|Photo by Brian: This is how Izzie and I travel|
“Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” This week of wonderful news about the rescued 33 miners in Chile, has touched a lot of hearts and praying a lot has been part of this story. I’m sure that some of them did lose heart during the 17 days in that rock prison, until they were found alive, and we will hear the stories in the weeks to come, but it is clear that faith in God, faith in each other, and faith that they were being searched for helped them through those dark days.
But this parable that Jesus told is more than just praying always. It is a parable about justice, both human justice and God’s justice. Justice for people like the widow, who along with orphans and the stranger were to be cared for, not taken advantage of.
I think children have an innate sense of what justice is. I remember my daughter around the age of 5 or 6 when we went to see a re-run of Disney’s Cinderella at the local theatre. The scene when after the animals had made her a beautiful ball gown, the nasty step sisters tore it to shreds. My daughter yelled at the top her lungs, “that’s not fair!”. Of course it wasn’t. I remember saying that the world is not always fair. Almost forty years later, I know the world isn’t always fair, in fact, I see more and more injustice rather than less.
What would you have done if you were in the sandals of the widow. If you were told that no one cares about justice any more and that you would have to fight it out by yourself with your neighbor. Just by taking on the widow’s case, she won. In Jesus’ first century Eastern Mediterranean country, taking someone to justice was a serious matter of honor. In modern street speak, the widow “dissed” her opponent just by having the matter heard. She had enough faith to believe that God was on her side and that keet her going.
Perseverance is important in faith and in society. If we take part in the justice system in our country we need faith and persistence. It's not easy and it costs money. A person needs to be tough and determined to get through the justice system. You really do need to believe that God works for a just society because the whole system is not only cumbersome, but the wheels of justice run slowly.
And if you are one of the brave people who work to change an unjust society, faith and perseverance are two qualities you will sorely need. Entrenched positions are really hard to shift. Economic advantage or privilege and a network of injustice is hard to penetrate. And people usually have mixed motives, wanting the change, but not wanting to change themselves. I’m reminded of the speech the President of Chile made about changing the contract with the miners to make the mines more safe and thinking how difficult that is likely to be. The mine they were working in produces gold and copper. And in a contest between money and safety, safety doesn’t always win.
Even when we try to solve conflicts in our families, faith and perseverance are needed, Broken relationships are hard to mend and people don’t like admitting they might have been wrong. And if we think God has a quick fix for the wrongs of the world, think again. Look at the cross. God knows that Justice, Truth and Reconciliation are costly. But in the parable, Jesus makes it very clear that God is on the side of justice and God does care.
The judge in this story has no respect for God or humanity. What a contrast this is to the God of mercy and justice who needs our hands and minds and hearts to bring about God’s kingdom on this earth. That will certainly take persistence and faith.
Notice that at no time have I talked about justice as retaliation or vengeance. So often on the TV news we listen to people whose family members have been killed speak in their grief about outcomes that sound more like vengeance than justice. I don’t know how I would react in such a situation, but I wonder if our justice system could do with a bit less of vengeance and more of God’s justice, which is about fairness and truth.
Today's gospel is story that challenges us and encourages us. And not only us, this challenge and encouragement was needed by those in the early church who heard Luke’s gospel. After all Christ had not yet come back in glory to usher in the kingdom where peace and justice and truth would be the norm. In the scheme of Luke's gospel, this parable is told to the disciples as they were on their way to Jerusalem with all its conflicts and the shadow of the cross looming. They needed encouragement to stay the course. Of course, we know the story doesn’t end with the cross; there is the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit to sustain us. I don't know if you heard that many of those miners spoke of their rescue as a resurrection. How their future will play out will depend on their listening to the Spirit working in their new lives.
Pete Seger wrote a folk song, called "If I had a hammer." The hammer is the hammer of justice, hammering in the morning and in the evening all over the world. Justice in that folk song hammers out danger and warning and love. God’s will for everyone is for justice: the sorting out of what is good and true in our world, it requires our cooperation and our faith in God and each other. After all the prophet told us to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.”