Don't Make Them Beg
The scripture appointed for 24C can be found here
I have to fess up, I LOVE this parable.
I love the persistence, and the doggedness and the insistence of the widow in her pursuit of justice. I love the encouragement to pray and maintain hope even when things seem hopeless. I love the commitment to justice we hear on the part of God.
This parable, fills me with rejoicing. This parable challenges me to do better, to be better, to listen and engage better. Yet, it also reminds me that this is done with the assistance and inspiration of the God whose hope for us is the hope of justice in a new creation.
So, yay, quite simply YAY! God’s way is better than ours and for this I give such deep and profound thanks.
I am grateful that we serve a God whose way is better than the way we can hope or imagine. I am grateful that this passage exists to remind us that justice is breaking in. And tho’ that justice may not come quickly enough given the terms of my own human existence, it will come.
So, now that I’ve gotten that big, extroverted hurray out of my system…
Let’s dig deep into this parable.
Luke is the only Gospel that includes this particular parable. Why? What about this story compelled the Lucan author to include it? I imagine, that given Luke’s focus upon the marginalized, that it made sense. It made sense to detail the unjust justice system devised by humans and the persistence of a widow over and against that system.
His Jewish audience would have been familiar with both the unjust judge and the widow as types. In the social, political and economic system of the day, a widow was someone who had neither husband or son to provide for her economically. Having outlived the men upon whom she would have relied for her financial stability, she was vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Jewish custom would have dictated a level of communal obligation to care for women in this position. However, the reality, like the reality today, was that all too often the informal systems of care were inadequate to the need of those at the most risk. When survival is tentative, it can become incredibly difficult for people to look beyond their own immediate circle of care and provide for the needs of those to whom they have no kinship connection.
Hence, the need for legislation and leadership that prioritizes the needs of the marginalized. In scripture we hear how some of this was legislated in religious circles. Care for the widow and orphan is mandated throughout Judeo-Christian Scripture.
From the book of Deuteronomy chapter 26:12, “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns,”
From this passage, the standard is set that a tithe, 10% of people’s produce, which in a agricultural community was the sum of their livelihood, was to be given to those at risk of starvation. There is an understanding, that sharing the fruit, the literal fruit of one’s labor was something to be done out of obedience, love and praise of God.
If you feared God and had respect for people, this was made manifest in direct social action and in the support of those most at risk in the community.
In the parable, the judge neither fears God or has respect for people—and hence, the widow is forced to beg for justice. It is tempting to look at this parable and correlate God with the unjust judge. However, I believe that this temptation comes out of our inability to imagine the vastness of God’s mercy. The unjust judge is not God—and that’s the entire point…
The unjust judge, is us.
And we, we are being challenged, to look at ourselves and our human institutions and ask the question, will we speak up only for ourselves, or will we speak up for those who plead for justice? Will we hear the voice of the widow and the orphan and respond swiftly, or will we make them beg for our help? And, only when they have groveled and inconvenienced us and embarrassed us—is it only then that we’ll act?
Or, will we respond like the God who first loved us, and participate as members of the body of Christ in the inbreaking of God’s swift justice? Not because they begged, but because we stand in awe of the God, the lover of souls and creator of all.
Will we make our faith on earth, reflect the righteousness of God?
As part of my ordination vows I made the promise, that with God’s help, I would pattern my life in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that I may be a wholesome example to my people. I have found this commitment a daunting one, and one that has driven me to prayer.
But, as I strive to model this way of life, I have found myself inspired by the witness of others--others whose cries on behalf of the people of God have assisted in the inbreaking and manifestation of God’s love, mercy and justice. And, in looking for these witnesses, those who fear God and respect God’s people I have found hope for who I can be, and who we can be together.
In one of my favorite children’s books Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” the protagonists are taken to observe a planet that is being overcome by the forces of evil, and as they watch they see bright flares of light. These flares spark and then fade. They ask what they are seeing and they are told that the lights are the moments in which stars sacrifice themselves in the ongoing battle against the darkness.
As they watch, the lights spark and flare, a litany of names of those who have brought light into the world is proclaimed, “Jesus, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Bach, Pasteaur, Madame Curie, Einstein, Schweitzer, Gandhi, Buddha, Beethoven, Rembrandt, St. Francis, Euclid, Copernicus” and I would add to her list Ruby Bridges who braved mobs in her pursuit of an equal education; Jonathan Daniels who martyred himself in pursuit of racial justice; Ta-Nehisi Coates whose writings illuminate the sin of racism; Sarah Super who has created space for rape survivors to share their stories…so many lights, so much hope and God’s justice draws nearer!
These are some of the many sages, saints, musicians, scientists, prophets and children of God who have proclaimed the message, the persistent and uncompromising message of God’s love for all creation.
And, I am so profoundly grateful for their witness. In the face of so much that seems evil, I am so grateful for these reminders of God’s abiding grace. In the face of so much that troubles the soul, I am so grateful for the truly, blessed assurance, that we as human beings can be active participants in God’s will for all of creation.
We are not powerless.
And we are equipped with the teachings, the witness, and the promises we need to bring light, hope and the sweet taste of God’s mercy to those who hunger for justice.