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Reflections on the Gospel, Week before October 20, 2013

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Luke 18:1-8

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

What I Am Learning:

This part of Luke’s gospel, according to some, tells us to pray for our new Bently until we get it. Some say that the reason why we don’t get what we pray for is because we don’t believe 100% in what we pray – that our prayers and ineffective because we lack faith.

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/10/09/believing-in-bling-meet-the-prosperity-preachers-of-l-a/?iref=allsearch

This interpretation is the use of this text to propose a human=self-centered consumer point of view. It takes the individualist consumer worldview of the 21st century and imposes it on this text.  The Lord’s Prayer speaks of “our daily bread”, not our daily yacht, Rolls Royce or for that matter our daily computer or TV. The Lord’s prayer speaks of basic needs, not of God as a vending machine:  put in the coin of faith and get out an oatmeal raisin cookie in a package of solid gold.

These “prosperity gospel” folks reduce faith to willing suspension of disbelief and reduce the scope of prayer to me, myself and I.

Yuk!

Before we discuss the text directly I want to set the scene with two reminders: First, the nature of the Lord’s Prayer and the second, the meaning of the term “son of man.

First, the last time Jesus encouraged them to pray – when he gave the disciples the Lord’s prayer. The petition “Hallowed be thy name” in Greek means two things simultaneously:

  • We hallow your name
  • Your name is not hallowed by many, act to make it hallowed

What would it take to make God’s name hallowed by all?  Simply, God's kingdom coming in its fullness!

The Lord’s Prayer is, to state it very bluntly, one part devotion and one part dare:  We say to God, “We dare you to make your name hallowed by bringing the justice of the kingdom of God.”

Second, it is helpful to remember the meaning of the term “son of man.”  When the Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes took over Palestine in 167 he killed many and tortured priests in the temple. He set up a statue of himself in the temple. Not a nice man!  The second part of the book of Daniel was written in this time. In this part of the book, the character Daniel sees a vision. He sees the Ancient One sitting on a throne and next to him is the “son of man.” The son of man could be translated “fully human one.” The fully human one will lead the people of God to victory over the empires of the world AND will lead them to be fully human themselves. The son of man was a vision in a time of violence and injustice that God was moving to make human beings fully human and by doing so would equip them to take part with God in bringing a healed earth and society.

Read that sentence again. The son of man was a vision in a time of violence and injustice that God was moving to make human beings fully human and by doing so would equip them to take part with God in bringing a healed earth and society.

Now let’s look at the text directly.

Widows were among the most vulnerable people. That is why the People of Israel were to care for them. A woman would normally not go to court – she would have a male go there for her. A woman’s place, in that society, was in the private world of the household.

The judge would not listen to her – he would not take the case. But she kept coming until she embarrassed him. In Greek she literally gave him a “black eye” – a term from boxing that also meant shaming someone in public. She was poor and vulnerable and was wronged – in the story Jesus commended her for her courage and persistence.

Unlike the judge, God is ever willing to grant justice, Jesus says. Notice that she was not praying for a new car or a new couch!  She was praying for fair treatment after having been wronged.

So then we get to the last sentence:  “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

In this whole section of Luke, Jesus is showing his disciples the audacious nature of God’s way of mutuality. Luke’s readers, living 50 years after Jesus, living in 10 years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple might well be wondering at this point of story just how Luke expects them to believe that God’s way of mutuality could possibly happen. Remember that gospels were read in one sitting in the early days. The Gospels could be likened to a sermon to a community. It could be that Luke sees that his community is losing the audacious vision of Jesus.

So he tells them, in this story, to be audacious in prayer for justice to God like the widow and as the Lord’s Prayer encourages.

So he tells them, in this story, to become fully human like the son of man and to participate in the emergence of God’s way of mutuality.

We live 2000 years or so after Jesus. I have heard many people say that this whole talk of God’s way of mutuality (the kingdom of God) is naïve nonsense. They say that this expectation was the silly expectation of the early Christians but that since then we have learned a more realistic vision.

Yes, we have learned a more realistic vision – one that accommodates itself to the exploitation of the poor, the degradation of the planet and the reduction of human beings to consumers and waste producers.

Like it or not, this realistic vision is not the same as Jesus’ vision.

Jesus’ vision is that we become fully and authentically human when we join him in the healing and creation of the world. He invites us to this partnership not just to get work out of us, but because in this partnership with Jesus in the healing and creation of the world we become authentically ourselves.

Would you really want to live another way?

 

Other Blogs:

http://www.holytextures.com/2010/10/luke-18-1-8-year-c-pentecost-october-16-october-22-proper-24-ordinary-time-29-sermon.html

http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=810