Looking Ahead to October 21: Lk 18:1-8, the parable of the widow and unjust judge (installment three)
2007-10-03 by Ron Allen
This is the third of three installments on the gospel text for October 21, Luke 18:1-8, the parable of the widow and the unjust judge.
When moving from the text to today, I am thinking of two possibilities.
The first is to make an analogy between the function of the text in the world of Luke and the function of the text today. The preacher might identify ways that the situation of the church today is similar to that of Luke's time. The sermon would use the parable as a word of assurance to a congregation living through difficult times and in which people are in danger of giving up on witnessing to the realm.
This approach would require identifying circumstances in the world, and in the denomination and the congregation, that are difficult, and helping the congregation imagine how Lukan style prayer can sustain them within such circumstances.
A second approach takes its cue from the fact that the delay has turned into two millennia. Perhaps the time has come to reconceive what we mean by the realm and how it comes. As a process thinker, I do not believe that God will (or can) end the present age in a single dramatic apocalypse and replace it with a whole new world. I believe that God is always present attempting to lure the world to the highest possbilities for love, justice, peace, and abundance that are possible within the circumstances of each moment.
From this point of view, prayer is the intentional opening of the self to God and to the realm-like possibilities that are, indeed, possible in each moment. When we say yes to the realm, then our "Yes" helps facilitate a manifestation of the realm in our moment, while a 'No" frustrates those possbilities. When we say no, God does not abandon us, but works with the choices we have made to lure us towards the possibilities that are possible in view of our reduced choice.
From the point of view of this second perspective, we need always to pray in order to be as consciously available to the realm as is possible. We need not lose heart because, even when we choose against the realm, God does not give up on us or on the world but continues to work in the world to offer choices that can lead towards love, peace, justice, and abundance.
Whether one goes with the first approach or the second, or some other, the notion of prayer as the intentioinal opening of the individual or community to the realm brings an intriguing possibility. Luke doubtless has in mind prayer as a formal, verbal action, that is, talking with God in language, much as we pray in worship or prior to partaking of a meal. Going beyond Luke, according to this definition, prayer need not be confined to conventional verbal expression but can embrace multiple ways of seeking to open self and community to the presence of the realm. I once preached a sermon from this perspective on "Praying with Your Feet." For example, any time we take to the streets to demonstrate against injustice and in favor of justice, we pray with our feet. Standing outside a prison to protest capital punishment--murder carried out by the state--is an act of prayer.
Ron Allen, Christian Theological Seminary
For consideration on preachin themes in Luke-Acts, you might see Ron Allen, Preaching Luke-Acts. Preaching Classic Texts (Chalice Press), available from www.chalicepress.org. Fuller comments on today's lectionary passage (and on all passages in the lectionary) are are available in the lectionary commentary by Ron Allen and Clark Williamson, Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews (Westminster John Knox Press) and its companion volumes, Preaching the Letters without Dismissing the Law and Preaching the Old Testament, all from www.wjkbooks.com.
Looking Ahead to October 21: Lk 18:1-8, the parable of the widow and unjust judge (installment two)
2007-10-03 by Ron Allen
This installment is the second of three on the parable of the widow and the unjust judge for October 21.
In Luke 17:22-35, the Lukan Jesus speaks poignantly about the suffering of the world that accompanies the final manifestation of the realm. This passage is a pastoral warning to the congregation: you need to be prepared for the fact that you will face difficult times as you wait through the delay for the return of Jesus and the manifestation of the realm.
Luke 18:1 makes explicit the purpose of the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. According to the Lukan Jesus, the disciples "need always to pray and not to lose heart." Through prayer, Luke wants the community to develop "heart" in the community that will withstand them through the suffering and delay. You might think of this as first century theological open heart surgery.
Chrisian sometimes make the exegetical mistake of interpreting the parable proper (Lk. 18:2-5) as an allegory in which we are the church and God is the unjust judge. If this were the case, the parable would offer a callous picture of God.
A few interpreters think that the widow is a feminine image for God who is pleading with the world to live in justice. However, in my view, nothing in the immediate text or in the larger world of Luke-Acts supports this view.
The text is not an allegory but is rabbinic mode of arguing from the lesser to the greater. If a lesser situation is true, then a greater situation is true as well. If an unjust judge (who does not reverence God and does not fear people) will respond to the cries of a nuisance widow just to stop her from bothering him, how much more will a God of justice and promise respond to the prayers of the faithful by bringing the realm.
The parable does not specify the issue of injustice that has exercised the widow. Many scholars think that someone (her opponent) may be trying to scam her out of her husband's estate, thus leaving her in a very vulnerable position. If so, the judge's recalcitrance is especially reprehensible. Widows were among the most vulnerable people in antiquity. The Torah contains guidelines for caring for widows. From the perspective of Torah, caring actions of the community are practical expressions of God's providence for widows. The prophets inveighed against Israel when the community failed to act in behalf of widows and claimed that the mistreatment of widows were among the factors that brought God's condemnation upon the community.
In 18:7a, Luke offers a direct word of assurance to the community. God will grant justice to the chosen who cry to him day and night, i.e. God will bring the realm for those who suffer. Throughout the gospel and Acts, Luke emphasizes that God is a promise-keeper. The chosen certainly include Jesus' followers (who, in the Book of Acts, come to include gentiles) Given Luke's Jewish background, they may also include the Jewish commnunity.
In 18:7b-8a, the gospel writer adds another dimension of assurance. The realm will come soon. Luke wants the community to think that they will not have to hang on through suffering for a long time. Of course, Luke wisely does not lay out a time table for the coming of the realm.
From these perspectives, the meaning of Luke 18:8b is self-evident. For Luke, "faith" is the trust that the ministry of Jesus is a sign (and agency for) the coming of the realm. To be faithful is to witness to the immediate partial realization of the realm through the ministry of Jesus and the life of the church (which is under the power of the realm-empowering Spirit). In v. 8b, the Lukan Jesus poses the question, "When Jesus (the Son of Man) returns, will he find this kind of faith on earth?" Luke wants the readers to answer, "Yes. We commit ourselves to becoming strengthened through prayer in order make it through the suffering of the delay. We want to be partg of the final and full realization of the realm."
Luke believes that in the midst of its difficulties, the community can be heartened by prayer, that is, by intentionally opening themselves to the partial realization of the realm in the present and anticipting the final and complete coming of the realm when Jesus returns.
Looking Ahead to October 21: Lk 18:1-8, the parable of the widow and unjust judge (installment one)
2007-10-03 by Ron Allen
I am looking ahead to October 21 and the gospel text, the parable of the widow and the unjust judge, Luke 18:1-8. This blog will come in three installments.
Three big Lukan themes are in back of this text. The first is that Luke believes that the ministry of Jesus (and the coming of the Spirit) partially manifest realm of God in the present and point to its final and full coming in the near future. The apocalypse (the second coming of Jesus) will be the means of the final and full manifestation of the realm. For Luke, the realm is the restoration of all things to the way they were in Eden. The end-times will be like he beginning times.
Second, Luke believes that a delay is occurring in the final manifestation of the realm. Many people had expected the apocalypse to take place soon after the resurrection. Luke writes a generation later and it still has not occurred.
Third, many in the community are drifting away. Tensions have developed between the church and some traditional synagogues, between the church and Rome, and within the church. The community perceives itself as suffering. In the language of today's text, many people are losing heart.
Fourth, Luke understands prayer in a very specific way. For this writer, prayer is the intentional opening of the self and community to the presence of the realm. When the community prays, it seeks to make itself available to the working of the realm.
2007-10-02 by David Howell
Thanks so much to David von Schlichten, Dee Dee Haines and our weekly blogging guests: Jim Somerville, Tom Long, Walter Brueggemann and many more to come! Best selling author and Episcopal lay preacher Nora Gallagher will blog next week.
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Highlights from The Week's Articles in "Lectionary Homiletics"
2007-10-02 by David von Schlichten
Be sure to scroll down to learn from Jim Somerville's artful and insightful blog entries about his process for sermon-preparation, including his engaging reflections on that psalm many of us can't resist but fear proclaiming, 137.
Here is what I found extra helpful from the articles in Lectionary Homiletics for this week:
"Exegesis" (See the samples for this Sunday to read this article as well as snippets from all the articles for this week.)
Susan Eastman stresses that the slave language of the pericope teaches that we Christians have with God a relationship of loyalty rather than of reward. We serve God as loyal slaves, not in the name of earning a reward, and thus are free to serve God and others with greater faithfulness.
Mary Clark Moschella finds humor in the strange imagery of a mustard seed and of a walking tree that plops itself into the sea. She also finds comfort in the Good News that such a small amount of faith - mustard seed-sized - is powerful.
This last point is especially helpful, because many lay people think the mustard seed-faith passage is saying indirectly, "You people don't even have a little faith, so get growing." According to Moschella and others, the passage is really saying, "What a relief. You only need a teeny weeny amount of faith. You have that, so you're in good shape. No increasing the size necessary."
Dennis R. Bolton summarizes a sermon by William Willimon that critiques a theology promising that Jesus is the answer to all our problems. Willimon preaches that, according to this passage, our response to Jesus is not self-fulfillment but duty.
Rick Brand echoes this point that Willimon makes. Brand proclaims that many of us resist the idea that someone can boss us around, but God is our boss. Further, we are on duty all the time and we do not work to earn payment. Gracious God liberates us with blessings, not because we earn them, but because God is gracious.
Thank you, everyone, for your contributions. With all this in mind, I strive to heed Jim Somerville's advice not to rush the homiletical gestation process, even as Sunday grows larger on the horizon, ever
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, poedifier
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