“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8, NRSV)
Because we are celebrating the Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist on Sunday, rather than the regular Ordinary time day and readings, I am not preaching on the pericope Luke 18:1-8. But since friends are preaching from this text, and since one says that this blog serves as a conversation partner for him when he preaches, that’s motivation enough for me to take an hour so to offer thoughts on the text. To this end—-
Isn’t the core of justice “belonging?” And aren’t so many of our justice challenges really about “belonging?” For don’t those challenges often arise when we convey the message, “You don’t belong,” to:
- those of another political view
- those of other views on human sexuality
- those of other social groups, races, ethnicities
- those of other hairstyles, clothing styles, music preferences
- those of other (insert whoever you do not like)
Asked differently, “Who do you,”
- cross the street to avoid
- exclude from the party list
- hope not to notice you
- (insert here) whoever you do not and would not have on your prayer list
And asking one more question, just one more, “For whom is your justice of belonging unjust?”
For if the core of justice is belonging, then the authors and enforcers of human justice have certainly skewed it towards those who are perceived to belong and have most assuredly skewed it against those who are perceived to not belong. (Just ask the indigenous peoples of the USA about this matter)
Don’t we know all too well who does and does not belong? And shouldn’t we know that until we overrule the practice of not belonging, we’ll continue to foster a skewed justice? And isn’t the enforcer of a skewed justice, the unjust judge, all too often us?
This week in a “pre-op” visit, the patient when asked by me, “For whom or for what shall we pray,” responded, “all God’s children.” She went on to explain to me that, “when I pray I always lift all of God’s children, for all are God’s children and all need God’s care, so we ought to lift them all to God.” Beautiful moment? Yep. One that gives a window into God’s justice? Yeppers. In her vision, everyone belongs—EVERYONE!
In her faithful worldview, none are outside the need of prayer and God’s care, there are no widows. A world of total belonging is a just world. Pity that her worldview isn’t the prevailing view of our world for our world is filled by widows and widow makers. And should we seek to find widows, we need look no further than to those who do not belong.
Look for those whose fitting, whose value, whose voice, and whose journey is marked by persistence and born from persistent denial, and you’ll have found the widows. You needn’t look far. Sure they are in places like Aleppo, but they are often also under our own roof. Justice is a function of belonging and many are not offered belonging.
Who are the widows? Who are the persistent ones? Who are those wrestling to belong? Who are those seeking justice? Perhaps consider the questions as you process this video.
Widows are everywhere; everywhere always calling with silent or loud voice for a justice rooted in belonging, for a change that really makes a difference, for life to be different, and for this reality to actually take shape right here, right now, not at a promised future date.
We know these widows, don’t we? They surround us daily, maybe hourly, demanding difference, craving change, living and dying to motivate us to get the “unbelonging” word overruled. They call us to own our unjust judge identity through their invitation to be just. Their invitation calls us to come out of our self-centered comfort zones of race prejudice, religious prejudice, gender prejudice, race hatred, religious hatred, gender hatred, race fear, religious fear, gender fear. Their invitation calls us to address the forces of belonging that create unbelonging ones through the ills mentioned in the previous sentence. Their invitation calls us to reshape economic systems that are defined by those who are deemed as belonging, thus creating detriment for the unbelonging ones. Their invitation calls us to find better ways to settle problems than through violence and death. Their invitation calls us to be vulnerable and open in dealing with one another and to do so in ways that honor both those in celebration as well as those in grief. Their persistent invitation echoes the voice of Prophet Micah, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” To do any less than Micah implores is to tell the widow that the widow does not belong, to tell the widow that the widow has no share in justice, to leave the widow to cower under the disapproving gaze of the unjust judge.
But what if from time to time we are not the unjust judge? What if life, or forces beyond our control, or perhaps, our own unjust systems, have made us the widow? What then?
Ever been to court? Ever been at the mercy of a judge? How did it make you feel?
What does it feel like to be there before the high oaken chair of the unjust judge? How do we feel?
What’s it like to stand between the mahogany rails and the unjust judge as one with neither power nor authority—a voice amidst other dependent voices—feeling inadequate, lost, naked, exposed, nowhere to turn, angry and on display?
The last time I was there in such a space it was stressful, painful, sad beyond all belief, and the sense of powerlessness made me feel ancient, like a thin crag of a once grand mountain whittled into a feeble nothing by dynamic timeless forces.
There we stand. There we wait. And what of faith?
Do we have the faith of the widow? Or, instead, is ours a faith that simply swallows the unjust judge’s dictate?
To such ones as these Jesus says, “Pray. Do not lose heart.” (v.1)
Perhaps we should call such a faith, a day-by-day, show-up-go-up, keep-at-it-come-what-may-faith—“widow faith.” After all, she’s already has her, “no,” what’s there to lose? Why not risk a gain, risk a “yes?” That’s her reality and to that reality she presents herself.
It’s important to realize that this widow doesn’t simply present her petition each day. She presents herself, too. She is participating in her own solution. She is actively “faithing” her way into the hope of a different day than the day before, not sitting back under a tree at some distance expecting something to happen wholly disconnected from her. She is showing up face-to-face with the judge. She is being present to the hope of change.
When we go before God in prayer, are we bringing ourselves as well as our petitions, or are we simply tossing a petition at God? Are we a participant in our prayerful petition’s fulfillment, or are we passing it along to God with little to no faith investment of our own?
As we pray:
- for the alleviation of thirst, do we offer water to the thirsty?
- for the filling of the hungry, do we offer the hungry food?
- for the comfort of the sick, do we seek to provide comfort or cure?
- for the lonely to find care, do we join them in their lonely space?
- for (insert the petition), do we (insert our possible faithful responsive action)
Do we petition our case before God? Or, do we petition our case before God and join God as together we get about the business of answering the petition with God?
Prayer is not about begging, strong-arming, manipulating God into giving humans what humans desire. God isn’t some unconcerned bully whose fragile ego requires validation of God’s value through hearing our pleadings. That way of thinking is rotten theology.
God isn’t like some pouty child who must be begged to come down from an upstairs room to walk the dog! That, too, is rotten theology.
God is not like the unjust judge. God joins us in our suffering. Isn’t that what God has done in Jesus?
God hears our petitions. God answers in God’s time, in God’s way.
Yet many of us pray, and have reason to ask, “Since you hear me, God, when will the answer come?” Yet the widow never asks, “When.” The widow simply waits. And waits. And waits. And waits.
She is present to the one who is present to her. Are we present to the One who is present to us? God is not absent to us. Are we absent to God?
God is not off behind Jupiter resting in a hammock on the surface of some moon while slurping down a celestial Mai Tai! God is present with us in the waiting. The widow waits with the unjust judge. We wait with the most just God.
We wait with God. God waits with us.
The widow waits for the unjust judge to act. We wait for the most just God to act.
And isn’t waiting on God—being present to God—part of showing up and participating in the answer to our petition? Doesn’t waiting afford us opportunity to be present to God in thought, word, and deed, through what we have done and left undone, to love God with our whole heart, to love our neighbors as ourselves? To be present to God so that when God acts the action is not lost on us? To not miss present action, through absent presence?
Would the widow have missed present action from the unjust judge had she been an absent presence? Would he have ruled on the day she didn’t show up? What if she’d opted for absence, perhaps, frequent absence? Would that have left the unjust judge with a different impression of her, perhaps no impression at all?
The granting of her petition seems more about her presence than her persistence. Her presence made her persistence possible. And wasn’t her presence that which made an impression on the unjust judge? Jesus introduces the widow as one who kept coming, then kept saying. (v.3) Isn’t this really more a matter of presence than persistence?
When it comes to our petitions and our God, don’t we often make it a matter of saying to God before we ever make it a matter of being present to God?
What of God’s acts do we miss when we practice saying things to God through our absence rather than waiting with God through our presence?
Perhaps it is easier for us to talk through absence rather than wait through presence. Perhaps that’s why this widow often gets painted as one who nags the unjust judge into action, for don’t we prefer to think that she nags the judge to death? Perhaps we prefer to think of ourselves as those who nag God to death? Perhaps it makes us feel powerful. Yet the unjust judge doesn’t lift up the widow’s persistent nagging—but her constant presence. (v.5)
What if the widow offers us a take on faith that is really tough to swallow, tough to embrace, one we’d rather overrule? What if she shows us a waiting-with-God faith, a being-present-to-God faith, a being-there-day-in-and-day-out faith? A faith that’s tough for us to practice because it is so very much about presence, when we’d rather have it be about our persistence or nagging; a faith we’d love to be more about our actions and less about God’s acting.
But–a waiting faith of active presence, isn’t that the kind of faith which we’d love for Jesus to discover us practicing upon his return? And isn’t that the faith that waits in the knowledge, that in Jesus’ return, all widows will be widows no more? Isn’t that the change for which we pray, and the change for which we wait, and the change for which we work, and the change for which we preach—widows being widows no more—and no one found unbelonging for all belong? Some might call such a thing “just.”
BTW—if you’d care to participate in justice, consider making a donation to the Hurricane Matthew relief efforts in North Carolina. Places like Lumberton are hard-pressed. Click here to donate. Select “Domestic Dis. Relief.”