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
Communion in Exile
2007-10-02 by Jim Somerville
I tell my preaching students that if the time spent playing with the lectionary texts on Monday morning has been fruitful, there will be plenty of questions on Tuesday morning to send them running to the commentaries, to the Bible dictionaries, to the original languages. What is that word in Greek? What does Paul mean by “justification”? Who were the “Edomites”?
On this Tuesday morning I’m still wondering about the longing for home, and thinking that it’s not only the Africans in my church but all of us who carry around some memory of a place where our souls were at peace, or some hunger for such a place and such a peace. I saw it on the faces of people in my congregation just a few weeks ago when we sang “Amazing Grace” in worship. It’s not as sophisticated as some of the hymns we sing. We don’t sing it often. But the people were singing it with everything in them, and when we got to that last verse their faces were shining like the sun. “Our hearts are tuned for Heaven,” Barbara Brown Taylor once wrote, and on that day in worship a few weeks ago I could see it, I could feel it.
The writer of Psalm 137 tells us what it’s like to be homesick: you hang up your harp and get out your hanky. And one of the reasons we love this psalm is that we all know something about that feeling, either because we’ve had a home like that or because we’re still holding out hope. Maybe our task as preachers on World Communion Sunday is not to take everyone home, but to remind the people in our congregations that we are all in exile together. Whether we are African, or Hispanic, or sixth-generation Scottish immigrants, when we gather for worship this Sunday we gather in Babylon with dreams of Jerusalem in our heads. We gather around the table of our Lord to eat bread and drink wine. We join hands and notice how different they are, and how much alike. And, if we can do it around the lumps in our throats, we sing one of the songs of Zion.
Jim Somerville is pastor of the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, DC; adjunct professor of preaching at the John Leland Center for Theological Studies; and one-time host of the Festival of Homiletics.
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