Sunday, October 20, 2013

The parable of the Widow and the Judge: Being God's justice in the world

Sermon Preached at Saint Clement's by the Sea on October 20, 2013
Luke 18:1-8

It is common to think of this parable in a certain way.  Jesus is telling us to be persistent in prayer and tells a story of a persistent Widow against an unjust judge.  It is natural to think that in this parable we are the widow and God is equivalent to the judge. And this interpretation is true, much of what Jesus says relies on our understanding that God is so much kinder and caring than an unjust judge.  That God does not ignore the pleas of his people.  But I wonder if we looked at it a little differently we could see something else about our relationship with God.  What would happen if we added another layer to that interpretation?  What if in some very serious respects the widow is God and we are the unjust judge?  How would that change what we think Jesus is saying about prayer?  How would that change our relationship to God’s justice?
Christ tells us to keep praying, and that when we do God will grant us justice swiftly.  But what does he really mean when he says this?  We all know that prayer is not some magic spell that we cast in order to get God to do what we want.  And the hard truth is that prayers often seem to go unanswered, that even the most ardent and pious person can feel as if God is not listening to him.  But perhaps we are looking at prayer in the wrong way. 
Rowan Williams once described prayer as “connecting with God, it’s putting yourself where God can get at you, it’s giving time to God and it’s trying to align yourself with God’s own mind.”1  So often prayer, intercessory prayer in particular is seen as a utilitarian tool in which we submit our requests to God and wait for a response.  Prayer is so much more than that, it is engaging in relationship with God, letting God into our own hearts and minds.  We should of course pray for specific things, we should always pray for the healing and well-being of those we love, we should of course pray for peace in the world, such prayers express our faith in God’s good will and love for us and for the world.  So when we pray for specific solutions to problems, we are identifying our own will with God’s will for us, and yet we must not try to put boundaries on God’s will by binding it to our own “limited vision and limited love.”2  Like the widow, God is persistent, always there looking for a way into our lives.  In the life and death of Jesus Christ we see the fullness of God’s love in the world.  In Christ we see a complete openness, both to the suffering of the world, but also to God’s mercy which can and will overcome that suffering. 
When we put aside our own self-interest, our own greed and apathy, we allow ourselves to be made sensitive and compassionate.  We become painfully aware of a world in need of healing.  But we also become aware of the renewing power of God’s mercy.  We are asked to look with open eyes at a world weighed down with hopelessness, but never lose hope because we must know in ourselves the freeing, and healing power of God’s mercy.  When we let prayer bring us into a true relationship with God, we get to see just how loved we are by God and through that we are then able to carry that love with us into our interactions with the world.
There is no place where God’s love and desire for justice cannot go.  Not even the unjust judge can keep God out.  If God can bring justice out of the most faithless, how much more can he bring justice out of the rest of us?  When we pray we are clearing a space for the Holy Spirit to move in us.  In this way prayer increases and strengthens our faith because it allows us to recognize our dependence on God, and teaches us to rely less on our own will and more on the will of God. 
In prayer God gives us the ability to put aside any self-deception, allowing us to see ourselves as beloved children of God. 
But the power of prayer does not end there, because it is inseparably linked to our actions in the world.  Prayer clears our vision, and refines our motives so that we may practice God’s justice in the world.  But what is God’s justice?  Well, justice (true justice) is sometimes described as ‘love in action’.  God recognizes us in all our humanity and loves us and calls us to share and liberate in others the humanity that we have discovered in our own prayer life. 
With many voices God calls us again and again into righteousness and to prayer.  God’s call can be heard in the prophets and martyrs, throughout the world, both just and unjust, in the poor and lonely, in the judges and the widows of the world, God may even speak with our own voices.

If we are vigilant in prayer and seek true justice in our world, then the answer to Christ’s question “when the son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”  will most certainly be yes.

2.   Williams, Rowan. A Ray of Darkness (Lanham: Cowley Pub, 1995), 119.