Keeping faith with God

Pentecost 22 – 2016

Luke 18:1-14

Marian Free

 In the name of God, who is patiently waiting for the world to come to its senses and to allow the kingdom to come on earth. Amen.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel as though my prayers fall on deaf ears, or perhaps more accurately that no matter how much or how regularly I pray, the world will still be blighted by greed and the desire for power that leads to oppression, injustice and war. Surely there must be millions of people praying right now for an end to the bombardment of Aleppo – and yet the shelling continues, the hospitals have been destroyed, food has run out and those who are not yet dead are injured and/or starving. Week after week we pray for the leaders of the world, for care for the environment and all for what? The world seems to go on much as before, people selfishly getting on with their own lives, heedless of the cost to others or to the consequences of their actions for future generations.

We pray, but to be honest, sometimes it feels as though we are banging our heads against a brick wall. Does it make any difference? Will the world ever change? Is God listening? Does God even care?

Luke seems to relish complex, confusing parables. Not so long ago we grappled with the parable in which the actions of the dishonest or unjust steward were commended. Today we have another difficult parable. This time God is being compared to an uncaring, obstructionist judge who only responds to injustice when he is at risk of receiving a black eye. What are we to make of such a comparison? Are we being told that God will consistently put off our requests for justice until we are finally able to wear God down? Are we being warned that we are as vulnerable and defenseless as a first century woman who has no one to stand up for her?

It is a shocking thought – an indifferent God, unconcerned with the injustices that plague the world, getting on with goodness knows what while we bang futilely at God’s door.

I suspect however, that none of us really think of God this way and that we simply put this uncomfortable parable to a side (much in the same way that we try not to puzzle too hard over the parable of the dishonest steward. It seems that Luke (or the Jesus of Luke) uses shock intentionally. It is an attempt to get our attention, to make us think a little bit differently and to ensure that we absorb and remember the point that is being made. The parable rewards us with new insights if we take the trouble to unpack it.

In this instance Luke, instead of allowing the parable to speak for itself, gives us an interpretation before the parable begins – it is about persistence in prayer.

In the wider context of the gospel, the parable follows Jesus’ teaching about the coming of the Kingdom. Jesus has just warned the disciples that the kingdom is not coming with signs that can be observed and that when it does come it will come without warning.

This parable then, and the one that follows, are intended to teach the disciples how to pray in the “in-between” time – the time between Jesus and the coming of the kingdom. Remember that Luke is writing sometime between 80 and 100 CE. The Temple has been completely destroyed, the Jews have been forced out of Jerusalem and those who have accepted Jesus as the Christ are experiencing a degree of hardship and ostracism because they no longer belong anywhere. Those who were Jews can no longer associate with their fellow Jews and those who of Gentile origin have likewise set themselves apart from their neighbours. It is not a comfortable or easy time to be someone who believes that Jesus is the Christ.

The world, instead of being dramatically changed by the death and resurrection of Jesus, continues much as it did before – perhaps worse for those who have chosen to follow Jesus. What are they to make of this? Surely the world be a better place as a consequence of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Today’s parable then, is intended to help believers make sense of the present, to pray in the face of apparent inaction on God’s part and to retain their faith despite the fact that nothing seems to have changed.

So back to the widow. Widows, as I am sure you recall were the most vulnerable members of first century society. Without a male family member to support them or to speak for them, they were thrown on the mercy and charity of those around them. At the same time they were, after orphans, the ones to whom most care and compassion was meant to be extended. It is the judge’s responsibility to take a widow’s concerns seriously, to give her needs priority over those of others. His disinterest in her case serves to highlight his callousness. It is only when he becomes afraid that the widow will give him a black eye that he relents. He doesn’t want to lose face in front of everyone.

Jesus suggests that if someone as base as the judge responds to the widow’s plea, how much more will a just and compassionate God respond to us if we continue to have faith that God is listening and if, despite evidence to the contrary, we remain confident that God is active in the world, working to establish God’s kingdom.

So rather than comparing God to an unresponsive judge, who will only act when his honour is threatened, the parable encourages us to be confident that God will respond if we persist with our pursuit for justice and peace in the world. Even if it appears that nothing is happening, we are to go on praying, believing that God is acting in the world to bring about justice and peace.

In this time – the “in between” time, we are called to keep faith with God as God keeps faith with us, believing that humanity is capable of better things, convinced that humanity is indeed worth saving, and confident that no matter how selfish, unjust and hateful we are, that God will never ever abandon us, but will keep on hoping that we, with God, will continue to work and pray for peace and justice until at last God’s kingdom is established on the earth.

 

 

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