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Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before October 16, 2016

Luke 18:1-8

18Then 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:

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, condemned the video tape of Republican Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump bragging about sexual assault. Included in his statement were these words:

"Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified."

The last word is certainly appropriate. Women are not objects but human beings. But really the rest of the sentence is quite horrible. First the sentence structure still implies that women are the passive recipients of the actions of others - "women are to be...." Second, the things that women are to have done to them are to be "revered and championed." I would hope that all human beings, made in the image of God, are to be revered. It is telling that women, instead of being of equal power, worth and human agency need to be "championed."

While his condemnation of Trump's taped comments from 2005 is a good thing, it reveals that he and many other men, and indeed much of our whole society, live in a world of white male privilege. His wording suggests that women have less power and agency than men and that this is the natural order of things. The only difference is that Speaker Ryan's words suggest that men treat women well while still maintaining power over them.

I am not trying to read his mind. I am looking at the effect of the statement.

In the first century Jesus speaks about prayer and the resiliency prayer requires. He told a story of a widow who kept coming to the judge to get justice against her opponent.

If she was a widow, we know that the odds were stacked against her. First, widows were generally not allowed to hold property. If there was no son, then the widow's property was held by the closest living male relative. If no relative existed, then the property could be held in custody by another, sometimes a scribe/lawyer. As Jesus tells us in Luke 20:47 that these lawyers would give widow's property to the Temple and maybe get kickbacks from the temple authorities.

Jesus lived in a culture of male dominance over women. It is no mistake that Jesus uses a widow for the actor in his story. Jesus takes a widow, who usually has things done to her and for her, and reveals her determination, power and agency. The judge does what she asks because of her sheer determination.

For Jesus prayer is an act of human agency in the midst of injustice.

For Jesus, true prayer is prayer for justice.

Cornell West says that "justice is love in public."  The kingdom of God, what we call God's way of mutuality is:

God’s love, grace, and shalom in everyday life, in every aspect of human relationship: public, private, economic, political, personal and communal, body, mind and environment.

The disciples were to pray, and to be resilient in prayer for the justice that is the God's way of mutuality even when the odds were against them.

For Jesus prayer is an act of hope in a future of peace and justice that God is bringing.

Today women can own property, run a business, run for president. Yet we still have in our society the assumption that women don't quite have all the agency and power that men have. We still see personal, interpersonal, institutional and structural expressions of patriarchy in our culture.

This not only happens when people sexually assault women, but even when some defend women without recognizing the inherent power and agency of women. I think Jesus, in part, is saying that women have this power no matter if others recognize it or not.

We continue to be called to do our own work for the day when we all honor the humanity and agency of every person. Until then, we are invited to pray that day comes in and among us.