The Bible can be funny. Take the judge in today’s parable. He “neither feared God nor had respect for people.” That is not surprising for a politician. The judge’s self-reflection surprises us: “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone. . . .” Sure, he’s corrupt, but he’s also remarkably self-aware. Preachers who read that in church with a straight face should cause their congregations to laugh aloud.
Here’s what’s even funnier: Jesus compares God to this judge in a parable about prayer as he admonishes us to pray always. The judge grants the widow justice so she won’t wear him out. The notes in the New Revised Standard Version preserve another rendering: “so that she may not finally come and slap me in the face.” The judge doesn’t want a black eye from the helpless widow. Do you know any politicians worried about being punched out by old ladies? Neither do Jesus or his hearers.
Yet the corrupt, cowardly judge gives the widow what she wants.
This is the sort of story we would forbid in church if it were not already in the Bible. Outrageous! Comparing God to this gutless, spineless, lawless officeholder. The widow with the frightening fists is the patron saint of anyone ever mistreated by any bureaucracy. And this judge is the anti-image of God. Yesterday’s psalm tells us that God delights in the law. God will judge all people not just fairly, but mercifully. God has no fear of being beaten up; in fact, in the person of Jesus, God has been beaten. God loves the powerless and becomes one of them to raise up the lowly and bring down the haughty—judges included.
And that’s the greatest joke we know.
God, grant justice to all who now lack it and against all who execute it for self-gain. Make right the world you love and over which you lament. Amen.
At last Jeremiah is able to bring a message of restoration and hope. God promises a new covenant with the people, and they will internalize the law in their hearts so that they will keep it. The psalmist rejoices in such a reality. He meditates on God’s law all day and has been granted profound understanding. This allows him to walk faithfully in God’s paths. The reading from Second Timothy confirms the ongoing power of God’s law in scripture, which is given by God for our good. Timothy is charged always to be ready to preach it faithfully. Luke hits on a different theme: the importance of persistent prayer. In the parable a heartless judge finally yields to a persistent widow, so we should be similarly tenacious with our prayers to God.
Read Jeremiah 31:27-34. How have you broken your covenant with God? How has God responded?
Read Psalm 119:97-104. The Jewish laws of the Hebrew scriptures are part of our Christian heritage. How can you delight in the law?
Read 2 Timothy 3:14–4:5. How can you learn or teach from scriptures you do not normally read?
Read Luke 18:1-8. Through the familiar call to pray always, the author reminds us that we are called to pray for what God wants. What is at stake when you pray for justice and mercy?
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