2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
St. Luke 18:1-8
Before we begin in earnest on a sermon this morning, I truly thank you for fighting through the obstacles created by the marathon to be here this morning. This reminds me of a true conversation that occurred in my earliest days as a pastor in Minnesota. One Saturday night, there was a humungous blizzard that prevented many from venturing to Church on Sunday. A small group was able to get there, and so I asked one of the venerable senior members who took up the ushering task if we would ask folks to gather together up front and close, so as to strengthen the singing. The wise old bird smiled at me, and calmly said, “Pastor, if anyone works hard enough to get to church in weather like this, they have the right sit wherever they please!” And so they did!
But now to the business at hand!
Grace to you, and peace, from our Creator God, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, the long awaited One.
Court jesters, in medieval times had an interesting role, one that took unique gifts. The jester, through wit and humor, was called upon to speak painful truth to, or about, the King or Queen, or their policies, that none else dare speak. They did so in such a way that, after telling the truth, the jester would not lose his head. The good one’s could prick the balloons of pomposity and arrogance. They were able to tell the emperor that he has no clothes on….
To equate Jesus, giver of parables, with a court jester is a stretch at best. And yet…. there are parables Jesus taught that, if looked at with a less than an overly pious and tight-jawed approach to scripture, one might see Jesus using humor, sort of as a Trojan horse to invade the listener’s defenses, and hit home with better effect.
There are serious parables, of course. And to be sure, Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection could be seen as a living parable in itself that reveals the truth of God’s nature, and God’s intentions for the world. And to say it is a humorous story would be misleading, and bad theology to boot! But there are some parables where I can see Jesus having to stifle an audible chuckle as he relates it.
Case in point: the parable before us this morning. The judge he creates is a first-class curmudgeon, if not a real jerk, “…with no regard for God or humans…”but still a judge, and thus a person of authority. He neither feared God nor respected people. He sounds as likeable as the grump down the street that the neighborhood would gladly help pack up in a U-Haul, and gently, but firmly, usher to the wilderness spaces of Utah where his personality wouldn’t irritate as many lives! One of my favorite commentators on the parables of Jesus, Robert Capon, shares that Jesus is not afraid to use such despicable people to get his point across and maybe with a bit of sarcasm to boot! … That by so doing, Jesus can sneak up on us and our pre-suppositions about God, and pull the rug out from under those who believe that they have God figured out.
Luke says Jesus told this story to encourage us to pray. Certainly, persistent conversation with God is a very good thing. Yet, to focus on the widow’s persistence as the chief lesson in this story, just may turn our attention toward our human response to God. That is, we get concerned about what we are to be doing, and how often.
But my money is on an interpretation that the widow is the supporting actress in this little drama, and the protagonist is this grump of a judge…. And that it just might be that Jesus would have us focus on what he does… and finally—ultimately–what he doesn’t do. And as my favorite commentator on the parables claims, the judge is the God figure in this story.
Before we go farther, perhaps the phrase “I could be wrong about this, but…” just might be appropriate. But the fun of parables lies in that they can have more than one interpretation. To say there is but one—and only one—interpretation takes a lot of the fun out of them, and may thin out the richness of these wonderful stories from the Good Teacher.
So, …. I may be wrong…. But here goes!
Here’s this less-than-likeable judge, an authority figure who enforces the standards of society, standards of fairness and justice that must be maintained. His decisions can make or break people: what is right and what is wrong, who gets punished and who goes free. Given such authority it is a wonder that he even listens at all to the cries of a lowly widow. That she even gets access to the judge seems a bit out of whack. But Jesus has him listen, and the widow persists, and though he need not ever listen, he does. And he does so, because he can!
This makes the judge’s reversal a startling turn of events…. It would be startling no matter who would be bugging him for some justice. For what the Judge is essentially doing by relenting is … well … stopping being a judge. He acts, not on the basis of new information in the case, or any new-found legal precedents. He just stops being what he supposed to be: judgmental!
If Jesus is teaching theology, and not just making fun of high and mighty judges, what is Jesus saying about God? And if the main character, as laughingly despicable as he is, is to represent the nature of God, could Jesus be saying that in this new day of the reign of God, God is not that good of a Judge? Or might it be that God stops being a judge?
God not judge right from wrong?? God not judge who you are and what you do? Sounds almost, if not completely, blasphemous!! In his paraphrase of this parable in The Message, Eugene Peterson has Jesus say, “So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people … won’t he stick up for them?”
Well, I’ll tell you what might make us think God won’t!! In the world God has created for us, judges do not stop being judges!! And that is good. Standards are needed. Structure is needed. Besides, I am told in almost every message I see and hear in this world that when standards are not met, you shall pay. And if the voices outside of me don’t tell me that I am not up to snuff, the internal voices in my head sure do. For, in this world God created, judgments are made and standards are set. Is a thing, or an action, or a person, good, or not? For example, my hope is that the doctor who treats me didn’t print his or her own certificate of medical training that hangs on the wall, but has met qualifications and training judged by society to be necessary for medical practice. And when I go to the gas pump and the numbers on the pump say I have received 15 gallons of gas at well over $3.00 a gallon, I want to trust that someone has checked the standard calibrations on this machine so that I actually now have 15 gallons in the tank.
If the world works by standards, and judgments are made, certainly God has to operate that way, doesn’t she? If we don’t meet standards of behavior and faith, there must be repercussions of not meeting those standards. So, to suggest that God chooses at this time not to judge, well, does that mean anything goes? Can we live with a God whose chief function is not judging… but accepting and forgiving? Can there actually be a God who operates by amazing grace?
The doubts gnaw at us…. What about our shortcomings? Does God then just give a wink and a nod? Does sin or not sinning matter anymore??
I am beginning to believe that, in our lack of meeting standards we, be it our lack of faith, or our treatment of others, or our ill treatment of our very own selves… they, in and of themselves, bring their own punishment down on us. We suffer without the help of a lightning bolt from God. Sin is its own punishment!
Even as I hear of a non-judgmental God who is grace personified, my struggle is forgiving myself! That may have been Jacob’s problem: a troubled conscience will keep us up at night, wrestling with strange forces that can leave us a bit sore emotionally, and maybe even physically, as day breaks.
But then comes the good news–if we would but hear it–that our God, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, is not in the judging business, … and you and I are, as the chosen, fully justified, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Hear Jesus this morning, using, dare I say, a comical old curmudgeon of a judge to tell us so: This God is for you. This God in Jesus Christ is done with judging. We couldn’t meet the standards anyway.
Can we believe it?? When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith…? Faith in such a God?
Well, yes! And it can change your lot in life, from a troubled widow seeking something good in her life, to a joyous servant!
So, come to this feast set forth by a God who is done with judging. Be renewed in faith, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen