“Persistance & Resistance: A Tale of Two Widows”
Luke 18: 1-8 ~ Northwood United Church – Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook – October 20, 2019
Have you ever gone to a movie with a friend, sat down with popcorn and beverage, only to walk out two hours later wondering what that movie was really all about? On the surface, it was, perhaps a love story, yet there was so much more going on as characters and historical events intermingle into a timeless drama that spoke so much truth to the complexities of life. You walked out wondering ‘what was that story really all about?’ This morning’s parable, I think, offers a lot more spiritual wisdom for our living than simply lifting up the virtues of a faithful widow’s perseverance in prayer in the face of horrible people like the unjust judge.
As Rev. Mary mentioned in introducing this morning’s reading, this story told is a parable. A parable is a specific form of literature regularly employed by Jesus and other teachers of the day. The point was not just the seemingly simple story. It was designed to stir the mind into active thought. Just like the wise gardener who stirs up the ground prior to planting seeds, the teacher tells a parable for the purpose of stirring up one’s well established ways of thinking and preparing our mind to receive the seeds of a new way. Once prepared, this teaching can be planted into fertile soil that is prepared and ready…ready to receive the beautiful and challenging teachings allowing for the unfolding of the Kin-dom of God.
So, what needed to be stirred up in the minds of the listeners, we wonder? Two things really…an understanding of judges and that of widows. Widows were placed in profoundly difficult positions in this historical time. If the death of one’s beloved husband was not tragic enough, the widow’s almost certain sentence to poverty made it that much worse. Following her husband’s death, the widow was not entitled to inherit her family estate, nor was she allowed to work. The estate was either passed on to her sons or to her brothers-in-law. In either case, the widow became entirely dependent upon the goodwill of the recipients. This created a system, of course, that was fraught with injustice. To view this text with 21st Century minds that celebrate a growing movement towards equality among sexes, reveals a deep need, for us to stir up our thinking and consider who the widows ~ being deprived of economic justice ~ really are today. So who are the widows? The widows are the poor without means for advancement; the widows are the immigrants who are not able to use their academic credentials in their new homeland; the widows are found in the homes where the hooks of addiction increasingly syphon all the family’s income pushing them further into poverty. The widows, in this understanding, are found in the upper class all the way through the lower. They are found in homes that would surprise you as life and hope is slowly being sucked out…day by day.
Getting back to Jesus’ time, given this type of economic set up for widows, it was common to see disputes about justice. And when there was a dispute, it was settled by taking the matter to a judge. In Jesus’ time, the Judge was understood to be the one who had a “fear of the Lord” and the wisdom to ensure God’s justice was carried through. The judge is the other character that needs to be ‘stirred up’ in our viewing. When we think of a judge, perhaps our mind conjures up images of a senior, learned legal professional. One who deliberates with impartiality and dispenses with grace and justice on behalf of the community. That is not the case here. The judge, in this parable is not a pillar of virtue who is charged to guide an impartial jury. In fact, there was no jury in those days. According to the text, the judge was anything but full of grace, wisdom or justice. The judge was a poor representative of this esteemed position for two reasons: Firstly, he delays in acting upon the immediate needs of the widow. And secondly, he believes that he was above everything – above both God and people. The text puts it: “the judge neither feared God nor had respect for people”. Further to this point, it is always interesting to see what stories the gospel writer chooses to place on either end of the text under consideration. In this case, the text which follows this passage contains Jesus making strong allegations against the religious leaders ~ the Pharisees of his day…the ones who publicly, declare themselves to be superior as they attended the temple. In this parable, it was the tax collectors, those who people detested, who in their humility found deep communion with God. As the text puts it: “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted”.
Well, having begun stirring up this text a little, when I look at now, I’m wondering if there are actually two widows that Jesus hopes we will see…each widow is grief stricken and yearning for reunion…one widow is US grieving for a full life in God and the other widow is GOD grieving for a full communion with each and every one of us. Just like Adam and Eve finding separation at the Garden from God, an ongoing pain of separation between God and God’s people as continues to exist. Let’s talk about these two widows.
On a human level, I believe that each of us, in our varied ways find the role of the widow to be contained in our human yearning. We all long for this beautiful homecoming one day with God. We yearn for God’s justice, God’s peace, God’s hope to be experienced in our struggles. Whether we live with the pains of addiction tearing us apart, whether we live with the pains of poverty holding us down, whether we live with other pains of separation from God’s presence in other facets of our living, we ALL long for the day that we might know God fully in our lives as a loving partner is reunited with the other. From a ‘God-perspective’, the scriptures contain a litany of stories, and songs and prophecies describing God’s yearning for our homecoming. God dreams of the day of our full reunion in God’s gracious presence. The day when every tear is wiped away and mourning will be no more. King Solomon perhaps says it most poetically in the Song of Songs with the consistent image of us being pursued by a relentless lover who is God. Luke tells of this in the homecoming of the prodigal son, and we know of it in our heart’s longings. The two widows today are God and God’s people who yearn for this day of reunion and homecoming.
And the gospel good news in this morning’s text is that this homecoming will arrive, but it will not arrive by accident. The text describes how justice is granted to the widow ~ it comes through the widow’s persistent prayer. The judge finally grants justice to the widow…why…because she persistently keeps returning to him. The text concludes with these hopeful words: “and will not God grant justice to His chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them”. Yet the text does not end there, does it? The parable concludes with a challenge to us in our persistence challenging us: “and yet, when the Son of Man comes, will her find faith on earth?”.
God is making the offer…hands are open to receive us…yet are we running in God’s direction for reunion? Are we persevering in prayer? Are we persevering in action? This text is often lifted up as a call to persistent prayer. And I think it is; however, it is as much a call to spending private ‘knee time’ in prayer as it is to spending active ‘feet time’ in prayer. The kind of faith on earth that Jesus is talking about, a kind of praying for “thy Kingdom come” and living as thy Kingdom is coming as well. So much is to be done… it is about both persistence and resistance… “and yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth”. Earlier this week on Thursday was the U.N.’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. It is a growing movement lifting up the growing concern with 2.3 Billion people on our planet living with less than $1.25 per day. So much is to be done…it is about both persistence and resistance. “And yet when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” The U.N’s Interfaith Harmony Week in February, occurring across the globe. Plans are well underway for our city with Northwood, once again, being a host for the Interfaith Symposium. We will continue to see ways to foster interfaith harmony. So much is to be done…persistence and resistance… “and yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Monday is voting day in the Federal Election. We hosted a packed sanctuary one week ago for a non-partisan discussion among our candidates for Fleetwood-Port Kells and we heard some of the passion of the voters. I’m always surprised at how few people actually vote! This is the chance to consider the needs of others, the needs of the planet, the needs of the poor… So much is to be done…persistence and resistance… “and yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth”.
Those are just a few of the many ways that persistent, resistant prayer may be lived out as we yearn for this glorious reunion. And we are all called uniquely and differently. But we are ALL called. I’ve been involved some beautiful conversations as people ponder reunion with their spouse in heaven. How will they look? (they ponder) How will I look when I get there? (they ponder) One of the treasured conversations on that question came from a person who said “I think we are recognized by the working of our spirit: our compassion, our love, our care. That is how I will recognize my beloved when I see them again”.
…“And when the Son of Man comes, we he find faith on earth?”