Br. John Forbis
Pentecost 19C - Sunday, October 13, 2019
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
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I just have to come out and say this: This parable infuriates me. I find it confounding. I’ve heard it used in so many destructive ways. The primary one is, well, you’re not getting what you want or need because you’re not praying enough for it. Such a damaging interpretation gives Christianity a bad name. And those who do think that way, against them, I would like to have justice.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where too often justice involves a widow with little power and influence losing her decorum and dignity to attack an indifferent, unjust judge who only cares about himself and his friends She has to attack him because she’s desperate. Perhaps what she’s asking of the judge is for her own survival. The NRSV, the translation for this morning, tones down the full intensity of what is happening. The judge does not rule in her favor just because she won’t stop bothering him. The judge’s ruling comes from a fear that he might receive a black eye from her as the Greek expresses the action.
Although, she may have already given a black eye to his reputation. She perhaps remembers one thing that the unjust judge forgets. The Hebrew scriptures insist that widows, orphans and the poor are to be given particular care and preference. So if we were to imagine Jesus’s disciples listening to this parable, they were likely scandalized by the man’s behavior.
As she keeps coming after him tenaciously; she is exposing him for who he really is. To save his reputation, he will have to grant her wish. This world’s justice often provokes anger and violence to come out of one who has become desperate enough to pummel even a man who has the power to rule over her life or death. It also compels a judge to rule in one’s favor just to preserve his own skin and reputation.
In this brief passage, the word justice appears four times. So perhaps the question, I have to ask myself is the following: What am I praying for exactly? If I challenge Jesus and his parable about God, I better be clear about what I want before throwing God over for my own righteous indignation. Such a righteousness becomes nothing more than self-righteousness, much like the unjust judge who has no fear of God or respect for people.
So what do I want? Well I want the widow heard and given justice the first time. I want an end to racism, sexism, xenophobia, anti-semitism. I want those who perpetrate it to have to pay some consequences, certainly be removed from their jobs, from positions of power and influence, to be thrown in prison or even be killed if necessary. Then, the victims can take over and bring justice to this earth. It’s time for some payback, for them to get a taste of what they themselves have dished out, for them to get what’s coming to them.
Oops! Well, now I’m exposed.
It’s so human. We see justice as punitive, payback, who wins, who loses. But God’s justice is about forgiveness, peace, healing, reconciliation and love. It unites us, helps us to see who we are, human, God’s own children. No one wins, no one loses. In God’s justice we’re all one, persecuted AND persecutors, victims AND victimizers, just and unjust, all unified by love, a love that would go as far as to endure inhumanly cruel torture and a horrible, shameful death as a criminal to expose the horrors and atrocities resulting from our version of justice.
Jesus once said, if you do it or don’t do it to the least of these his children you do or don’t do it to him. This saying gives some precedence to the possibility that there’s much of the widow in God. She is trying to bring us to not just cry but act for justice as well … His justice that will prevail, that has prevailed again and again and again.
Just recently, I viewed the testimony of Gwen Carr, a widow and the mother of Eric Garner who was choked to death by a police officer, at a judicial hearing on police oversight. She appeared in a large room before many people in power, probably some just and some unjust, and expressed her experience of losing her son.
Her outcry was strong, forceful and persistent before and after that hearing. Yet, all she asked for was for that chokehold to be made illegal again and for the police officer who did it to be removed from his job and to face criminal charges in court. It took a long time, but eventually the officer was removed from his job. She relieved her community of at least one killer who swore to serve and protect.
Against tremendous opposition, heartache and anger, she spoke and kept on speaking, and people throughout the world heard her. Her granddaughter was doing the same thing until she died of a heart attack at the age of 27. Their cry was not calling for vengeance but just simply safety and accountability.
They have become a galvanizing symbol to expose the violence and injustice of police officers who abuse their authority looking for scapegoats. They have become the women who stood up against unjust judges in New York who did not charge the police officer for murder. They are the voice of God who so longs and desires for a home where love prevails and not suspicion, racism and violence.
“They have taken my son’s voice away, but his mother still has a voice, and I’m going to use it as long as I have a voice.”
When the Son of Man comes, will he still find faith on earth?