Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Persistence Widow and the Incompetent Judge – Luke 18:1-8

For the summer we are moving away form the Lectionary and doing a sermon series on the Parables of the Kingdom.  We began last week and continued this week with the Parable of the Persistent Widow and the Unjust Judge from Luke 18.  I suggest that rather than think of the Judge as unjust we should actually look at him as being an Incompetent Judge.
Read the Text of the Parable here: Luke 18:1-8 
            What is the Kingdom of God?  This phrase is a central part of the Jesus’ proclamation in the Gospels – The Kingdom of God is in your midst!  Or – Today this saying has been fulfilled in your hearing!  Or – Thy Kingdom come….  So what is the Kingdom to which Jesus refers?  In Mark and Luke it is the “Kingdom of God,” in Matthew it is the “Kingdom of Heaven” and in John it is “Eternal Life.”  It’s all the same thing, even though the terms are slightly different.  So what is the Kingdom of God?  Let me begin by stating clearly what the Kingdom is not – it is not a distant and remote “heaven” which is apart and removed from our life on earth.  It is not “pie in the sky in the sweet by and by;” It is not something we get or go to only after we die.

            Throughout the Gospels Jesus is constantly repeating the same thing over and over again – the Kingdom of God is here in your midst.  The Kingdom is come – in Jesus.  The Kingdom is Now; the Kingdom is also Not Yet.  Which is where the tension resides: The Kingdom is here and now; the Kingdom in its fullness is not yet.  But over the centuries Christianity has lost a sense of the Kingdom Now and has tended to focus on the Not Yet.  But when we do this we loose an important and central part of Jesus teaching – we loose a sense of immediacy; and we also loose a sense of our own mission and calling.

            Last week we began our summer sermon series on the Parables.  And it is with the Parables where Jesus is the most blunt with his descriptions of the Kingdom come Now into our midst.  We started with the story of the Workers in the Vineyard and we learned that one characteristic of the Kingdom is Generosity.  God is generous – in fact God is illogically and overwhelmingly generous.  And since we are Citizens of the Kingdom Come, through whom the world experiences God’s Love and Grace; and through whom the world intersects with the Kingdom – we are called to be generous also: Generous with the gifts God has given us – our time, talents, generous with the love and grace He has given to us and generous with our financial resources – none of this is our own, it comes to us from God.

            This week we hear the rather odd story of the Unjust Judge or the Persistent Widow and like most of Jesus’ parables there are a variety of ways this one can be interpreted.  One approach is for us to identify with the Widow.  In this interpretation we acknowledge that we seek after justice and while justice is denied and denied and denied the parable teaches us to be persistent and never stop praying or working for justice.  (I have pointed out previously that prayer, like faith is best understood as an activity – so to pray for justice is not just to wish for justice or to point out the need for justice to God – but also to actively work for justice).  And so, persistence is a key word here – like the widow we should never give up.  We know that God is a just God for whom justice is a priority.  And so we work for justice – no matter the obstacles – we recognize that it is our job to reach out to those who are in need of food or clothing or comfort and so on.  And we are to remain committed to this work over the long haul – we are to be persistent.

            Another way of interpreting this Parable is to relate God to the Unjust Judge or maybe we might think of the Judge as the Incompetent Judge.  Some are so uncomfortable with this idea that they say, well the Unjust Judge is a negative example: the parable shows us what God is not.  But, what if that is not the case?  What if the point is that God is the Incompetent Judge in that God’s love for God’s people and God’s commitment to justice is so overwhelming that God throws fairness (which is usually a characteristic of a good judge) out of the window and showers love and grace abundantly on those who do not deserve it.  We always assume that the poor widow was in the right and the judge was unjust because he refused to rule in her favor.  But the parable never actually says this.  Nowhere does Jesus state that the widow’s suit was right or just.  And the problem with the judge is that he just doesn’t want to waste his time on what he might see as a frivolous case.  The injustice then is that she can’t get a hearing.  And in the end she still doesn’t get a hearing because the judge rules in her favor just to get her out of his hair.

            Perhaps God is like that.  God knows we are guilty and that we have no case.  But because of God’s overwhelming and overflowing love for us, God rules in our favor and sends us away to continue to work in the Kingdom.  It is as though God is saying to us: Stop trying to justify yourself – stop judging others – get to the work of the Kingdom: the work of Generosity, the work of Finding the Lost, the work of Sowing the Seeds, the work of seeking Justice for our neighbor – and commit yourselves to this work – be persistent in your work and always remember that God is not so interested in judging as God is interested in loving!

Bibliography - I have been inspired in my understanding of the Parable by the work of Robert Farrar Capon - especially his book: "The Parables of Grace" and "Hunting the Divine Fox."

No comments:

Post a Comment