Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 29) (Green)
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
Readings Jeremiah 31:27-34; Psalm 119:97-104; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8
Collect Almighty and everliving God, increase in us your gift of faith, that forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to what is before, we may run the way of your commandments and win the crown of everlasting joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Alt 1 God of the dispossessed, you teach us to hunger for justice even when the weak are shut out and the powerful turn over in their beds: in the heat of our anger and the bitterness of our complaints, give us courage to protest, the persistence to pray and the heart to love; through Jesus Christ, the true judge.
Prayers for an Inclusive Church (2009)
Alt 2 Holy God, we lift our eyes to you in hope and awe. Grant that we may reject all apathy of spirit, all impatience and anxiety, so that, with the persistence of the widow, we may lift our voice again and again to seek your justice.
Revised Common Lectionary Prayers (2002)
Prayer over the Gifts
Eternal God, your word inspires our faith. May we who offer you our praise trust you in all things. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord.
Prayer After Communion
God of peace, you have nourished us in this sacrament with the body and blood of Christ. May we who have taken holy things keep faith in our hearts and lives, in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord.
8 am THE FIRST LESSON IS TAKEN FROM THE 31st CHAPTER OF THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH. BEGINNING AT THE 27TH VERSE.
10 am A READING FROM THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt – a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
8 am THE WORD OF THE LORD.
10 am HEAR WHAT THE SPIRIT IS SAYING TO THE CHURCH.
THANKS BE TO GOD (JEREMIAH 31:27-34)
REFRAIN The words of the Lord are sweeter than honey.
Oh, how I love your law! all the day long it is in my mind.
Your commandment has made me wiser than my enemies, and it is always with me. R
I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my study.
I am wiser than the elders, because I observe your commandments. R
I restrain my feet from every evil way, that I may keep your word.
I do not shrink from your judgements, because you yourself have taught me. R
How sweet are your words to my taste! they are sweeter than honey to my mouth.
Through your commandments I gain understanding; therefore I hate every lying way. R
8 am THE EPISTLE LESSON IS TAKEN FROM THE 3RD CHAPTER OF THE SECOND LETTER OF PAUL TO TIMOTHY, BEGINNING AT THE 14TH VERSE.
10 am A READING FROM THE SECOND LETTER OF PAUL TO TIMOTHY.
As for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
8 am THE WORD OF THE LORD.
10 am HEAR WHAT THE SPIRIT IS SAYING TO THE CHURCH.
THANKS BE TO GOD (2 TIMOTHY 3:14-4:5)
8 am THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AND WITH THY SPIRIT.
THE HOLY GOSPEL IS WRITTEN IN THE 18TH CHAPTER OF THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAINT LUKE, BEGINNING AT THE 1ST VERSE.
GLORY BE TO THEE, O LORD.
10 am THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AND ALSO WITH YOU.
THE HOLY GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO SAINT LUKE.
GLORY TO YOU, LORD JESUS CHRIST.
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 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. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
THIS IS THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST.
PRAISE TO YOU, LORD JESUS CHRIST
Let us pray.
Holy God, the dispenser of all justice, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.
There is an idea attributed to C.S. Lewis, he’s thought to have said “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.”
But, this story from Jesus seems a bit off side, eh?
Here we have a judge who describes himself as having no reverence for God nor any respect for any other person, and a widow who keeps bothering the judge and in less genteel translations is threatening to blacken the eye of the judge.
Jesus tells his disciples this parable to remind them to pray always and not to lose heart. A parable is a story that illustrates a moral or spiritual lesson. There’s almost always more than one way to interpret a parable. Parables really bothered Jesus’ friends because they’d go to him with a clearly defined question that they wanted a legal ruling on, the kind of thing you’d bring to court to settle once and for all. And instead of a verdict, Jesus would come back to them with a story.
In today’s gospel reading though, Jesus half entertains their desire for a legal answer by telling them a story that at least takes place in a courtroom. It’s about a widow who keeps coming to this judge with a complaint and the judge keeps dismissing her. The judge is not really interested in what granting her request might mean for the quality of her life. Then one day the judge decides to hear her out. It’s like her persistent appearances keep causing the judge to face the fact that they’re unwilling to exercise justice, the very thing they’re being paid to do.
We hear about a judge who is a self-admitted jerk confronted endlessly by a widow seeking a just remedy to an unidentified problem. We have someone at opposite ends of the social ladder – the judge at the top and the widow at just about the very bottom.
The Jewish scholar Amy Jill Levine translates the judge’s ruling with a boxing metaphor. She imagines the judge as saying “yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice so that she will not wear me out by continually punching me in the eye.” (The eye being for many ancient near eastern traditions, the seat of justice—the place from which we exercise or fail to exercise justice).
What’s more, in Amy Jill Levine’s rendering of this story, the widow’s motives aren’t exactly, shall we say, pure. Levine reads the widow as out for revenge, likely against the person who made her a widow in the first place. This widow wants her opponent put to death, a kind of eye for an eye scenario, which Jesus actively refutes throughout the gospels. This reading of the widow disrupts what is, perhaps, our usual picture of marginalized, disenfranchised women—that they are meek and mild, passive characters in need of rescue. The statue of Lady Justice atop the Old Bailey courthouse in London (you know the one, where she’s holding the scales), well in the little tourist pamphlet, it says that the statue is of a woman who’s “maidenly form” is supposed to “guarantee her impartiality” in matters of the law. Hm.
Reading the widow as someone seeking vengeance, rather than through a maidenly stereotype, this challenges the notion that women, namely poor women, are two-dimensional characters with little to no agency. What if this widow were a complex individual with mixed motives—more fully human than the usual lenses we might prefer to read her through?
It’s interesting to me that this reading pops up in this week that marks the 90th Anniversary of the Persons Case ruling by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (Oct 18, 1929) which granted agency to Canadian women.
Both the judge and the widow are wrapped up in the systems of their society. The judge likely inherited the role from his father after he died. The widow is basically without any standing at all in the eyes of those around her after the death of her husband in her patriarchal society.
Neither the judge nor the widow seems to living their best life. Both are miserable for the different reasons and for, quite possibly all of the possible reasons available in their society.
The judge is facing a lifetime of facing the misery of other people.
The widow is facing a lifetime of injustice and misery.
Whenever we hear this gospel story, we spend a great deal of time on the judge and the widow. And so we should. We might want to ask ourselves which one are we most like? Are we like the unjust judge who refuses to grant justice to those who keep coming to us asking us to advocate for them? Could we be the judge who finally gives in because the injustice around them is becoming so great that their privilege is no longer acting like a protective fence or a palace wall, but like a fist continually punching you in the eye?
Or maybe we are we like the persistent widow. We have been advocating for justice in a system that discriminates and marginalizes certain people while easing the path for others. And we are tired. And perhaps, like Levine’s reading of the widow, having been victims of violence we are now seeking harm in return in what feels to us like the only way forward.
It’s possible after hearing this gospel story that we might find ourselves in the judge’s throne or the plaintiff’s chair. But what if we were not only the unjust judge or the persistent plaintiff? Reading this in a 21st century courtroom, what if we are the jury? What if each one of us, based on where we live and the communities we find ourselves in, what if we are in fact witnesses to broken systems and the people caught up in them—both the victims and the perpetrators?
Tomorrow is federal election day and Saturday is the episcopal election for the Diocese of Huron. It’s not my place as a priest to tell you who to vote for. It is my duty as a Canadian citizen to urge you to please exercise your right to vote. It is my place as a Christian leader, as a gospel believing Jesus-follower to urge you to cast your vote aware of the community you find yourself in, thinking of yourself not as an unjust judge there to protect, to cling to whatever fragile power will allow you to ignore the persistent calls for justice around you. I urge you to go to the polls as someone who believes in the value of their vote, as opposed to someone who was once a persistent widow but hey, the judge finally granted me my request so I don’t really need to get involved in politics anymore.
When we go to the polls tomorrow, I believe we are called to think of ourselves as jurors—people deeply aware of and involved in the systems of power that uphold this country, people with a front row seat to the persistent calls for justice happening in the communities we belong to and the ones we don’t, in the neighbourhoods we live in and the ones we won’t step foot in – to answer the call of the Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion to
“To respond to human need by loving service
To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.”
It’s interesting to me that the parable we heard this evening begins with “Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart” and then he gives them front row seats, juror seats, to this plaintiff’s persistent call to justice in front of an unjust judge. Might the disciples’ job have been, might our job be, to recognize that we are called to take up our role in society as jurors actively, persistently engaged in balancing the scales of justice, maybe even rebuilding the scales altogether? If even the unjust judge eventually grants the request of the persistent widow, how much more will a just God readily call a jury seeking to enact God’s law of love and peace in the world?
Let us pray.
God of the dispossessed, you teach us to hunger for justice even when the weak are shut out and the powerful turn over in their beds: in the heat of our anger and the bitterness of our complaints, give us courage to protest, the persistence to pray and the heart to love; through Jesus Christ, the true judge.