Gospel: Luke 18:1-8
In the Name of God; +Father, +Son, and +Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Grant me justice against my opponent.” Grant me justice. These are the words of the widow in today’s parable from Luke’s Gospel. Jesus doesn’t give us many specifics here. What was the injustice? Who was the opponent? We don’t know. The only details we get are about the judge. This judge 1) does not fear God, and 2) does not respect people. These two details may seem small, but they tell us a lot about the judge, and about the situation of the widow.
What is a judge supposed to be like? Wise, impartial, attentive, fair-minded… None of these describe the judge in our parable. Even if we consider the Biblical judges, the ones who are held up in Scripture as examples for all of us, we find names like Joshua, Deborah, Gideon, and Samuel. These judges were widely recognized for their intelligence, impartiality, and faithfulness to God. They settled legal disputes, but they were also military commanders and above all, enemies of oppression. The judge in our parable, he’s a judge in name only. There is nothing about him that merits his status. And yet, he’s still the judge in this city. The widow, who has been treated unjustly, has nowhere else to go with her complaint. So she brings her complaint, over and over again, before the unjust judge. And the judge ignores her, over and over again. This is wrong, and it shouldn’t be this way.
Today we find ourselves roughly 1 year away from another Presidential election. Although we’re voting for candidates to fill many different offices, both local and national, the Presidential race is the one that will captured our attention. Democrats and Republicans are different in a lot of ways; but they each provoke extreme amounts of anger and bile and ugliness in the other’s followers. You don’t have to be a sociologist or political historian to notice this. People from all parts of the political spectrum are being really mean to each other and it’s only going to get worse. Name-calling and crude language have become typical – and I’m not talking about the candidates, I’m talking about the rest of us, the regular citizens. It has become normal for us to insult, harass, and demean those with whom we disagree, whether online, or in person. Since the 2016 election this has happened to me more than once. At one time I had a bumper sticker on my SUV endorsing a candidate. On one occasion my wife and I came out of the grocery store to find our vehicle egged. On another occasion I had 2 guys pull up beside me in a parking lot and start walking towards me, screaming about what they assumed my political ideologies were. I could see the anger in their faces, and in that moment I was frightened. But I stayed calm (thanks be to God) and I’m fine (no damage done) and only one of the two threatened me with bodily harm, so that has to count for something, right?
Now, I don’t want to paint myself as some kind of innocent, virtuous person. I am guilty too. I may not accost people on the street, or yell at them, or call them name, but I have some very uncharitable thoughts from time to time. I would be ashamed if you knew some of the things that go through my head…not about policies, or positions, but about people. People whose values and experiences are different from my own. In these moments, I’m grateful that I have enough self-control to stop myself from speaking these thoughts out loud. But God still hears them. God knows all my thoughts. God knows that I have failed, over and over and over again, to respect the dignity of all human beings. I have plenty of sins to confess. We all do.
So back to the judge and the widow. The judge is a fraud, with no integrity and no moral compass, and yet the widow keeps coming. She persists in bringing her complaint. She returns to the judge again and again. And what happens? The widow is vindicated! The judge grants her justice! Not because he has a change of heart, or he puts himself in her shoes, or he carefully considers the merits of her case, but because he’s tired of dealing with her. The widow will not stop until justice is served, and so the judge serves it, begrudgingly.
St. Ephrem, a theologian and poet in the 4th century after Christ, described what happens in this parable beautifully: “Persistence transformed these bitter branches, and they bore sweet fruit that was against their nature.” In other words, Jesus is teaching us about transformation. Jesus is telling us about the trans-formative power of persistence and faithfulness. Jesus asks us to remain faithful, even when we are surrounded by faithlessness. Jesus calls us to be persistent, even in the midst of hostility. And Jesus promises us that the eventual fruits of our labors will be justice.
As we approach the 2020 election, we may feel like we’re caught up in an unholy storm of anxiety and venom and distrust. In the midst of all this indecency and contempt, what does our Lord ask of us? Jesus asks us to remain faithful, to pray, and to persevere in seeking justice regardless of the response. Fear and anxiety cannot transform the bitter branches of our world. Neither can self-righteousness and mockery.
We know this, don’t we? Even when the world seems to be imploding around us, we know that Jesus calls us to do better, to live lives worthy of him. The prophet Jeremiah tells us that God has written the law on our hearts, on my heart and on your heart. As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to live faithfully. We are called to seek justice continually, while always… ALWAYS…respecting the dignity of all persons. And during this election season, we are called to inhabit a territory of honesty and humility, decency and grace. We are called to resist wandering away into ridicule and arrogance and hatred. We are called to live out the truth that there can be no transformation and no justice without human dignity and respect.
This is how we remain faithful in a faithless world; we persist in seeking justice. We uphold the dignity of all persons. And we do not allow ourselves to fall into degradation or vulgarity or contempt. With God’s help, our persistence will transform the bitterness around us; and the Son of Man will find faith in our hearts. May it be so. Amen.