Jeremiah 31:27-34; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8
Ordinary 29C; Proper 24
The days are surely coming when God’s people will know God’s law by heart, when all that training in sacred writings and righteousness will be evident and persuasive, when even the unjust and corrupt leaders will do the right thing, even if for the wrong reasons. Patience, persistence, relentless faithfulness will bear fruit, eventually.
Truth be told, I marvel at the widows of the world, the women like that woman in Luke 18, who refuse to give up on justice, no matter how often, or how violently, or how utterly injustice apparently wins. Their persistence belies all logic. Their tenacity humbles people like me who’ve given up when faced with fewer and lesser odds. I once worked with a woman who drove an ancient powder-blue station wagon that was forever breaking down. Frequently, I would come in to the office and she would tell me that her car was in the shop again. She would have walked to work or gotten a ride, figuring out a way to get to work, get the car fixed, keep going, when options appeared few. If this frustrated her, she never said so. Often, she would share her confidence that a way would be made because God knew she needed that car. Not so much to get to work – she could walk there. Not so much to get around town – the bus route, while limited, could get her the places she needed to go. But because that station wagon was a vehicle for mission and ministry. She transported the neighborhood children in that car to the Boys and Girls Club and then home; to afterschool activities and back; to appointments, cultural events and anywhere else that eased the burden of their parents or enriched their lives. That light-blue car, the one the kids laughed about and called “Ms. Peg’s hoopty”, provided so much more than transportation because those kids in her car were loved and advised, taught and encouraged every inch of the journey. That’s why Ms. Peg would lament when the car broke down, even as she stated with unquestionable confidence that soon it would be back on the road.
Her persistence humbled me, but her hope, her faith, they inspired me. She would not be thwarted from her mission, no matter the odds she faced, no matter the odds faced by the children she so loved and transported. Persistence cannot be uncoupled from a stalwart sense of purpose and a hope that others may see as irrational. Ms. Peg kept that car on the road and those kids in her sphere, year after year, because she believed in them, their worth and potential, and because she put her hope in the God who called her to care for and about them.
These three texts paint a picture of God’s ability and willingness to give us what we need, to teach us what is divinely ordained, to equip us to live in ways that participate in God’s will and experience God’s goodness and power. God will write God’s law on our hearts. God has provided us will instructions for righteousness. God does provide justice to the widow. Persistence, faithfulness, patience – these things will aid us as we strive. Believing this truth motivates people to do extraordinary things in the face of incomprehensible barriers.
How, though, do we keep approaching that unjust, despicable, corrupt judge, when he does not seem to hear, when he refuses day after day to heed our cries, when he continues to exploit his position and abuse his power? How do we not lose heart? Prayer is part of this formula for persistence. Study of Scripture contributes to our tenacity. Training in righteousness cannot be neglected. Doing the right thing, regardless of the outcome, is needed. But most importantly, we rejoice in the faith God writes on our hearts and the hope that comes from knowing how much more God will respond to our cries for justice if even the unjust judge relents out of sheer fatigue.
Recently, I have been reading articles that are a part of the New York Times 1619 Project. The one written by Bryan Stevenson titled “Why American Prisons Owe Their Cruelty to Slavery” struck me as I thought about this week’s lectionary readings. In it, he recounts the story of Matthew, who at the age of 16 was sentenced to life in prison. He had spent 50 years incarcerated, many of those years in the notoriously abusive Angola prison. Stevenson recounts fighting to get Matthew released in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that banned life sentences for juveniles. Matthew’s release, even though his life sentence was no longer legal, was by no means guaranteed. Stevenson persuasively connects the dots between slavery and our current prison system. He shares fighting for justice against staggering odds. He concluded the article with this call:
“I recently went to New Orleans to celebrate the release of several of our Angola clients, including Matthew – men who survived the fields and the hole. I realized how important it is to stay hopeful: Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. There were moments of joy that night. But there was also heaviness; we all seemed keenly aware that we were not truly free from the burden of living in a nation that continues to deny and doubt this legacy, and how much work remains to be done.”
400 years and still justice has not been served. And yet, people like Bryan Stevenson persist in going to the unjust judge. How do they keep at it, despite the odds, despite the setbacks, disappointments and losses? They refuse to lose heart. They remain hopeful because hopelessness is the enemy of justice.
Ms. Peg keeps fixing a car that many would say that involves putting good money after bad, but she knows the pricelessness of what she provides when it is on the road. She keeps the faith, in her passengers and mostly in the one who called her to love them. The patient, persistent, those trained in righteousness, keep practicing that which they know by heart, confident that eventually, even the most corrupt, unjust judges will relent to the unwavering, unstoppable, just will of God.
- How are you trained in righteousness? What learnings do you need to remember, revisit, practice in order to keep the faith?
- When have you been utterly persistent, refusing to give up no matter the setbacks? What were you trying to accomplish? What kept you going?
- Who are the unjust judges we need to be relentlessly asking to do the right thing? Who are the widows in our communities being denied justice? What would justice look like for them?
- How do you not lose heart?
- What, in your life, do you absolutely know by heart? What do you know to be true, no matter the circumstances you face?
- This parable in Luke is a “how much more” type parable. In other words, if even this unjust judge eventually does the right thing, how much more will God respond to our pleas for justice. When have you experienced the “much more” of God in your life or community?
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