There is much in our world which cries out for justice and healing. You can make the list as easily as I can – wars and violence, hatred and intolerance, suffering and disease, isolation and loneliness, pipe bombs in the mail and shootings in a synagogue. The brokenness of our world spans the spectrum from the global to the personal. And through all the tears we continue to wonder why – why is it happening and why isn’t God doing something about it.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells a parable about an unjust, uncaring judge and a poor, bereft widow. This parable has often been offered as a response to our questions of why. And I confess that the interpretation that it usually receives has frequently left me less than satisfied. In fact, it is seriously problematic. God is the unjust, uncaring judge and we are the poor, bereft widow. We don’t know why God doesn’t respond to our needs, but if we keep beating on God’s door until we’ve made a complete nuisance of ourselves, then perhaps God will do something just so we will go away.
It scores points in the “God’s ways are a mystery to us” category, but is not very appealing when it comes to offering a helpful image of God or a hopeful understanding of our own situation. But what if we look at the parable from a different angle? Jesus’ parables are never straight forward stories. The whole point of this particular teaching style is to catch us off guard with some twist that will slip past our expectations and present us with an alternative way of looking at the world. And yet, even when we know that, it is so easy to fall into the trap of looking at the obvious interpretation and then wondering why Jesus would say such awful things about God. What if, instead, we look for the twist?
A friend of mine once offered an intriguing possibility that had never occurred to me before. What if God isn’t the judge? What happens to the message of the parable if we see God as the widow and us as the judge? The reason our prayers for justice aren’t being answered is not because God isn’t listening, but rather because we aren’t listening. Over and over again, God calls us to be the voice for justice in the world. Over and over again, God challenges us to be the agents of healing in the world. And over and over again, we look for it to happen some other way. The job is too big. We are too small. The task is too dangerous. We are too frightened. OK, so maybe God does work through people, but that means big, important, powerful people. And while we stammer out our doubts and confusion and fear and excuses, the world continues to cry out for justice and mercy and healing and hope. And God continues to call the people whom God has always called – ordinary, flawed, frightened, fragile people. In other words, us!
And believe it or not, this is good news. It is hopeful news. It means that God is not absent and has not abandoned us to our fate. God continues to believe in us and will continue to call forth the best that we have it in us to be. What came before is not the final word. No matter how bad it gets, no matter how many times we have left the challenge unmet, the important moment for decision is now. The widow is knocking on the door now and we can still choose to respond.
And when we respond, we do so with more than simply our own resources. We have each other, and we have Sacred Presence to provide us with strength and courage and guidance. We aren’t always very good at paying attention to God’s presence in our lives and in our world, but our lack of attention does not (indeed, cannot) change the reality that God is present and is active. When we do pay attention, however, then we begin to recognize that we have access to amazing resources that make it possible to reach out and touch the world in remarkable and transforming ways.
The task is still overwhelming, and frightening, and yes, sometimes even dangerous. Darkness continues to threaten. But with God’s help we are people of the Light. And we are being called to shine that light into the world. Maybe it will mean volunteering your time to work for one of the many local organizations who provide assistance to those in need. Maybe it will mean giving some of your money to agencies that provide relief for disaster victims around the world. Maybe it will mean becoming active in politics. Maybe it will simply mean being on the look out for those everyday, ordinary situations when we have an opportunity to bring a little light into someone’s dark day. The possibilities are limitless. And a very patient, but insistent God continues to call us. May this be the moment when we choose to respond.