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God the Widow’s Cry

Luke 18:1-8

Pentecost 25, Common Lectionary Year C (Gospel from Pentecost 22C) 

©2016 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

It has been said by one amongst us, that my way of choosing the preaching text each Sunday
is to read the four lectionary passages and pick the hardest! I’d like to think that’s not quite true, but… in this case, guilty as charged!

It is one of those difficult texts.
It doesn’t seem to be, at first.
Jesus, on the road to Jerusalem, talking about the Dream of God,
He stops, he sits, he becomes the Rabbi,
he teaches, he throws a parabola to the crowd;
it arcs over us, another divine word to edify
and encourage us on our Jerusalem-bound life-journeys.
By chapter 18 of Luke’s Gospel,
by November in the lectionary year we should be well used to his teaching style, right?

But something’s happened; something’s changed.
Whereas back in the summer we enjoyed listening to Jesus’ parables
tossed joyously over us, twisting us in delight at the extravagant
divine grace of the Prodigal’s homecoming!
Or nudging us to laughter as he seats us in the shade
of God’s Kingdom Dream disguised
as a ridiculously overgrown mustard seed!
Or gentling our fears as he snuggles us in the
fleecy wool of the lost sheep found.

That was then.
Now in November,
Jesus’ parables feel like they have been hurled at us
from the shadows of some depressing dystopian episode from Game of Thrones.

There he sits, if Luke is to be believed,
egging us to be somehow comforted(?),
by the thought that if we persist,
badger, nag, and bug God day and night,

that eventually our prayers,
or more importantly the cries of others
in greater need than we,
might just be heard and granted by
God the Almighty.

I am sorry, but that does not work for me!
What about those people, whose persistence in prayer,
whose cries for justice remain unanswered?
When Luke tries to sweeten the pill, by saying that unlike the horrible judge,
God grants justice quickly, I, and countless others, beg to differ!
For our sick still die.
Despite the prayers in the trenches and around the home-fires,
during that War to end all Wars,
armed conflict still plagues the planet,
and makes widows of too many.
Despite our prayers, racist, misogynist bigots still clamour for power,
using fear as their weapon of mass desperation.
Despite our prayers, refugee camps are dismantled.
Seemingly, Black lives don’t matter enough.
Systemic injustices
against women,
indigenous peoples,
the working or the jobless poor
remain fiercely entrenched.
The litany of human misery is unending,
and is joined by the widow-like cries of creation itself,
drowning in toxic sludge,
melting from the carbon waste of industrialized greed.

Can I believe in, can I trust,
a God who picks and chooses whose prayers to answer?
Can I preach a God who, like a rickety vending machine
must be kicked and budged in just the right way
in order to dispense some thrice paid for morsel?

I can’t.
I can’t believe that’s all there is to this parable of Jesus in November,
this parable of Jesus in the shadow of Jerusalem’s cross.
This Gospel of God cannot be reduced to some flattened moral admonition
to pray a bit harder.

Jesus parables, his tales of the Dream of God,
are supposed lodge in our soul like a stone in our shoe,
they are supposed rub at our heel.
Parables by Jesus are supposed
to burn like a bush without being consumed,
and niggle, no, demand our attention, until we notice
God hidden in the simple folds of their folk-lore simplicity.

So why is this parable lying flat and dull at our feet?
Why does it cast a pall of judgment over our failed faithfulness,
given the multitude of our obviously unanswered prayers?
What have we done to this parable to take away its Godly liveliness?
For surely it has some, somewhere? It has to!

Are we looking in the wrong places for God?

+++
Review the parable:
There was a city, there was a judge, there was a widow…
there was a need, a cry, a widow’s cry…

A Widow.
One who seemingly has no influence,
no power, no agency, a person of no esteem,
of no account in the grand scheme of the city.
Yet against all odds, she is persistent in her cry for justice.
She had everything to gain, and nothing left to lose.

And a Judge;
careless in his privilege,
mindless of the want of others,
blind to the fidelity of God
to those of no account whose wellbeing the Judge was charged to uphold.
What if the arc of this parable were reversed?
What if God is en-fleshed,
not in the judge,
but in the widow?

What if that day-by-day-by-night-and-day
incessant, hoarse cry of the Widow
for compassion, for justice,
is the cry of God?

What if we, humans, collectively and individually,
we the Church,
we the first world,
we the wealthy, we the landed, and clothed, and housed,
we who have a vote, a passport,
we who are armed against all threats real and imagined,
we the consumers of the earth and sky and sea,
what if we are the Judge to whom
God the Widow cries?

Well, there’s the twist to the tale!
How can we sit comfortably in that seat?
We know we can’t. Not comfortably.
But more harrowing still, is this:
how can we stand to listen to God weeping?
What hope is there for our world if it is God who weeps like a useless widow?

Hold that thought, let’s muddle it through…
what hope is there for our world
if it is God who weeps?
if it is God who cries, incessantly,
if it is God who pesters us,
prods, nudges, embarrasses us (as in the rich and privileged of the world)
gives us a black eye with her persistent outcry on behalf of the forgotten,
defenceless, the oppressed?
What hope there is for the world
that it is God the Widow who cries “Justice!”
For who more than God would know
that Justice is supposed to pour out on all flesh,
like a river in spring flood,
if we would just listen to her cry!

What hope there may indeed be for our world
that it is God the Widow who cries out
reminding us that water and land
are supposed to be held sacred,
a gift for all who inhabit the earth,
that it is we whom she calls out
to be custodians and protectors of the planet.
and all that dwell therein.

What hope there is for the world
lies in the promise that God the Widow
will not cease her persistent cry
until we hear her,
until we join our cry with hers.
until with God, we weep,
and with our tears, change our world.

God Weeps (MV 78)

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