Lectionary blog for Oct. 20, 2013
Pentecost 22 — Proper 24
Texts: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

A friend of mine sent me this in an email a few weeks ago: Sign seen posted in the cafeteria of a Florida hospital: NOTICE: Due to the current budget cutbacks, the light at the end of the tunnel will be turned off until further notice.

In today’s Gospel lessons Jesus reminds us to hang on to our faith, even when the light of God’s love grows dim or even seems to have gone out. It is a story about not giving up in the face of difficult times. It is a story about continuing to pray and trust God, even when you’re getting no results — even when it feels like and looks like the windows of heaven are shut tight and God either cannot or will not hear your plea. The story uses courtrooms and bad judges and poor widows to teach us lessons about life and God and our need to pray without ceasing.

A judge in Israel was a powerful figure. Biblical scholar Raymond Bailey says: “In Israel, the judge was the final arbiter. There was no jury, no court of appeal … . The judge in the parable is a law unto himself, who has no sense of accountability to persons or God. He shirked his duty by not bothering to even hear the case … . The widow throughout the Bible … was a vulnerable victim … a symbol of helplessness. (“The Lectionary Commentary, The Gospels,” p. 429)

Jesus has set for us a scene in which a poor, helpless person has nowhere else to turn but to the judge. And the judge appears not to care about her, appears to be unwilling to help. She has no money to bribe him, no power to coerce him, no important relatives to influence him; what is she to do?

Well, she has two choices: One — she can quit, give up, crawl away in despair and frustration. Or two — she can continue to beat upon his door, accost him in the streets, stand in his yard with a sign demanding justice, tell his neighbors and friends about his unwillingness to help; in short she can refuse to go away.

And it worked: verse 5 ” … because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” In other words, he gives her what she wants so she’ll go away.

As I said, this story isn’t really about courtrooms and judges and poor widows; it’s about persistence in prayer and faithfulness in living. God does not “grant us justice” to get rid of us or because we disturb the divine repose or to avoid embarrassment. God is not like the unfair judge in that way.

Jesus’ point is that God works on a different time schedule than most of us, and it is easy for us to get discouraged if the “day of the Lord” that the Hebrew Scriptures promise seems never to come.

We do our best to live a good life, giving to God and neighbor generously, praying and attending worship and paying attention to our religious duties.

We are faithful to our wives or husbands or significant others; our family members can rely on us to be there for them in time of need; we raise our children with gentleness, discipline and generosity; we pursue our work with both diligence and honesty. And yet — and yet — sometimes things fall apart; sometimes the roof caves in; sometimes the light goes out; sometimes we find ourselves trapped in the darkness of our souls with no sign of hope, with no glimmer of grace, with not even a whisper of love.

And when that happens; how do we hang on? How do we keep faith through the dark night of the soul? How do we keep on praying when things keep getting worse instead of better? How do we find the will to get up and go out each day trusting God to see us through when nothing we do seems to work? How do we keep from having “itching ears,” looking here and there and everywhere for solutions to our problems — or, if not solutions, then others to blame for our difficulties? What does it take for us to stay the course in difficult and perilous times?

Herb Edwards was professor of Black church studies at Duke Divinity School. He used to say, “The trouble with the church is that it has no faith in the resurrection.” He usually went on to say something like this: Without faith in the resurrection, we will do all we can to avoid death, either as individuals or as institutions. But if we embrace the power of God to bring us back from the dead, we can put our fear of death behind us and live bold and courageous lives, trusting God and risking all for the sake of the gospel.

Amen and amen.

Talk back

  • Can you remember a time when you had a dark night of the soul?
  • Do you have faith in the resurrection?
Delmer Chilton
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

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