Prayer + Action
Sent out in Jesus’ name,
our hands are ready now
to make the earth the place
in which the kingdom comes.
The angels cannot change a world of hurt and pain
into a world of love, of justice and of peace.
The task is our to do, to set it really free.
O help us to obey, and carry out your will. (The Faith We Sing #2184)
Before I was “religious”, I was political. I was raised a flower child of the ‘70s – attending my first political demonstration as an infant in my mother’s arms. Whether attending women’s rights marches or peace vigils, writing letters to congress or voting, I have generally been politically aware and active my whole life. In many ways, I was eventually drawn to the United Methodist Church because of its social justice tradition.
Perhaps it is because of this that I love the parable that Jesus tells about a widow and an unjust judge in Luke 18:1-8. While Jesus tells the story as an illustration of persistence in prayer, the parallel message of seeking justice strongly resonates with me.
I find it interesting that Jesus used a widow to illustrate his point . . . a symbol of vulnerability. What empowering message did that send to women and others in the margins of his society? What message did it send to those in power that Jesus would use one of the least respected people as the hero in his story?
Jesus tells his disciple about a judge – a person in authority who was arrogant and didn’t have respect for God or for other people. As a judge, people’s lives were in his hands but he simply didn’t care.
The widow in the story was relying on the judge to grant her justice. Now especially in that time, women were among the most vulnerable people in society. And widows without adult sons had no man to care for them, no protection, and no way to make money.
Yet this woman . . . she kept coming asking day in and day out for justice. I wonder what her case was about. . . How unjust must the situation be that a woman in the margins would rise up and say “enough!”
She flipped the script and with non-violent and consistent perseverance she kept a clear and focused approach.
I like to imagine her outside the courthouse – maybe with a picket sign or a button that reads “justice for widows”. Perhaps she was shouting “No Justice No Peace. No Justice No Peace.”
Does this persistent widow look like Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or one of the other US suffragists or abolitionists?
Does this persistent widow look like Noble Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee who says that bringing peace to Liberia took the form of “an army of women in white standing up when no one else would—unafraid, because the worst things imaginable had already happened to us.”
Does this persistent widow look like someone from the Church of the Village who fasted a few weeks ago or one of the people who supported them in an effort to alleviate hunger in our community?
Does this persistent widow look like our own Pastor Vicki who will not rest until our church truly practices receiving ALL of God’s beloved children with fully open hearts, open minds, open doors?
These women, like the persistent widow cannot be ignored. The judge in Jesus’ story kept trying to ignore the woman – until he finally realized that this woman was not going to leave him alone. So he gave in – not because his mind was changed or because he cared about her – but because he realized this widow would not give up. Maybe he was afraid of looking foolish. Maybe he was concerned she might get violent – some translations suggest he was concerned about a black eye (literally or figuratively). Maybe he was just lazy and it was not worth the hassle of having her come back every day. But for whatever reason she finally was granted the justice she was seeking.
Jesus concludes saying that if even an uncaring judge eventually gives in to a fragile widow’s nonviolent but persistent quest for justice; think about how our loving God will respond when we partner with the Spirit.
When my daughter, Cassie and I were away from the church for a few years, we spent our Sunday mornings preparing food that was going to be thrown out from local merchants and sharing it with people in a nearby park. When a teacher asked Cassie why we didn’t go to church, she responded, “Food not Bombs is our church.” I was proud that my middle-school aged daughter understood that we were acting as disciples when we were in fellowship with those in the margins of our community.
Once we began worshiping at Washington Square United Methodist Church – later to become part of Church of the Village, we became involved in Hope for our Neighbors in Need. We realized that we fed our spiritual lives even more when we were doing it through a faith community with the accountability, lessons and growth opportunities coming together with the power of prayerfully serving as the hands and feet of God.
As people of faith, we believe and experience the power of prayer. It is a discipline that is vital and strengthens our relationship with God and each other. But as Christians, we are called to put our prayers into action. In Salty Wives, Spirited Mothers, and Savvy Widows, F. Scott Spencer writes, “A praying widow who wears out her knees at home, synagogue, or temple is no threat to the judicial system. It’s when she gets on her feet and opens her mouth in public that we have a problem.”
Through parables like the widow and the unjust judge, we see that Jesus was a model political revolutionary who questioned authority at every turn. Coming from a position of peaceful protest and love, Jesus challenged the cultural laws of his time and put human rights first.
As followers of Christ, how do we justify a child dying because she doesn’t have health insurance, deny two adults who are in love the right to marry, separate a mother from her US born children because she doesn’t have the “right” paperwork, send young American men and women to war – risking their lives and killing young men and women in other countries?
When the laws of church or society conflict with what Jesus taught us, how do we as disciples of Jesus Christ respond? Margaret Mead is attributed with saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
I encourage us as a church to be like the persistent widow – through our prayers and through our actions, put a spoke in the wheel of injustice every chance we get, partnering with God to transform our broken world into one filled with love, justice, and peace.
Please join us this Sunday, January 12 at 10:30 am in worship for a special sermon by Melissa Hinnen and a celebration of the many leaders in the life of our church.