Pentecost 22C – October 20, 2013
October 17, 2010
Jeremiah 31: 27-34 – The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
Psalm 121 – I lift my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come? He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5 – Jesus will judge the living and the dead. Proclaim the message. Be persistent.
Luke 18:1-8 – Parable of the Judge and the Widow (pray and don’t lose heart)
This first story of Luke 18 is a continuation of the eschatological conversation begun in chapter 17, to wit Luke 17:20-21,
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘
The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’
It’s almost if Jesus is speaking directly to Left Behind fans. “When can we expect the apocalypse?” the Pharisees (the older-brother types) ask Jesus. “The kingdom has been right under your noses all along,” Jesus points out, perhaps surprising his listeners. This kingdom has already entered the present, open your eyes and see it.
And yet, the kingdom of this world still holds sway, so Jesus tells them a story encouraging them to pray and not lose heart.
This is an irreverent story, Jesus-style. God is like an unjust judge. There was this judge, see, who had no respect for God or people. Are there people in your life like this? Think Ebenezer Scrooge. A widow pleads with this judge for justice (Ἐκδίκησόν με). The judge doesn’t give a hoot about her or God. As a widow with no visible means of support, she likely cannot afford to offer the judge a bribe.
For a time (ἐπὶ χρόνον) he refuses her justice. Do you hear the eschatological language? For now… But finally he decides to grant her justice because he is worn out by her constant supplication. “I will grant her justice (ἐκδικήσω αὐτήν) so that in the end (εἰς τέλος) she will no wear me out by continually coming. Again, end times language (telos). Justice language (dikia) is woven in all of Luke’s exquisitely formed Greek.
So, don’t you think God will grant justice?
Okay, perhaps this is not a simile. Perhaps Jesus is saying, if a bloody crook with no respect for anyone will grant justice, don’t you suppose God (who is just) will grant justice eventually? This is, perhaps, similar to Martin Luther King’s statement that the arc of history bends towards justice. Or Martin Luther’s comment on the Lord’s Prayer in the catechism that God’s will will be done eventually, one way or another, whether we like it or not, work for it or not.
And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
Will anyone still believe in justice when the Son of Man comes? Will they trust that God’s arc of history bends toward justice? Will people still hold out hope? Will they continue to yearn for and work for justice? Or will they give up? Augustine says, “Where faith fails, prayer dies.” Jeffrey (“Luke”) believes Augustine is telling us that persistence in prayer is persistence in faith. This leads logically into next week’s text on the difference between the authentic prayer of the tax collector over and against the presumptuous prayer of the Pharisee.
How to preach this text? For what unmet hope are your people yearning? What justice has been denied? How might you encourage them to bathe this situation in prayer? Do you, the preacher, believe that an entire community praying can change the fundamental conditions? Might God show up in new and unexpected ways? Or might it be that when we are in prayer we see God and the kingdom that has been right under our noses all along?
If every Bible is lost, if every church crumbles to dust, if the last believer in the last prayer opens her eyes and lets it all finally go, Christ will appear on this earth as calmly and casually as he appeared to the disciples walking to Emmaus after his death, who did not recognize this man to whom they had pledged their very lives; this man whom they had seen beaten, crucified, abandoned by God; this man who, after walking the dusty road with them, after sharing an ordinary meal and discussing the scriptures, had to vanish once more in order to make them see.
– Christian Wiman