Texts: Gen 32.22-31; 2 Tim 3.14-4.5; Lk 18.1-8
There is a significant part of Christ’s Church that hears the command to “proclaim the gospel… whether the time is favorable or unfavorable” and seeks to fulfill that command by doing things like leaving tracts on top of urinals. Personally, I would qualify that as an “unfavorable time,” but I admire how they are taking the words to heart. There is also a significant part of Christ’s Church that is uncertain how to fulfill this command in a way that is sensitive and respectful towards our neighbors of other faiths, or of no faith. For us—and I count myself among this part of the Church—too often our response is a helpless shrug and a “live and let live” mentality. Too often we remain silent out of worry over offending others or our own uncertainty whether our own particular set of beliefs is “right” or any more accurate than anyone else’s to the point that.
There is a significant part of Christ’s Church that sees the work of the Church as saving souls. If we don’t evangelize—that is, proclaim the gospel—then others may never encounter Christ’s good news and may perish. The tract I found on the urinal is a desperate attempt to reach people whenever and wherever possible. That tract is, in essence, saying: “You are headed to destruction. The plane is going to crash; fortunately for you, here is a parachute.”
But that’s not how Jesus sees things. At the beginning of his ministry, he states the reason for his work using the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
In other words, evangelism is not about handing our parachutes on a plane that is about to crash; evangelism is about showing people how to fix the plane. Evangelism is about bringing good news to the poor, restoring sight to the blind, releasing the captives. Evangelism is, at its core, working for justice.
And working for justice is hard work. It is wearying. It is exhausting. So often it seems that justice—true justice for all—is so far away. So often it seems that instead of getting closer, it is in fact getting further away. In the endless struggle for justice, it is easy to lose heart, to peter out, to give up and let someone else carry the torch for a while.
For example, in the wake of the Mother Emmanuel shooting last year and the ever-growing list of unarmed people of color killed in police custody, discussions about race and racism have assumed a prominent role in our social consciousness. But after so much push back, after so many denials of the problem and so many claims of discrimination by white people, communities of color are tired of having to defend their experiences. I have been reading more and more blog posts and articles from those communities in which people express how tired they are of being spokespeople for their race. White communities are tired of hearing about a problem that is so foreign to them. Everybody is just tired. How are we to keep from losing heart?
In response to our exhaustion, Jesus offers us this little parable. There once was a judge, a real ornery cuss who neither obeyed God nor cared about the people around him. He was, in short, the worst judge ever. The last thing you would ever expect from him was a fair hearing. But, there was a little old widow, a tiny woman, so frail a stiff wind would knock her over. She had no clout, no friends in high places, no money for a bribe, no petition full of names, no kickstarter or gofundme page to raise awareness for her cause. And in the end, it was this little old widow who got a fair hearing from this callous, self-serving judge. How? Because she never gave up.
Jesus draws a contrast between the judge and God: the judge is a misanthrope and cares nothing for this woman, yet he gives her justice. God, on the other hand, cares deeply for the widow and for all the oppressed; justice is God’s middle name. Is there any question whether God will grant justice to those who cry out? Is there any question whether God will deliver said justice speedily?
Of course God will help. That God will do justice is a given; it is an important point, but not the only point of the parable. The real question is what about the other misanthropic judges in the world? What about the crooked politicians and the corrupt government officials and all the well-meaning-yet-broken systems of our imperfect world? How will we get justice from them?
Never. Give. Up. Never give up, and remember that God is on the side of justice. Take our story from Genesis. Jacob, on his way to meet his brother Esau many years after he stole Esau’s birthright, makes camp for the night and sends his family away for their safety. A strange man comes up on Jacob and begins wrestling with him. They wrestle through the whole night, until the sun is beginning to send its first rays over the eastern horizon. The stranger, wanting to be done, strikes Jacob’s hip so hard it’s dislocated, but Jacob—having just wrestled all night long—refuses to let go, refuses to give up. He knows he’s won, and he won’t be denied. What does he want? “I will not let you go until you bless me.”
It is Jacob’s persistence that finally gets him that blessing. It is his refusal to give up the wrestling match, his refusal to let go even when he is exhausted and writhing in agony that leads him to the place where God renews for him the promises already made. Likewise, it is the widow’s persistence in seeking justice that gets her what she deserves. Jesus asks us: when the Son of Man comes, will he find such faith on earth? Will he find people like the powerless widow tirelessly seeking justice, will he find people like the underhanded Jacob relentlessly asking for blessing? When the Son of Man comes, will he find us tenaciously clinging to the promise of salvation for the whole earth?
We are encouraged to be like the widow; but there is another truth which is sometimes lost in our reading of this parable. The widow is characterized by her persistence, much like the shepherd with the 100 sheep or the widow with the 10 coins are characterized by their persistence in searching for the one that is lost, or the father is characterized by his persistent waiting for the return of his prodigal son. Twice in this parable, the widow is described as coming to the judge, and at the end, the one doing the coming is the Son of Man. The parable also reminds us that not only is God just, God is also persistent. In spite of our sin, in spite of our mistakes and misgivings, in spite of our quietism and shallow thankfulness and misplaced zeal and inwardly focused priorities, God comes to us again and again and again and again to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, to bring sight to the blind, good news to the poor, and release to the captives.
I think that this is why we are here, that this is what we as Lutheran Christians and as the congregation of Agnus Dei Lutheran Church have to offer to Gig Harbor and the world: that in this place, among these people, against all odds God keeps showing up in the words of Scripture, in the waters of baptism, in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. In a broken and uncertain world, God keeps showing up to feed us for the work of tirelessly seeking justice, so that we will have the strength to wrestle through the night and receive the blessing at dawn.
God keeps showing up here; God doesn’t wait for us to scatter tracts or pray the right prayers or save the souls of the damned, because the God we know doesn’t wait for us to be the right kind of people or do the right kind of things. The God we know meets us where we are, even if where we are is at the foot of a cross. And I think that this is the kind of good news the world needs to hear, the kind of good news we ought to be awfully excited to share, whether the time is favorable or not.