Tag Archives: justice

God is not the judge: The persistent widow and the persistent God

Luke 18:1-8

“And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.” (Read the whole passage)

We are not that far from the end of the church year, in about a month we will wrap up Luke’s gospel for a couple years and begin the story of Jesus, starting with his birth all over again in Advent, this time using Matthew as our primary text.

Yet before that, we will take time to turn to questions of the end, questions about what are God’s big plans for us and for all creation. So we have a little bit of time to spend in Luke’s gospel yet.

And today we turn to another parable, a less familiar one than what we have been hearing so far – the parable of the Unjust Judge and Persistent Widow. Compared to the stories we have heard about lost sheep and lost coins, shrewd managers, dinner party advice, lazarus and the rich man… this parable might seem a little forced or contrived. Jesus seems to be making a point about what God is not like, but it may feel like the comparison doesn’t exactly work as it should.

Jesus tells his disciples about the need to be persistent in prayer. He starts with an an unjust judge. A man in a position of authority who neither fears God nor has respect for the people he is in authority over. Then a widow, a woman without much authority or power continually comes to him, asking for justice. And finally, because of her persistence, the harsh judge relents and gives the widow what she is asking for, if only to get her out of his hair.

And Jesus’ point seems to be that we if we persistent in prayer, imagine how a loving God will be much quicker to respond.

Except there is problem with the message that Christians have generally pulled from this parable. Sure it is good to be encouraged in our prayer, to come to God with our needs and concerns. But what is the message to those who are not granted justice? Have they not prayed enough? Have they not persisted?

As usual, the parable asks us to dig deeper.

When Jesus begins this parable it wouldn’t have sounded like a straightforward comparison as it does to us. It would have sounded more like the set up to a joke.

The disciples would have known judges like this. Men in positions of authority and power who lorded it over the people. And a judge, by the way, would not be the one we imagine in a courtroom with a wooden gavel. The Judges of Israel were like rulers or kings, warlords and protectors. The judge in this parable would have been found in a throne room, not a court room. And this judge is the epitome of human power and its misuse. He has no fear of God – who was the one who appointed judges, as we recall in the old testament. And this judge has no respect for people – despite the job description of a judge being looking after and caring for the people!

Still, the disciples would recognized this extreme judge in many of the ones who ruled over them. They would have known what the abuse of power looked like.

The joke part comes in when we get to the widow. Widows were at the bottom of society. They were property without owners. The best a widow could hope for was to beg on the streets or to collect the left-over grain in the fields that wasn’t good enough to harvest. Widows had no power or place in the world. Widows wouldn’t even be allowed to speak to a judge in public.  Yet, the widow in this parable comes to this judge so much that she wears him down. But not just wears him down by bothering him. The greek would be more accurate to say that she gives the judge a black eye with her persistence. A black eye both physically and in reputation. This lowly widow sullies this powerful judge’s resolve and reputation.

The funny part is that this would never, ever, ever happen in Jesus’ world. It is an absurd idea. Its like a 6-year-old Tim-Bit hockey player being put on the ice in the Stanley cup final, and scoring a hat trick. So absurd, it is laughable.

And yet, here is the widow wearing down this judge in this parable.

And Jesus point seems to be that God is not like this judge at all…

But let’s take a moment to think about this. If God is so opposite to the unjust judge, isn’t a “Just Judge” nearly the same in every way to the unjust judge except for a few key differences. Don’t both occupy positions of power and privilege? Aren’t both authorities in their community? Are not both asked to the arbitrators of justice? Isn’t the only difference between an unjust judge and a just one the length of time in how long each takes to respond to injustice. Hardly opposites.

So who is the opposite of unjust judge? Well, the parable gives us some clues.

There is one character who is the opposite in every way to unjust judge. There is one character who is powerless, who has no authority, who is deeply concerned with justice and who is quick to act.

The widow.

Could it be that when Jesus tell the disciples that God is unlike, even opposite to the unjust judge, that God is more like the widow?

If we can only imagine God in human terms, that God must be powerful and authoritative, in control and ruling over us… than we would never predict a widow-like God.

But consider who it is that is telling the parable.

The One who is conceived with an un-wed teenage mother. The One who is born in a manger, who is raised by unremarkable peasant parents. The One who becomes a wandering and homeless rabbi. The One who only has 12 ne’er-do-well followers. The One who is arrested, tried and executed as a common criminal on a cross.

Is not Christ more like the widow than like the unjust judge?

In Christ, God is a widow-like character. God chooses to give up power and authority and might, in order to persist with the lowly. God meets the systems and structures of human power with weakness. And God gives that power a black eye with God’s persistent demand for justice. God stands up to the powers of the world and exposes their dark ushering in reconciliation, forgiveness, mercy, and grace.

God is not the judge who will only hear our cries if we ask loudly enough.

God is not the uncaring judge afraid of no-one and without respect for life.

God in Christ is the widow who comes to us from the bottom.

God is the widow who cries to us for justice,

who calls us to respect and love and care for people, for those around us in need.

God is the One who shows us an absurd world

where the first shall be last and the last shall be first,

where forgiveness and mercy is considered shrew management,

where sitting at the lowest spot at the table is the place of honour,

where the down trodden and forgotten like poor Lazarus are welcomed into the bosom of Abraham.

Jesus has been pointing us to this reality this whole time. The reality that in God’s world, everything that we think is turned on its head and God comes to us from the bottom, using weakness and powerless to bring about the Kingdom.

God is not just the one granting justice, but also the one seeking justice. God is not one just listening to our cries, but who is crying out to us, calling us to see the Kingdom of God right here and right now. God is the one who meets us in the lowly Christ, yet who turns injustice to justice, brokennnes into healing, sin into forgivenss and death into life.

Today, unexpectedly, God comes to us in a way would we never imagine. God comes in the Christ-like widow, from the bottom, to turn our world upside down.

 

Advertisements

Advent Waiting: Ferguson, Sexism and Black Friday

I have been hesitant to add my own privileged commentary to issues surrounding Ferguson and sexual violence against women. I normally try to share and retweet the voices of the oppressed. But as a preacher, I can’t keep silent. Here is the text of the sermon preached to my congregation this morning. 

Mark 13:24-37

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near…

Therefore, keep awake– for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Read the whole lesson here)

Sermon

Keep Awake. The world is waiting. 

The world is waiting for justice. Waiting for peace. Waiting for healing.

Keep awake. This week we watched as the people of Ferguson waited for answers, waited for justice… and then we saw a system stacked against justice rule to protect the privileged. And we saw the results. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, “Rioting is the language of the unheard.”

The world is waiting for Justice.

Keep Awake. This week we witnessed hoards of people flock to malls and stores in order to get Black Friday deals. In order to engage in retail therapy, the attempt to fill empty hearts by emptying full wallets.

The world is waiting for healing.

Keep Awake. This week heard news and reminders that violence against women, misogyny and sexism are not things of the past. We heard the charges laid against CBC radio host and celebrity Jian Ghomeshi, the allegations made by elected MPs of harassment. We have heard that two men have been charged in the case of Rinelle Harper, a 16-year-old girl left for dead on the banks of the Assiniboine left after being assaulted and violated.

The world is waiting for peace. 

Today, is the first Sunday of Advent. And we know it is Advent, not just because of the calendar, but because we are no longer surprised by the Christmas music playing in the malls, or the Christmas lights that light up night-time streets and highways, or the fact that the Santa Claus parade was already two weeks ago.

Last Sunday, we concluded the church year, and today we turn the page onto a new one. As Christians, we observe a calendar slightly offset from the secular one. Our church year begins with Advent in late November, a good month or so ahead of January 1st. And like regular New Year’s, Advent is partly about a chance to start over, to leave behind the baggage of the previous year, and make a fresh beginning.

But Advent is no so much about resolutions, as it is about preparation. Preparation and waiting. Advent is the 4 weeks before Christmas, and is centered around hearing the stories that prepare us for the birth of Messiah. And like the season of Lent before Easter, Advent is season that is toned down, a season for reflection and thoughtfulness. But Advent is not about penitence or preparing ourselves to hear about Christ’s death is like Lent is. Instead, Advent is hopeful and full of anticipation. If Lent is the church season of waiting on Death Row or in Palliative Care, Advent is the season of pregnancy.

And each Advent season, we start on week 1, Sunday 1 hearing about the end. Hearing about the coming of the Son of Man. Advent waiting begins with waiting for Jesus. Waiting for the Messiah to come with the people of Israel, waiting for child to be born in a manger, and waiting for the second coming, for Jesus to return for that big cosmic ending.

And so today, before we get to John the Baptist, or before we get to angels making announcements to virgins, we hear Jesus’ words about the end of time. Keep Awake, he says, because no one knows the day nor the hour.

What an odd place to begin the church year. What an odd place to start Advent. December should start with digging boxes of Christmas lights out of storage, and checking off lists for Christmas shopping. This end of the world stuff doesn’t seem to fit.

As Jesus tells his disciples to Keep Awake, it becomes abundantly clear, that as modern people, we have no idea what waiting really is. The people of ancient Israel lived in a world of waiting so different from ours.

The world of the disciples was full of waiting… as Jesus reminds them of the lesson of the fig tree, we too can learn something. The people of Ancient Israel lived by a lunar calendar. This means that they organized their months by cycles of the moon rather than by the earth moving around the sun. More concretely, their months were all either 29 or 30 days long. Any month could be 29 or 30 days. Their years were either 12 months or 13 months long. Any year could be 12 or 13 months. So how did they know?

Well, when at least couple of people observed the new moon at end of the month, they would tell the temple authorities (the church council) who would then send out messengers to let the people know that the month had changed. And then at the end of the year (which was usually around our February or March), if spring still seemed far off, the temple authorities would just add another month to the end of the year.

Take a moment and think about that. Imagine if we had to read the papers or watch the news to find out which day our months ended on. And imagine if a couple of weeks before the end of the year, we found out there would be another December.

The is why the Ancient Israelites had to watch the leaves of the Fig tree to know when summer began, their calendars couldn’t be trusted. Instead, they had to trust the signs around them, they had to trust their community to keep awake together, trust their leaders to make sure good decisions were made.

We wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves in a world like that. We don’t know how to wait in that way. We don’t live our lives with an openness to things happening sooner than we expect, or not happening when we want them to. We live with set schedules, with fixed time limits, with predictable dates. In fact, you can tell just how bad we are at waiting by the question we love to torture kids with this time of year, “How many sleeps until Christmas?”

And while we are not good at waiting in the same way the people of ancient Israel were used to, we do wait. We wait just like they did. Maybe not for extra days or extra months but we wait for salvation like they did. We wait for Justice like them, we wait for peace, we wait for healing.

And in Advent, we wait for Messiah too.

They waited for Messiah in Jerusalem, on the banks of the Jordan and Bethlehem. They waited to be freed from oppression from Empire, they waited for God’s mercy and love to make them clean, they waited to be lifted up from their suffering.

And we wait for Messiah in Ferguson, in Ottawa, on the banks of the Assiniboine, and here right now among us. And whether we are good at it or not, our waiting is not measured by the number of sleeps until Christmas, nor on calendars, schedules or to do lists.

Like the ancient Israelites, our waiting for Messiah is measured in small glimpses of Hope.

Messiah came to Ancient Israel in the form of a carpenter turned preacher telling of the coming of the son man to expectant crowds. Messiah comes to us as people of faith speak out about the injustices of Ferguson and stand with a community grieving and oppressed.

Messiah was preached by a hermit crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Messiah is preached today, as we refuse to consume and spend as if it were therapy, as we proclaim a counter-cultural message of waiting and anticipation, instead of immediate gratification.

Messiah was promised and announced to young woman, not yet married. And it was an unremarkable girl, overlooked by the world around her who bore God’s promise into the world with a man who should have stoned her instead of staying faithful.

And Messiah is promised and announced here as a community rallies around a young girl left for dead on the river banks, declaring violence against women and minorities is unacceptable.

Our hopeful waiting is for a Messiah who comes in small unexpected places, who comes no matter how good we are waiting, who comes to bring justice, peace and healing.

Keep Awake, says Messiah. The world is waiting.

Keep awake and see that Advent is not a countdown to Christmas, but a chance to see that the signs of Messiah’s coming, Messiah who may come tomorrow or in a lifetime.

But Jesus also says something else.

Today Jesus declares that no matter how dark the world seems,

The Son of Man is coming.

No matter whether we wait with patience or with anxiousness,

The Messiah is entering our world. 

Regardless the powers of injustice, violence and suffering,

Salvation promised, will come to us. 

Our waiting will not be in vain, our longing for a better world does not go unnoticed by God.

Keep Awake Jesus says, not as command to keep vigilante. But Keep Awake is a promise. A promise that in our Advent waiting, there will ever growing light in our darkness, that our hope is in Messiah and the signs say Messiah is on the way.

Amen, Come Lord Jesus.