A sermon for Proper 24; Jeremiah 31:27-34, Psalm 119:97-104, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Luke 18:1-8
Down the drive alone
aches of the head persist
un-sensual defining presence
So, now you know, I’m not a poet.
We are all familiar with the parable of the unjust judge, which perhaps ought to be known as the parable of the persistent widow. And we will never know because the bible does not have sub-titles, all of them are supplied by translators and editors from one time or another. All that aside, this parable leaves us uneasy. Yes, we are glad the widow gets justice, well at least that the judge tells himself he will find in her favor, but still the whole thing is just uncomfortable. I posit our discomfort arises from a mistake in reading it. Not all parables are the same; some are intended to work like allegories, but some are intended to break up the soil of our previous thinking and prepare us for a new perspective. [i] Here Luke is plowing at all sorts of levels.
Throughout his version of the Gospel prayer is central: from the beginning when the whole multitude at prayer outside the Temple as Zechariah receives a vision inside, to Jesus withdrawing in prayer at crucial junctions, and as he gives up his last breath praying Father, into your hands I commit my spirit! Luke is as persistent about prayer as the widow is about justice.
After the unjust judge Luke’s moves onto plowing ground about faith. Which is another recurring theme. A couple of weeks ago, Jesus was teaching about faith, in saying faith the size of a seed will move mountains. Luke follows that with the story about ten lepers, and then the encounter with Pharisees whom he accuses of not being to see what is right in front of them. When you look back across Luke you find all sorts of stories of faith: a centurion, a harlot, friends of a paralytic, by implication sinful man; an unclean, and therefore ostracized, woman; the aforementioned leper; and finally a blind beggar. There are examples of faith throughout Luke. Save a scant handful, all of them are people the religious establishment and the proper sort of people take no notice of. And oh, I neglected to mention the faith of our story’s widow.
With all the plowing going on around the story of the judge, we correctly see Luke plowing fresh ground here also. A couple of points: in Old Testament Israel Judges are not legal actors, as we are use to, they are religious actors. Moreover, Torah established orphans and widows as top priorities in disputes and in concerns of justice. [ii] From a broader perspective a judge’s concern is to establish shalom, which is most completely understood as an all-encompassing wholeness for a person and/or for society. [iii] And, a judge’s model is nothing less than God’s mercy. [iv] So to hear a judge defined as willfully ignoring God gets people’s attention, and to the extent that character is the embodiment of the entire system, which this judge is, it will either drive people to entrench, which it does; or break them open to receive new revelation of God’s hand at work, which it also does.
When we put all this back into Luke’s sequence we have a Dagwood sandwich: an admonition to pray; a portrayal of life’s hardships, sometimes chance, sometimes an unjust, social construct, and a pointer to people of faith. In my own life I’ve been in all portions of the Luke’s Dagwood. I really learned how to pray when my oldest daughter backed the car down the driveway to go visit friends, by herself, for the first time. As for the perversities of life, the most obvious is Angie’s headaches, but, there have been others. As to injustice, I’ve not been an unwilling victim. As to faith, I’ve seen all sorts of people, in all manner of circumstances, simply step out, in places I’d hesitate, and somehow keep on bringing God to those who have not yet known or come to accept God in Jesus Christ’s transforming presence. Look around, in Blytheville there is the Clinic, Ignite, the Thanksgiving feast, Cleaner Safer Blytheville, Healing in the Hood, in Osceola there is the food pantry, SHIFT, The Shalom Institute, and the Clinic, and unexpected gifts from far off people, with troubles of their own, giving out of their vision of the abundance of God, and on and on and on.
In Thursday’s Blog I wrote this story is probably a better road map than a sandwich. It’s rather simple: pray always, especially when God’s presence feels absence, and as you journey through the vagaries of life you will know your own faith and, if not in time, then in retrospect, the ever present transforming presence of God. Such a life has been, is, and will always be: a confession that will persevere; a service in Christ’s ministry others will see; that of stewardship.
[i] Interpretation, LUKE, A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor, Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor, Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor, Fred B. Craddock
[ii] This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php
Next sunday is October 20, 2013 (Ordinary Time)
This Week‘s Article: The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Luke 18:1-8
Author: Scott Hoezee
[iii] Standard Bible Dictionary
© 2006 Standard Publishing, Cincinnati, Ohio. Database © 2010 WORDsearch Corp,
[iv] The New Interpreter’s Bible, The Gospel of Luke, R. Alan Culpepper