for strength and courage

and not to lose heart.

 

 

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