The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24-C), 20 October 2019

October 20, 2019 | by Marjorie Suchocki

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
Jeremiah 31:27-34 Psalm 119:97-104 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 Luke 18:1-8 Genesis 32:22-31 Psalm 121

Our focus for each Sunday this month will be on the gospel texts. Each of these selections tell stories that are well known to most parishioners. Turn that to your advantage by telling the story, not just reading it. I’ve tried to model that for you by telling each of the four stories as if to an audience.
               ~ Marjorie Suchocki

Oh, that unrighteous judge! You know the one: he neither fears God nor respects people, but has plenty of regard for himself and his comfort. In Luke 18 Jesus uses this self-important judge to teach us something about prayer! What a travesty! The God to whom we pray is certainly not unrighteous, and all of the preceding parables have told us of God’s dear regard for people — even and possibly mostly for the poor and rejected! Surely this judge is far from being a model of the nature of God! What can we learn about so humble and holy a thing as prayer from this selfish judge???

You know the story well — it’s probably Jesus’ un-loveliest parable. A widow comes to the judge for legal protection against her opponent. She is a widow, so she is probably dependent on a son or possibly a brother for her needs. Evidently she has some property — but property which is endangered, because someone else is laying claim to it. We don’t even know whose claim to the land is legally right, only that it is disputed by the widow and her unnamed opponent. But the story doesn’t require us to know the facts of the legal case. We only need to know that she is widowed, that she has property to which someone else — we don’t know who — is laying claim. And so she goes to the judge to decide the case in her favor. The judge, however, doesn’t care one whit about this bothersome widow. At first he puts up with her, but the woman simply will not stop. She’s not important, but the trouble is, she won’t go away. She is annoying at first, but then simply a pain. She’s always there. Exacerbated, the judge reasons to himself, “though I fear neither God nor do I respect anyone, this woman is so troublesome that the only way to get rid of her is to give her what she wants. Otherwise she’ll just wear me out !” And so the judge resolves her case in her favor, case solved; woman gone, end of story!

Why on earth, you might ask, does Jesus use this strange story to encourage his disciples to persist in prayer? Is God, like the judge, simply so busy that our persistent prayers for this and that are as the buzzing of a fly in the divine ear, so that by answering the prayer God, as it were, just sort of slaps the fly so that it’ll just go away and let God get on with more important things? Remember, the judge in the story does not care about whether the woman’s claim is right or wrong, he just wants to get rid of her. How can Jesus use such a story to talk about what God does with our prayers?

Do you suppose it’s because in the Lucan context, this parable is told on the eve of the beginning of holy week. Think of what’s ahead for the disciples: on Palm Sunday they’ll be elated, but then…. the strange Passover Supper and Jesus’ odd request to pray with him — and he prays all night, “Let this cup pass from me. . .” But it does not pass, despite his prayer! The soldiers come, and then the horrors begin in earnest — the “trial,” the scourging, the treacherous crowd screaming for murder — and oh, the dreadful cross! The disciples are terrified; there’s nowhere to turn, and the heavens seem shut, locked, and barred with bands of iron. They are in terror and spiritual pain; their world is turned upside down, and it seems not even God in heaven hears them! Indeed, in abandoning their teacher, hasn’t God abandoned them as well? Not even God is there for them in their fear and terror!

But wait! Remember that weird parable? Even when it seems that there is no compassionate, righteous God hearing your prayers, even when it seems that everything and everyone, including God, has abandoned you, pray anyhow! Is that how they got through that terrible week? They prayed even though it seemed God was just plain ignoring them, they prayed, and somehow it got them through those unbearable days — straight into Sunday morning!

There are times, you see, when we too suffer great pain, unbearable sorrow; sometimes we are bowed down and it seems there is no ear in the heavens to hear us, to comfort us, to help us. But oh! Pray anyhow! It only SEEMS as if God refuses to hear us!! Pray! And trust. Easter comes.

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki is Professor Emerita, Claremont School of Theology, Faculty Co-Director Emerita of the Center for Process Studies, Director Emerita of Process and Faith, and the founder and former Director of the Common Good International Film Festival (formerly, Whitehead International Film Festival). Among her many books are God Christ Church: A Practical Guide to Process TheologyThe End of Evil: Process Eschatology in Historical ContextThe Whispered Word: A Theology for Preaching; In God’s Presence: Theological Reflections on Prayer; and Through a Lens Darkly: Tracing Redemption in Film.