Jesus Tells a Parable…, Proper 24 (C) – 2001
October 21, 2001
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about an unjust judge and a poor widow woman. Like all parables, this story has more than one layer of meaning. It was intended, Luke tells us, to remind the disciples about the need for persistence in prayer and in their lives. An obvious interpretation when reading this Gospel is to cast ourselves in the role of the widow, pleading with God night and day until finally our prayers are answered. We know, of course, that God is not like the unjust judge of the parable; but the implication is that if even such a wicked man will give in when he tires of the widow’s pleas, then surely a just, merciful, and loving God will be that much swifter to answer our prayers.
But today, let’s look at this parable from a different angle. Let’s suppose that this widow, with her persistent demands for justice, represents God, and WE are the unjust judge, who neither feared God nor had respect for people. Imagine that it is God who continually calls us, who continually asks for something from us, who just won’t let us alone until our resistance is broken down.
In fact, in the history of God’s people, this does seem to describe the way God often behaves. Remember Jonah, running in the other direction but finding that he couldn’t run far enough to get away from God. Think of St. Paul, breathing righteousness in his persecution of the people of The Way, until God caught up with him on the road to Damascus. Think of St. Augustine, reveling in his profligate life until his conversion, and writing the beautiful lament, “Late have I loved thee, O Beauty so ancient and new. Late have I loved thee.”
Doesn’t God sometimes act like this with us? Perhaps God has been persistent in calling us to knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Perhaps we have strayed from the path, for however long or short a time, and have heard God’s voice calling us to come home. Or perhaps it is not so much that we have strayed, but rather that we have become complacent in our Christian lives and we hear God calling us to a deeper commitment. In whatever ways God calls us, the common experience is that God is persistent. We may not always want to hear God’s call. We may have our own agenda. Perhaps we have put our trust in the things of this world
instead of in God. Perhaps we are willing to give just so much, but we are holding back on the total commitment that God wants from us. There are as many ways to run from God’s persistent call as there are human beings. But God doesn’t stop calling. God really is kind of like that widow woman.
Speaking of the widow, remember that what she was so persistently pleading for in this parable was justice. God calls us also to further the cause of justice in this world. Remember the words from the prophet Micah: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” When we renew our Baptismal vows, we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.
In what ways does God call us to strive for justice and peace this week? It may be in our business practices, or in the way we treat others, especially those less fortunate than ourselves. In a little town in southwest Missouri, newly arrived immigrant families woke up to find “KKK” signs, death threats, and their cars splattered with eggs. People in local churches were called to work for justice. They asked for and received help from the sheriff’s office and from the housing authorities. They reached out in Christian love to their brothers and sisters. News of the incident spread and they received messages of support from all over the country. The widow woman was persistent in her demands for justice, and so must we be. And when we do that, we behave in a God-like way. We make ourselves available, and God uses us.
Brothers and sisters, throughout our lives God continues to call us. God’s call is persistent, and so long as we live it will continue. We will never arrive at the place where we can say, “There, now I’ve done it all. God will ask no more of me.” God’s call may be different at different times in our lives, but there is always more. At times we listen well, at times perhaps not so well, but God’s voice is never stilled. Each time we hear and respond, we become more the person God calls us to be.
The great English poet John Donne (1573-1631) knew something about this persistence of God. Donne is perhaps most well known for these lines: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls: It tolls for thee.” John Donne was also a priest of the Church of England, and besides being a noted poet he was also the most famous preacher of his day. It seems he knew that it was not only God who called but also God who gave the grace to respond. In this poem we see something of Donne’s response to the persistent call of God in his life:
Batter my heart, three person’d God, for you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow mee, and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely I love you, and would be loved faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie.
Divorce mee, untie, or breake that know againe;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.
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