Pentecost 21C, 2007
A Liturgy is also available
WHEN GOD IS A WIDOW, FAITH AND HOPE ARE POSSIBLE
When the 1960s blues singer Janis Joplin recorded a song with the words:
"O Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz",
that was not only an example of some very bad praying,
but also a type of praying that was all too common
in some Christian circles then,
and even more so now.
In today’s gospel story, the storyteller we call Luke
has Jesus offering a story about faith and justice and prayer.
And in so doing this Jesus continues to show
he has a soft spot in his heart for those on the edge of society,
So let’s spend some time with Luke’s story.
Because I hope it might be saying something beyond the so-called obvious.
An Unjust or ‘scumbag’ Judge is non-violently nagged by a widow
into giving justice without the benefit of his usual bribes.
‘I would not allow myself to be put off!
I hounded him, day and night.
‘I watched his every move.
Where he went.
With whom he mixed.
‘I confronted him on every occasion I could.
By the Gate.
In the Judgement Hall. Anywhere.
‘I was desperate. I had nothing to lose.
‘And when they told me to be quiet, I shouted out all the louder.
I was not going to be cheated out of my inheritance!
Many of those who have studied this parable more than I,
have defined Luke’s focus in this story as two fold:
We need to be like the widow and persist in hope and prayer.
God is cast as the judge.
But thinking back, we also have been led to believe that God
is not like the unjust judge of the parable.
If a ‘scumbag’ judge will give in when he tires of a widow's pleas,
then surely a just, merciful, and loving God
will be that much swifter to answer our prayers?
Likewise, there is also humour in this story.
Current English translations mask it, but a study of the
literal Greek (so I am told!) suggests a possible rendering:
“Hear what the scumbag of a judge says: ‘Though I don’t give a tinker’s cuss for God or man, because this woman keeps getting up my nose, I will rule in her favour. Otherwise she will give me ulcers with her continual nagging’" (BPrewer web site, 2004).
Yet despite the traditional interpretations and humorous renderings,
this story continues to niggle away at me.
So I find myself once again coming back to the statement
that this story is a parable...
And a parable is a story that turns our world upside down.
By claiming this story urges us to pray continually
or that nagging or pestering God is a recommended lifestyle,
is not a very ‘turning our world upside down’ suggestion.
So listening to a suggestion from storyteller Megan McKenna,
I would like to look at this parable from a different angle.
Instead of seeing ourselves as this widow - an old widow,
demanding our rights.
And God as the judge, slow to act, if at all...
Let's suppose that this widow - a young widow,
with her persistent and vigourous demands for justice, represents God.
And let’s also suppose that we are the unjust judge,
who neither feared God
nor had respect for people.
Such a suggestion turns everything up side down, in true parable fashion!
Imagine... God, as widow, is after us, as judge!
Continually calling us.
Continually asking for something from us.
Continually challenging our complacent Christian lives.
So what is this God/Widow parable suggesting?
Luke the 1st century storyteller very definitely says:
God is found in the powerless, those looking for justice.
God is on the side of the poor, those crying out for justice
and who are not getting it from us.
The God/Widow is persistent in her demands of us for compassionate justice.
And when we tell her stories and live them out in practice, 21st century style,
we behave in a God-like way.
(The sermon could end here).
Let me offer this further comment.
It is said this is a parable about praying always and continually. Maybe.
Another suggestion is: It is primarily about the yearning for change.
Bill Loader’s comment is helpful I reckon:
“It is our role to be (with the hurting) and not to collude with the alternatives. It means being in touch with... all that makes people cry out in our world. It also means living with the affirmation of a God who cares, even though... the solution does not come speedily” (WLoader web site, 2007).
God’s nature – Creativity - is constantly yearning for change.
God, to use some Luke-inspired personlike terms, is always in our face
hounding us, to ‘do justice, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly’... (Micah 6:8)
in the recognition of the Australian citizenship of Aboriginal people,
in the end of the "White Australia" policy,
in the end of Apartheid in South African,
in the ordination of women in many Christian churches.
Finding a glint of God in the grey areas of our various world demands,
is a way of affirming our Christian practice.
Walking with God.
Becoming kind and doing justice (Borg 2003:205).
Again, as Australian Bill Loader suggests:
“…we are to be building supportive communities where people do not lose heart, where we do not tune out, but live in hope and with a sense of trust that does not make us feel we have to carry the whole world on our shoulders...” (WLoader web site, 2007).
Borg, M. 2003. The Heart of Christianity. Discovering a Life of Faith. New Yourk. HarperSanFrancisco.
McKenna, M. 1994. Parables. The Arrows of God. Maryknoll. Orbis Books.