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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Holy Week Readings, Day Three

Persistence. I am always attracted to stories of people who have overcome incredible odds and accomplished amazing things... Look in my bookshelves and you will find thick books on the Lewis and Clark expedition, Nelson Mandela's fight against apartheid, Sir Ernest Shackleton's leadership of his men when their ship was stranded in the Antarctic, Mother Teresa's mission to the poorest of the poor, you name it.

So of course I love this parable because of the gritty character of the widow in the story:

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, 

     “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 

     And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 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 18:1-8)

I have taught on this passage multiple times. Naturally, as I teach it (or read it on my own), I encourage everyone to insert themselves in the role of the widow. That seems obvious.

But today I wonder if it’s entirely inappropriate to sit in the seat of the judge. Not because I think I’m like God, but I’m not sure the judge is really acting like God anyway — we are told he "neither feared God nor had respect for people." He initially refuses the woman's pleas for justice. He only ends up responding because he's frustrated and impatient with her and hopes she'll leave. Hmm... That doesn’t seem like God to me.

Time and again I have understood this passage to be a remarkable description of what it means to live by faith. And I still think it is. But today I am learning something new. As I keep reading through Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, today's chapter is on listening. And then as I spent time reading and reflecting on my daily Bible reading, I came to Luke 18:1-8. How incredible to read these two side by side. This quote from the book clanged like a bell in my head when I read it:

“Listening has something to do with being willing to change ourselves and change our world.”

Certainly, I want to be like the nagging widow, unrelenting in my prayers because I have faith that God is listening, and that I trust him entirely. But I also do not want to be like the unjust judge. I want to hear the world around me, which includes the people I walk by on the street, the community of people in which I live, and the needs of the world. In other words, I want to listen well. No, I do not think I'm entertaining grandiose notions about myself walking around like some Christian superhero, waving my hands here and there, granting requests. But the Christian life is expressed in being the hands and feet of Jesus. And in my prayers, not only am I to bang on God's door day after day with my complaints and requests for justice, I am also to seek after ways to be the one he calls upon to grant some requests.

It has been popular to celebrate godly women by reflecting the robust character of the woman in Proverbs 31:10-31. But it is far too easy to overlook these two verses tucked in right ahead of that section:

Speak out for those who cannot speak,
    for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

May we be the persistent widow and NOT be the unjust judge. May we spur one another on to speak up, to listen well, to express our love and praise for God by loving our neighbor in tangible ways. Amen.

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