Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The Readings for Sunday, October 17, 2010:

First Reading: Genesis 32:22-31

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Jeremiah 31:27-34

Psalm: Psalm 121

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 119:97-104

Second Reading: 2 Timothy 3:14--4:5

Gospel: Luke 18:1-8

For many years, this Gospel lesson troubled me. I tend to approach Jesus' parables as teaching us something about the nature of God, so I always look for the character that is supposed to resemble God. In this parable, of course, I immediately assume that the Judge is the God stand-in. But what does that say about the nature of God? Do we really worship a God that is so distracted that he'll only respond if we beat the door down several times?

If we see the judge as the God character, we might use this parable to help us understand how God intervenes in a universe that God designed around the structures of free will. Think about your beliefs about how God operates in the world. We're back to some of those timeless questions: why does God allow pain and suffering if God is all powerful? One approach says that God gives us free will, and along with free will comes the decision to make bad choices. God is like a parent, who can't really control us, the adolescent children.

And yet, many theologians would argue that God is allowed to intervene in a universe designed to incorporate free will. The catch? God must be asked to intervene. And that's where we come in. We don't have to sit back and assume that God has the ultimate plan and design. No. In fact, this parable might teach us that our role is that of the widow. We are to demand justice for a ravaged world. If at first, we don't get it, we demand again and again, until righteousness is restored (if you're in the mood for reading more on this subject, check out the work of Walter Wink, especially Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination).

I'm still not comfortable with this view of the world or of God. Does that mean that the suffering in Darfur might have ended years ago, if enough of us had been praying? Does God turn away from injustice until enough people are outraged? Surely not.

Here, too, we bump into our beliefs about God and divine limits. Is God all powerful? Could God just point a finger and make people stop hurting each other? Where does evil come into the equation?

I'm not sure I believe in an all-powerful all the time God. I think God will be all powerful in the end and justice and mercy will be restored: the widow will have enough money, the poor will have food and shelter, lions and lambs will lie down together. I fervently pray for the restoration of creation (but I doubt it will happen in my lifetime). But I no longer rule out the very real power of evil, and it's clear to me that evil sometimes overpowers righteousness. My hope is that evil will not prevail in the end, but I also know that sometimes, I must work towards justice, without ever seeing results.

We are like the people who built cathedrals. We all have a role to play in restoring God's creation. We probably won't be alive to see its full glory; at least, we probably won't be alive in the bodies we have now. But we have a larger vision, and God requires us to do our part. Much of that role that we play is to cry out for justice. Will our cries be answered? Yes, eventually. Will we be around to feel good about the restoration of justice? Maybe. Even if we're not, that's not the point.

Think about how many people have been slaughtered as they advocated for the oppressed: famous people, like Stephen Biko or Archbishop Romero or Martin Luther King, as well as names we'll never know. They died before they got to see the full fruits of their labor, but the groundwork that they laid was vital for bending the arc of history towards justice (to use Martin Luther King's beautiful language). It's important to remember that sometimes when we advocate for justice, we might pay supreme sacrifices.

But the parable promises a positive outcome. Go back to the first verse: "And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart." That's the lesson of the parable.

This morning, as I thought about this parable and my response to it, I thought, isn't it interesting that I first see God in this parable as the male, corrupt judge? Maybe God in this story is the widow. How would this change our view of God, our view of religion, if we saw God as the more helpless characters in Scripture, as opposed to an authority figure?

It's a scarier view of God, to be sure. Most of us, if we're honest, would say that we prefer God the smiter to God the helpless widow. Even viewing God as a parent allows us to abdicate some responsibility. But as we read the Gospel with adult understanding, it's clear that God gives us a lot of power and responsibility. How will we use that power?

This parable teaches us that we're to cry out for justice day and night. If you're having trouble praying, turn your attention towards the people who are suffering in this world. Pray for Darfur. Pray for the people, whomever they might be this week, who are suffering from a natural disaster. Pray for those throughout the world who are thrown in jail to rot. Pray for the poor, beleaguered planet as it swelters beneath a merciless sun.

If the stones can cry out for justice (a line from a different Gospel), so can you. And you can take comfort from the fact that God cries out for justice right along beside you.

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