Lectionary 29 19th Sunday after Pentecost
How did you hear this story? What characteristics did you ascribe to the judge? How about the widow? What things were we actually told about the judge, and about the widow? Sometimes, our brain takes perceived information and turns it into “facts.” To illustrate this, I am sharing a story, which you may have already heard, but listen again.
Standing in line to check out at the store was a young mother, Susie, with her toddler. Behind her was a well-dressed couple. In front of her was a woman struggling to get everything onto the conveyer belt and keep an eye on her five children. Susie heard the couple behind her say, “How many baby daddies do you think she has? She can’t even dress those kids properly. Just wait for it, she’s going to whip out food stamps. Our tax dollars at work.”
Susie’s gaze turned to the family in front of her. Two children had blonde hair like their mom. They wore jackets and long pants. Three of the children had dark hair, and brown, sad eyes. Despite the cold weather, they had no coats or proper shoes. Managing purchases and the food stamp card flustered the woman. Susie stepped forward to help her, and the two women spoke quietly together for a bit.
After the family left, the young mother turned to the well-dressed couple behind her. “Those children?” she said to them. “They lost the right to live with their parents just days ago. Those clothes? Probably the only clothes they own, or got to leave their home with. THAT woman? She opened her home to kids — kids that needed a safe place to go, when the one they lived in no longer proved safe enough or secure enough for them. The food stamps, something health and welfare does to help feed three new mouths. There are not nearly enough women or people like her this world.”
There were obvious and differing suppositions made by people in this story. The assumption made by the well-dressed couple led to their harsh judgment of the woman with five children. They were closed to other possibilities. Have you ever been wrongly judged? Have you ever made false assumptions? Are you human? Then you have. We all do.
So, I’m curious. How did you interpret our gospel reading? What assumptions did you make when you heard the story? Do you remember what we are told about the judge? He was unjust. He neither feared God nor had respect for people. He answered the widow only to keep her from bothering him. She was getting on his nerves. What do we know about the widow? She sought justice. It was so important to her that she persisted in seeking it. Just like the rising sun, she showed up every morning.
Jesus states that this parable is about the need to pray always, and not to lose heart. The widow shows us what that looks like; she was tenacious in her quest for justice. Her prayers had gone unanswered for so long, yet every day she went before the judge. The widow models God’s desire for us to be stubborn, dedicated, and persistent in our prayers.
The judge said,“…yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” The widow seems to have gotten on the judge’s last nerve! To think that God answers prayers only because we have been so irritating, and that God looks forward to our not showing up, does not sound like the God I know. Neither does the description “unjust.”
Who are you in this parable? We might assume that we are the widow, the one who has been wronged, the one seeking justice. While I would like to think that I persistently pursue God’s justice, I know that I have lapses where I focus only on the people I know and love, and ignore the real plight of others. I best identify with the judge who doesn’t always fear God, nor had respect for people. Most days, I do respect people. Catch me on a day when I don’t feel my best, there are too many things to accomplish, and the driver in front of me slows down for no apparent reason. When I act as the unjust judge, just wanting people to go away, God is most like the widow, annoying me with righteousness.
The widow was seeking justice. So does Jesus. Jesus sees it as our responsibility to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, take care of the sick and visit the prisoners. Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me, Jesus said. Jesus is not just present with those who are marginalized and in need. He is them. He is the widow.
There are hungry, and homeless people, people who cannot afford medicines and doctors. There are people who are not only alone, but are also lonely. There are children who live with wounds inflicted upon them by the mothers and fathers who are too broken to love them. God comes to us every day, just as the rising sun, reminding us that there is still justice to be worked out, and asking us to do something about it. How often do we assume we can’t make a difference, or that someone else will do it?
Jesus ends this parable with a haunting question. I end with the same one. When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin
 Matthew 25:40