Sunday, October 20, 2019 – Pentecost 19

October 20, 2019  

Pentecost 19 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Luke 18:1-8

Jesus said “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people” (Luke 18:2).

I’ve been reading comments amongst people (some who are clergy) on both Facebook and Twitter this past week, folks trying to explain what it means to fear God. Some folks approach the subject in a childlike way, suggesting we ought to fear God because God has ultimate power OVER us and can condemn us to an eternity in Hell for no reason at all, just because God is God. They reject this fear, some rejecting this God. Which is understandable. Who wants to believe in a God only of wrath and condemnation?

A quick search of the web pointed me in another direction. A Lutheran Pastor from North Carolina wrote in our Living Lutheran magazine a few years ago (“Fear and Love,” Tim Brown, November 2, 2016) about his understanding of what it means to “fear and love” God:

My adult self will tell you that fearing God is like [as theologian Rob Bell once noted,] sitting on a    surfboard just offshore and finding a huge whale surfacing beneath you. The immensity of the event causes awe and respect and, yes, a certain fear as you are lifted. Whales are gentle but still wild, and in the vastness of the sea, encountering such a giant can’t but leave you breathless. And you love it.

And he wrote:

fearing God is like listening to the quiet after a large snowfall. Everything has changed and there is immense power in that. And yet, everything is more beautiful— even if it’s all just a little more complex. And you love it.

And he wrote:

fearing and loving God has less to do with cowering in a corner and more to do with being drawn to your knees in awe of something so impossibly giant you’re amazed it chooses goodness for you and not something else.

Just so—we are called to fear and love God. But the judge in our parable, he did not. He “neither feared God nor had respect for people” (Luke 18:2).

In the first chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses instructed judges in how to behave. He wrote:

Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s (Deuteronomy 1:16-17).

So, as one commentator put it, “The Judge’s responsibility… was to declare God’s judgment and establish shalom” (“Commentary” Luke 18:1-8 The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 336).

A judge who “neither feared God nor had respect for people” could hardly “establish shalom.” Until he was confronted by a “persistent widow.”

To understand the significance of the widow we have to understand the place of widows in first century ancient Israel, as well as the place of widows in scripture.

Widows were powerless back then. When their husbands died widows were left with nothing. The husbands’ brothers were charged with marrying the widows in order they might be provided for. But there was no guarantee. If the widows were not provided for by the husbands’ families—they had nothing. They were left to go to their local judge to beg for justice.

Scripture is full of reminders that God cared for widows and demanded that God’s followers do the same:

[God] will not ignore… the widow when she pours out her complaint (Sirach 35:17).

God will vindicate the widows (Numbers 22:22).

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God… is this: to care for orphans and widows in their   distress” (James 1:27).

In our parable a persistent widow “keeps bothering” an unjust judge, leading the unjust judge to grant her justice.

God is our Just Judge. Jesus told us that God, our “just judge” will “grant justice to [God’s] chosen ones who cry to [God] day and night” (Luke 18:7).

Prayer is our cry. Prayer is a tricky thing. When I was doing my first hospital chaplaincy years ago, I recall hiding in little chaplains’ offices, avoiding having to visit patients. I was afraid to pray for patients because I knew prayers aren’t always answered the way we want them to be.

When we make our prayers about us and our needs, we have to know we won’t always get what we ask for.

This story makes clear, if in our lives we face injustice and oppression, we must be persistent in our demands, praying for justice and freedom. But, if we are not facing injustice and oppression, our prayerful attention ought to be on those who are, rather than on ourselves. Likewise, if we are not hungry our prayer ought not be for food for ourselves; we ought to pray that God gives others this day their daily bread.

As one commentator wrote:

To those who are worn out, hard pressed, and lacking in hope, Jesus says to pray night and day… To those who have it in their power to relieve the distress of the widow, the orphan, and the stranger but do not, the call to pray night and day is a command to let the priorities of God’s compassion reorder the priorities of their lives.” (“Reflections” Luke 18:1-8 The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 339).

May the priorities of God’s compassion guide our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.