McFarland

Wednesday Meditation by Pastor Kelli

Light a candle

Read Luke Luke 18:1-8

Today we continue our exploration of Jesus’ parables that are recorded in Luke’s Gospel. 

When Jesus told this story, all women, and widows to an even higher degree, were incredibly vulnerable.  They were unable to own property or have a job which left them completely dependent upon their male relatives for survival.  It is in this state of vulnerability that the unnamed widow begs – nay, demands – justice.  Someone continues to take advantage of her and she needs help. 

She has no power or social capital to do this on her own, so she continues to approach the judge to deliver this justice.  This seems like a reasonable solution but we hear that the judge neither fears God nor has respect for people.  Before we feel sympathy for a judge that has been unduly criticized, a few verses later we hear him talking to himself, saying, “Though I have no fear of God or respect for anyone…”  It’s not a harsh judgement but a rather accurate assessment of his character.  I no longer wonder why he is talking to himself.  No one else wants to talk to him.

It is from her discarded and ignored position in society that the widow continues to bring her case – her hurt, her pain, her vulnerability, her desperation, her powerlessness, her indignation – to the judge.  In the words of scholar Barbara Lundblad, she is utterly alone and without a chance, yet she has the audacity to think mercy would come to her.[1]  And it does.

While it is tempting to quickly jump into the meat of this compelling and challenging story, it might be helpful to remember the setting.  Verse one: Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.  What does this story, about a widow demanding justice, tell us about prayer?

There is a direct connection between this parable and an earlier conversation Jesus had with his disciples.  Right after he taught them what we call the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus asked, “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will he give a snake instead of a fish?  Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” (Luke 11:11-13)[2]

Humans make all sorts of mistakes and create all sorts of problems in the world, but they still know how to love their kids beyond measure and they will go to extreme lengths to take care of and provide for them.  If humans are able to do this for those whom they love, God will obviously do this and more.

Which directly connects to today’s parable.  Yes, the judge is not someone we should strive to emulate – yes, his motivation is all wrong – but justice is still brought forth.  So, if the judge is able to do what is right for the woman, “will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?  Will he delay long in helping them?” (Luke 18:7)

We are invited to continually approach God with our case.  Jesus invites us to bring our hurt, our pain, vulnerability, desperation, powerlessness, and indignation to God.  Cry out to God day and night, and beg that God does not delay in helping us.  There is a sacredness to recognizing what is happening both near us and in the world, and confronting God: “I thought you wanted more for us, God.”

But we are also challenged to see those in our midst who are vulnerable, who are begging us for help, and consider the ways in which we might be getting in the way of their justice being delivered.  In the words of David Lose, “God, the Bible has persistently insisted, gives special attention to those who are most vulnerable; therefore, we should persist in our complaints, even to the point of embarrassing the powers that be in order to induce change.”[3]  How could we amplify the voices of today’s widows – the people who have no power or social capital – to help their needs be met?  That would be answered prayer indeed.  Thanks be to God.

[1] Barbara Lundblad, “Worship: Luke 18:1-8” (sermon, Festival of Homiletics, Minneapolis, May 13, 2019). 
[2] David L. Tiede, footnote to “18.1” in The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised and Updated NRSV ed. Harold Attridge (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2006), 1798.
[3] David Lose, “Preach This Week, October 16, 2016, Gospel Reading, Commentary on Luke 18:1-8,” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2966 (accessed July 9, 2020).

Study Questions

1) In what ways do you feel like the widow (or have felt like the widow), powerless and vulnerable? Who was the judge who helped you receive justice?

2) In what ways do you feel like the judge, possibly getting in the way of justice? Who are the widows asking for your help?

3) How does the idea of “confront God with the demand for justice” feel? Empowering?  Rude?  Inconsiderate?  Liberating?

4) How could our prayers on behalf of others shape or influence our actions in the world?

Prayer

God of love and justice, thank you for promising to always hear our cries, day or night.  Give us the perseverance to never stop seeking what is right, and give us the wisdom to recognize when we may be a hinderance to others and then show us how we may support them in their vulnerability.  Wrap your care around the hurt, your hope around the desperate, your courage around the powerless, and your determination around the indignant.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.