Saturday, October 8, 2016

Weary Faith

The parable of the indifferent judge and the persistent widow from Luke 18:1-8, the gospel lesson appointed for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, has much in common with the parable of the persistent friend and the annoyed neighbor in Luke 11:5-8.  In both parables the one to whom the request is made seems deaf to the needy one's concerns, and yet, because they are so annoyingly persistent, their requests are granted.  Similarly, Jesus' conclusion is, in the latter parable, "Ask, (and keep asking) and it will be given you," and in the former parable, "God [will] grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night."  It seems that both parables are teachings in persistence, with the assurance that God will grant us justice.  Take heart!

(The following questions attempt to get at some of the key issues for Law and Gospel preachers.  They are not meant to be exhaustive.  For a more complete look at this genre of preaching, and what its concerns are, see my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from and amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  The Word functions to encourage faltering faith, therefore it is a gospel function.  Jesus says, in effect, "Don't lose heart.  If even unjust judges finally grant justice to some, will not the God of all justice grant you mercy?"

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  A word of Law is not present here.  When a word of Law is present its effect is to say, "You need Jesus."  There is none of that here.  The effect is much the opposite:  "God is for you. Who can be against you?"

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  The widow who cries out for justice, as well as all those whom Jesus speaks to "about their need to pray always and not to lose heart" are those with whom we identify in this text.  We all have times in our lives when prayer seems to go unanswered.  Jesus says here, "God hears.  God will grant you justice."

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The Word functions as a call to obedience when it shows us how to live in response to the gospel.  It could perhaps be said that this is exactly what this text is:  Because God is just, because God hears our prayers, keep praying. Do not "grow weary in well-doing," as St. Paul says.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  The context of the parable gives us a few ideas for couplets:  discouraged/encouraged; faith flagging/faith rewarded.

6.   Exegetical work:  I like what Amy-Jill Levine points out about the common translation of what constitutes the judge's motivation for justice.  She writes:  "The NRSV's mild suggestion that the widow will 'wear out' the judge is another taming of the widow.  The Greek uses a boxing term:  the judge is concerned that the widow will give him a black eye." (Short Stories by Jesus, p. 225)  Another way this term could be translated suggests that the judge is concerned that unless he does what the widow requires she will slander him or besmirch his name.  It reminds me of Moses' argument before God in Exodus 32:  "But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, ..."Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'?..."And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people." (vs. 11-14)  In that story, Moses has to remind God of the possible 'black eye' God will receive if mercy is not extended to the idolatrous Israelites.  Similarly here, the indifferent judge thinks to himself that he may receive a 'black eye' in the community if he does not heed the widow's cry.  Clearly the judge is the distinct opposite of God. The argument is as Luise Schottroff suggests, an "minore ad maius:  If even an unjust judge does justice, how much more will God." (The Parables of Jesus, p. 193)

Blessings on your proclamation!

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