Scripture: Genesis 32:22-31, Luke 18:1-8
Title: Hold On
**Sermons are meant to be heard, so listen along here**
What is justice?
Many of us hear this word and we immediately think of right and wrong, good and bad, legal and illegal.
It’s the upholding of rules.
And in most of the ways we think of it – we think of a noun.
Like justice is a thing you hold.
Something you either have or don’t have.
Yet in today’s Gospel, the word justice isn’t a noun.
It’s a verb.
And through this parable that Jesus tells, we begin to understand exactly what kind of action it is.
For Luke, we get an understanding that justice is defined as fearing God and respecting others.
Because the unjust guy in today’s parable is defined as someone who didn’t fear God and had no respect for anyone.
So what does that mean exactly – to fear God and to respect others?
What would it look like if justice took into account these two things?
What does it look like in this day and age to really fear God and to really respect others?
Preaching professor and author Karoline Lewis said it powerfully this week when she asked some pointed questions to help us define just what Luke might be getting at. She asked:
Is there any fear of God left? Or have we so tamed the Almighty so that he is a mere aspect of our lives rather than the one who makes sense of our lives?
Is there any fear of God left? Or have we insisted that in order to preach or do theology, we need to have God all figured out?
Is there any fear of God left? Or have we decided that to fear God is a rather archaic phrase best left in the recesses of the Old Testament and certainly not binding on our lives now?
And, is there any respect left for the other? Or have we totally bought into the binaries of our society — that the other can only exist as our opposite?
Is there any respect left for the other? Or has fear completely crushed our compassion?
Is there any respect left for the other? Or has narcissism truly become as epidemic as it appears?
Yes, if fear of God and respect for the other were operative in our understandings of justice, justice might indeed look different.
It’s all comes down to justice.
Not the noun, but the verb.
Fear of God and love of the other.
When those things are true – they bring about action.
As philosopher Cornel West says: “justice is what love looks like in public”
So Jesus steps into the midst of his disciples, right in between telling them he’s going to be gone soon and then going to the cross to show them what real love looks like – Jesus steps into their worry and panic and fear and tells a parable. One that Luke calls: “a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart”
And so Jesus tells a story about an unjust judge. One that neither fears God nor respects people.
A woman comes to ask him for help.
Grant me justice. She says.
The Greek translated word for word here is grant me justice against the one who is anti-justice.
And he says no.
And really, only a jerk would say no right?
But we know this about him already so it’s not really a surprise.
But she continues.
She’s annoying him with her persistence.
And he caves.
This is the parable.
Jesus says how much more will God give justice to those who cry out to him?
This unjust jerk of a judge can do it, and he doesn’t even care.
But God cares.
So then this parable teaches us that God is bringing justice all the time to those whom he loves.
The question then becomes, who are we in this story?
That’s what we’re to do with parables right?
Are we the woman? Or are we maybe the unjust judge?
Because the parable is set for Jesus’ disciples, I thought I’d try my hand at parable writing this week, so here I have:
A new parable about our need to pray always and not to lose heart:
There once was a political system that neither feared God nor had respect for people.
There once was an education system that neither feared God nor had respect for people.
There once was an immigration system that neither feared God nor had respect for people.
There once was a legal system that neither feared God nor had respect for people.
There was once a church that neither feared God nor had respect for people.
In that system there was a person who kept coming and saying: Grant me justice.
A refugee in crisis.
A family in need of welfare.
A young black man.
A low income school district.
Grant me justice.
A homeless kid.
A Muslim man.
A single mom.
A sexual assault victim.
A gay teenager.
Grant me justice.
The systems responded: no.
I’m too busy.
You aren’t like me.
We don’t believe the same things.
I don’t have any extra.
I’m barely getting by as it is.
I don’t agree with you.
I think you’re wrong.
You got yourself into this.
Not my problem.
And yet they respond:
Grant me justice.
Grant me justice.
They keep pushing.
They didn’t give up their fight for justice.
For doing the right thing.
And eventually the systems collapsed.
They can’t take the pressure.
They get worn out trying to be what they’ve always been and do what they’ve always done.
And the parable ends there.
The parable ends with this reminder that God always fights for justice. On behalf not of the systems that have power but to the ones he loves who are being oppressed, overlooked, and forgotten. The ones hurting, crying, lost. This is who God is working for.
And maybe at one point, that was you.
Maybe that’s you today. Maybe today you ARE the woman begging for justice.
If it is, make no mistake.
God has got you.
God is working for you, on your behalf.
Hold on. Don’t give up.
Keep asking for justice.
But if this is not you – if you don’t fall into those categories…if you aren’t being oppressed, then we have some big questions to ask ourselves.
Some hard questions.
Some questions we’d rather not have brought up at all.
If we’re not the oppressed – if it’s not us crying out, then that means we’re the unjust judge.
And if you just cringed. You’re not alone.
I really really don’t like thinking of myself as the jerk in this story.
The one who is annoyed at the people in need around them.
Because if we’re not in need of justice then we have the responsibility to use the power given to us in the system in which we find ourselves.
We have been loved and freed and forgiven.
And now we use that freedom to work on behalf of those on the outside.
Those who aren’t being served by the systems of our world.
As Karoline Lewis wrote this week: “When you work for the Kingdom of God, the quest for justice is never over.”
The power of this story isn’t that the woman wore down the judge. That she just tried really hard and he caved because she was annoying.
No, the power of this story is that it was someone with very little power or voice that simply asked for justice. Treat me like a human being.
She didn’t ask for money, power, or a higher place in the system, but simply to be seen and heard and treated with dignity and respect.
This woman. Who likely had none of those at her disposal, did not give up fighting for what was right.
And neither should we.
We also need to hold on. To keep fighting and pushing.
Because we’re the ones with the power in this world.
We have been given a certain amount of freedom, not just by our country, though that is true, but by our God.
We have been freed.
We no longer have to wonder if God is for us, we KNOW God has called us and claimed us.
And yet we struggle with what to do with our freedom.
So often, in my conversations with people of faith, I hear questions about purpose – why am I here? What does my faith have to do with my daily life?
Sure I’ve been forgiven but now what?
This. This is what we are here for.
We are called to use our freedom on behalf of others.
On behalf of anyone who isn’t being treated as the beloved child of God that they are.
On behalf of anyone who isn’t being helped by the systems that have power in our world.
We are not the true judge. That’s God.
As Pr Chad has said before – deciding who is worthy of grace or judgement is above my paygrade.
And thank goodness it’s not our call.
Because we have a just God. A loving God.
A God who has worked on our behalf and continue to work on behalf of those who need it.
We are freed FOR the sake of justice. And we can no longer ignore it.