Jeremiah 31:27-34; Psalm 119:97-104; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8
This past week my wife & I enjoyed watching a six-hour TV series called God in America. It was the story of religion in the history of our nation, beginning in the 1600s & continuing to the present day. Much of that history, as the program showed, is the story of a struggle for justice. In the 1800s, of course, our nation experienced a terrible war in the struggle over slavery. One of the shining lights in that story was the courage of Christians who pointed to Jesus’ example & teachings as evidence that slavery is wrong.
It would be nice if we could say that the Civil War taught us a lesson once & for all about justice for all people. But it didn’t. Women continued to be second-class citizens. In the early part of this century they had to fight for justice—the right to vote. Again, a fairly small number of Christians showed courage in connecting the struggle for justice with Christian faith.
Later in the century came the civil rights movement. The horrors of WWII could’ve taught us something about the dangers of prejudice & injustice in our own country, but they didn’t. Once again, Christians were among the voices who pointed to the teachings & example of Jesus in their fight for racial equality & justice.
But the struggle for justice was still not over. Years later, for example, Lutheran women were insisting on justice. Eventually they succeeded. Since the early 1970s women have been ordained as Lutheran pastors.
We American Christians are not perfect. We never once-&-for-all learn the lesson of justice & dignity for all people. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson that needs to be learned & re-learned over & over & over again.
The job of each generation of Christians is to ask: What are the struggles for justice today? What have we learned from the past? How might Jesus’ example & teaching help us to see our way clear?
Today’s reading from Luke is a story about persistence in prayer. But it’s also a story about justice.
A poor widow is in a dispute with someone, so she comes before a judge, asking for justice. Now, in Jesus’ day, his listeners would’ve understood that by using a widow in his story he was speaking about someone at the bottom of the social ladder. So imagine her courage in badgering a powerful judge—someone at the top of the ladder!
The judge himself is a piece of work. Jesus describes him as a man who neither feared God nor had respect for people. I got to thinking about that. Who do you know that is so self-centered that they have no regard for God or anyone? Even the worst characters of history are not as bad as this guy. Even if they don’t believe in God, they at least have some consideration for other people, even if it’s only out of self-interest. But this guy has no consideration for God or anyone—only himself.
And yet, the courageous widow appeals to this judge until she gets her way. In the end, he does the right thing—for completely selfish reasons, of course. But in this story, as in his own life, Jesus seems to say, “I’m not really too concerned about motives. The important thing is, Do the right thing. Work for justice for the sake of those who lack power & respect & dignity—despite your prejudice, despite your fears, despite your apathy— despite all that, do the right thing.”
Having watched God in America & pondering the history of Christians in our nation over the past 400 years, I wonder what we might learn from that history as we consider Jesus’ story.
It’s been said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, & this appears to be the case in our nation. Although in each century we have had lessons to learn from–African slaves, women seeking the right to vote, African-Americans struggling for civil rights—it seems we have to learn the lesson of justice over & over again.
The good news is that in the midst of each struggle we find Christians who lead the way, seeking liberty & justice for all people–not because our Pledge of Allegiance says so, but because this is the example that Jesus gives us.
In response to today’s story in Luke, I find myself asking, Where are we in the story? Some of you may sympathize with the poor widow’s situation. You may not have much power. Because of your skin color, or disability, or employment status or economic situation you might be able to put yourself in her shoes—seeking justice. Others of us, with a bit of honest courage, might see at least occasional glimpses of ourselves in the judge, who ignored or opposed the appeals of people seeking justice. For all that, there’s grace to be found. The judge in the story is worse than anyone we can imagine. The message? If someone this bad can do this much good, think how much better than he you can do!
Christians know that justice & dignity are never fully accomplished in a sinful world. We also know that it’s our job to seek justice for others. So we ask–what opportunities are there today? Which groups today represent the poor widow’s appeal for justice? Is there, for example, something we might learn from this story for conversations about immigration and Spanish-speaking people? Is there something we might learn about the gay community and their struggle for justice & dignity? Is there something we might learn about our attitudes toward Muslims & people of non-Christian faiths who experience prejudice & even violence? How do these questions impact us as local Christians? What can we learn from history? Most of all, what can we learn from Jesus himself?
How will we respond to the challenges & opportunities of our day? Do we have the courage of our spiritual ancestors, who took risks in standing up against the injustices of their time? Are we, like them, able to connect the dots between the teachings of Jesus & the conditions of the world in which we live? Do we really believe in “justice for all”?
The challenges of our day are great. In a time when we might be tempted to retreat into familiar ways of thinking God challenges us. Jesus goes so far as to connect the struggle for justice with faith. At the end of his story about the poor widow & the unjust judge he asks, When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
Let us pray…
Gracious God, as the poor widow took great risks in pursuing justice, show us how we can better live out our Christian vocation & risk at least a little for the sake of those who are ignored or despised in our own time.
In Jesus’ name. AMEN