Tuesday, October 19, 2010

October 17, 2010 - Just the Way it Is

Just the Way It Is
Luke 18.1-8 The widow and the Unjust Judge


    Like all great storytellers, Jesus had the ability to tell stories that address us and address our world on many levels – all at the same time. Imagine a parable as an onion, with layers of meaning – each one giving us a new insight, and each one with the power to bring us to tears. The only difference between those who listened to Jesus and us is that they probably knew the particular situation Jesus is weaving into his story: the community, the job, probably even the names.


    Jesus told a parable about a persistent widow who went to a Judge to plead for justice. The Judge looked at the woman, but being a man – a man of power, and a man with more important things to do – he ignored her. And the widow, having no other way to defend herself, simply went back to the Judge day after day, pleading her case, crying out for justice. She may have been powerless, but she would not be quiet about it.
    And at this point, even before the story is finished, we think to ourselves: "That's just the way it is." Like it or not and far too often, this is just the way life works:
        +Despite all the gains in women's rights across the years, a woman without a husband is not taken as seriously as she should be;
        +And any woman, accompanied by her husband, who shops for something important like a car, will find the salesperson talking her husband not to her.

        [EXAMPLE] An unmarried woman in Bible Study this week told about a fairly recent experience of going to shop for a car – a Mercury, as I recall – here in Knoxville. She drove onto the lot; the salesman met her as she got out of her car. She had already been doing some shopping, so she told him what she was looking for. His response to her rather specific request was a question: “And, where is your husband today?” That was a 21st Century response, not a 1st Century response.

        +Men still have the power to make all kinds of decisions that affect the lives of others;
I'm not sure how the world works in other parts of the country, but here in the South, this is still the way it is. You can work with it creatively or you can just get mad. The world is not going to change; you choose.//

    Jesus told a story that recognizes the way of this world. There was widow (a woman with no power and no male relative to speak for her) and there was an unjust judge (a man with power). Well, the widow thought that some guy was treating her unjustly, and she came to the judge to ask for the justice that should be hers.
    +Some guy was taking advantage of the fact that she was a widow;
    +And the judge, who is supposed to set things right neither feared God nor cared about anybody. He had better things to worry about. In other words, the old boy was shameless.

    2. [ABOUT JUDGES] I know that the U.S. Supreme Court and the Tennessee Code Annotated have plenty to say about judges and their official conduct. For those who are aspiring to become judges one day, I want to point out that God offers the world a very high sense of justice and work of judgment. This is what God has to say about the work of judges. You’ll find it in 2 Chronicles 19.4ff:

    King Jehoshaphat appointed judges in the land in all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city, and said to the judges, "Consider what you are doing, for you judge not on behalf of persons but on the Lord's behalf; the Lord is with you whenever you give judgment. Now, let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take care what you do, for there is no perversion of justice with the LORD our God, or partiality, or taking of bribes."

The world may work another way, but God offers a much loftier vision.
    Now, Jesus told a story about life and right and wrong and men and women and the way life works. And in Jesus' hands any story has a way of making us see the world in new ways.

I. First, Jesus said that the widow was PERSISTENT and came back to the judge over and over to plead her cause. She kept coming back so long that, even though he did not care about her or her case, she wore him down. And he gave her the justice she sought.
    It is first a lesson about prayer and asking God to answer our deepest needs. According to Luke, Jesus told us that persistence in prayer is the way to ask God to give us what we need. There are many reasons God might not answer our prayers as quickly as we'd like. Despite any delays, Jesus assures us that God does hear our prayers as surely as that Judge could not escape the widow's pleas. And Jesus urges us not to grow weary of asking in prayer. The God who loves us will answer more surely than a sorry old judge who has "no fear of God and no respect for anyone."

II. Second layer is not so much about theology as it is about practicality:  Jesus taught his disciples that the way to deal with the powerful in the world is by PERSISTENT use of the tools you have. The widow did not have anyone that she could call on to speak for her; she was not as powerful as the opponent who was troubling her. But, she could keep doing what she could do – she could go back again and again until the Judge acted. As for the judge, he could get away with ignoring her, but apparently he could not get away with silencing her or running her off. She did not suffer in silence, and she was not going to let him suffer in her silence either. She continued persistently until he relented and gave her the justice she sought.

    Remember how angry people became when the Chairman of BP Oil made that “little people” comment in his statement that was supposed to be an apology to the nation? In a meeting with President Obama in the White House, BP’s CEO Carl-Henric Svanberg, apologized for the spill, then offered a public statement of remorse to the nation afterwards. But Svanberg apology was not well received when he committed a blunder by saying: “We care about the little people.”

And everyone of us, who have found ourselves powerless before the powerful in this world, hear from Jesus a word of encouragement as we go out to struggle against the wrongs that we face. You and I may be just “the little people” to the powerful of this world, but like the widow, we can use what we have.

    [CHILE] What an incredible story of courage and persistence unfolded for the world this week at the San Jose mine in Chile. Thirty-three miners kept their composure while they waited to be contacted. Then, they stayed organized and together until their rescue this week. There is no doubt that the President of Chile played his part, and many others, from several nations, brought necessary skills and resources to the rescue operation. It became the feel-good story we can all take part in. I guess Tony Hayworth would include Chilean miners among the “little people” of the world, but what an example of courage and persistence they have given us! So many people prayed for their safe return, and now we have the joy of seeing them safe and at home.

Prayer is the stabilizing work that keeps our faith upright, that keeps us in the game, that positions us to receive from God what God wants us to have. Prayer is a practice that connects us to the power that is much greater than ourselves, a power that can fill us and change us and strengthen us and guide us. Prayer is a practice that is perfected by persistence – by disciplined determination to be in an ongoing conversation with God.

    Powerful people sometimes step-on OR step-over others in their way; that’s just the way world is. But, Jesus used the parable to teach us – all of us – about persistence and prayer.

III. Third layer: we need to return to what this passage tells us about God.
    Who do you identify with the story as Luke tells it?
    +With the widow?
    +OR With the Judge?
In a Bible study, someone led us through an exercise in which we wrote down the qualities of the widow and then of the Judge. Just make a list in your mind or on your order of service:
What are the qualities of the widow?
    +persistent,
    +believes in justice,
    +respects the authority of the Judge to make the decision,
    +stands up for her rights,
    +(you can add others.)
What are the qualities of the Judge?
    +crooked,
    +unwilling to do the right thing,
    +refuses to listen to someone who wants to trust him,
    +serves justice based on a person's status or power or money,
    +(again, you can add more.)

Now, looking at your lists, which one of these characters is most like God? It looks like the widow. And which is most like people? It looks more like the Judge. Which one of them looks like any of us? Immediately, I realized that I have been reading this parable upside down. The Judge is most like me and people of all kinds; the widow is most like God.
        +Like the widow, God is persistent in calling us to live up to the faith we claim. God believes in justice, but God allows people to make their own decision about faith and faithfulness. And yet, God also stands up for God's right to be God.
        +And people like us keeping putting off God's call to do right in our dealings with others; people like us keep putting off God's call to faith and faithfulness in our dealings with God. If God has the right be God and call for our faithfulness, then we are unjust in putting God off with our half-way commitment and self-serving faith.
    We know how the world works, but to hear Jesus tell this story is to see ourselves in a new light.

To read this parable, seeing ourselves as self-serving old judges who hold God the supplicant off at a distance is to see ourselves and our claims in a whole new light. Does God the Almighty come to the likes of us in willing powerlessness to wait upon our decision?
    +Faith in God or rebellion against God?
    +Faithfulness to God's ways or unfaithfulness?
    +Living justly to be a blessing OR living  to serve no one but ourselves?

IV. The last line of the story in Luke is the most challenging:
    "I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18.8)

The last layer of the story is Jesus’ teaching on the character of faith. Through the story, he is teaching us what faith is. Then, he asks, “When I come again, will I find faith in you? In the church? In the world?

    For too long we have accepted the view that faith is merely our agreement to a set of propositions about God.
    +God is great.
    +God is good.
    +God is love.

Whatever the list of propositions, we have presented faith as our willing assent to such a list. But, the definition of faith as Jesus presents it in this parable is much richer and more robust than any list of propositions. Read the parable again. What does Jesus teach us about faith through this parable?
    +Faith is praying in the confidence that God hears;
    +Faith is praying persistently in the face of God's delay or God's silence;
    +Faith is listening and responding when God calls on us to hear;
    +Faith is acting justly;
    +Faith is exercising the authority that we enjoy – but, in the fear of God.
    +Faith is responding to God's call and God's claims on us.
Instead of a list to accept, faith is walking alongside God each day.

    [FOOTBALL] To borrow a football metaphor: faith is never taking your eye off that Alabama linebacker who is surely coming. When the ball is snapped, you’d better not be tying your shoelaces.

    When Jesus comes, will he find faith in us? In our church? In our world?

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