Misjudging God Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Luke 18.1-7 We’ve all heard the expression, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” It’s an encouragement for us to speak up for ourselves, or to speak out for things that are important. But today, that bit of folk wisdom is actually theologized by Luke’s Jesus. A shallow reading of […]
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
We’ve all heard the expression, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” It’s an encouragement for us to speak up for ourselves, or to speak out for things that are important.
But today, that bit of folk wisdom is actually theologized by Luke’s Jesus.
A shallow reading of the text might lead us to believe that God is a little reluctant to help us but if we will just annoy God enough, if we will be a pain in God’s butt, then, God will give in and throw us a bone. But to cast God as the judge is to misjudge God!
God isn’t honored by our suggesting that God is uncaring, resistant to our needs and pain. And, that image isn’t redeemed by suggesting that God can be or must be nagged into helping us.
Also, if we aren’t careful, we might start to think that when difficulties don’t get better quickly for us, that we aren’t praying enough, or forcefully enough, or in a way that warrants God’s attention; that not only makes God seems petty, it also robs us of hope and dignity.
Our theology, that is, our thinking about what is Sacred, must be bigger than that.
Our first mistake is to equate the judge with God. The story isn’t about the judge; it’s about the widow (through whom God works).
The widow, apparently, doesn’t have a brother, a father, or a son to advocate for her. By definition we know she no longer has a husband. She is a woman in a culture where women had no status apart from a man…and she has no man in her life.
She couldn’t testify in court. Hers was not a voice that power holders wanted to hear. She wouldn’t have had a court date, or an appointment to see the judge. She lies in wait for him. She calls out to him as he is going home, or as he is going to work. She pounces on him because she would have no other way of meeting him. There were no channels for her to go through. Nevertheless, she demanded justice.
She is being harassed, threatened, someone is making her life miserable and she doesn’t have family or powerful friends who can help her. The law is her only hope but the law isn’t on her side because she is barely a person in the eyes of the law. But she speaks up anyway.
“Please help me!” she calls out every time she sees the judge in the street.
He’s so sick of her after a while, he finally says, “Fine! To get you away from me, I’ll see what I can do.”
She was a pain, not to God, but to the powers and principalities of this world!
She prayed for justice, but then she put legs on her prayers. She was a squeaky wheel, not to annoy God but to be a change agent in her world.
The judge isn’t God, but the widow is a child of God and as such, she knows that injustice isn’t God’s will, and so she won’t settle for it.
God wants to see justice done for those who long for their lot in life to improve.
God does for us what God does through us.
God’s wanting us to have our due is what inspires us to work for it, to demand it, to not give up on it.
The grace of God in this widow is what empowers her to never give up on justice, and because she didn’t give up, she finally got a breakthrough.
God wasn’t pleased with sodomy laws; it was God that nudged us to fight them. God didn’t mandate that same-gender loving people be denied the joy and protections of marriage; it was God that nudged us to work for marriage equality. God wasn’t pleased with Jim Crow, with apartheid, with the decimation of Native American cultures, with the subjugation of women, with government silence during the onslaught of AIDS…but it was God within us that said,
“Work to change these injustices. Don’t give up until your voices are heard!”
God is the love that is greater than the judge’s devotion to the status quo.
The unjust judge symbolizes injustice. The widow isn’t wearing down God; she’s tearing down tyranny, one outcry at a time.
The multiple bouts of chemo, the repeated surgeries, the long rehab time, the 70 or 80 job applications before something came along, the countless meetings you went to on the road to sobriety, the years of therapy it took to recover from childhood abuse…that’s what the story is about: God cheering us on as we refuse to give up.
As we work and wait for things to improve, God is taking every step with us and whispering to our hearts,
“Keep going. Don’t stop. I want this to work out for you even more than you do.”
God wants to see us have our breakthrough.
When times are hard, it’s easy to believe that God doesn’t care. The prophet Habakkuk prayed, “How long, Lord, must I call for help? Are you listening?”
But then Habakkuk realizes that it’s worth the wait, worth the effort. He says, “There is still a vision for the appointed time…if it delays, wait for it. It is coming. It will arrive.”
In the 86th psalm we read, “Hear me, Lord, and answer me! You are my God. Help me…Hear my prayer.”
And 119th psalm must have been written at a very bleak moment. It says, “I am laid low…My soul is weary…Strengthen me. Teach me. Direct me.”
But the psalmist also knows that praying through the hard times works. God does give us grace to get through it. God does renew our hope and keeps the dream of better days alive within us.
The 16th psalm offers these words:
“In God I take refuge. Lord, you are my portion and my cup. You will not abandon me.”
And in the 63rd psalm, the writer starts out discouraged:
“O God, you are my God, eagerly I seek you. I thirst for you. I long for you.”
But then, he reclaims his optimism and his determination, defiantly declaring,
“I will praise you. You are my help.”
It is the psalmist, remember, who affirms: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning!”
A dear person, the Rev. Delores Berry recently lost her wife. She’s been on my heart a lot lately. The first sermon I ever heard Delores preach concluded with this line,
“If you feel like your prayers aren’t being heard, I’m here to tell you today, there’s a band of angels right around your heart.”
That’s the point of today’s parable. God recognized our need before we figured it out.
The strength to face it, the courage to challenge the powers that be, the compassion to stand with one another as we call out injustice or even as we face down heartache and disappointment…that strength, that courage, that compassion…that’s God.
And this is the good news.
© Durrell Watkins 2016
O God, eagerly I seek you!
I thirst for you.
I praise you.
You are my help.