XX Pentecost, Year C
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the LORD. In those days they shall no longer say: "The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge." But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge. The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt–a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
* (Genesis 32:22-31)
The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed." Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved." The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
(2 Timothy 3:14-17)
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
(2 Timothy 4:1-5)
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening tothe truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"
Before I begin today’s comments on the text I would like to introduce you to a song that has captured for me the truth and the passion of this parable. It is a song about prayer in the midst of persecution recorded by Ellis Paul (www.ellispaul.com) titled ‘Did Galileo Pray?’ on his live CD. Ellis is a folksinger in the tradition of Woody Guthrie who has been gifted to create melodies and words that will not leave you.
Our parable is, of course, part of a larger context that begins in 17:20. It is tied to this context by the title, ‘Son of Man.’ In our discussions concerning the title Son of Man we have suggested that behind all of the possible contexts and usages of this title lies something more important. It is the collective metaphor inherent in the title, that is, that the phrase ‘Son of Man’ refers to an interdividuated individual.
Jesus preferred the ‘bar nasha’ designation because, like that of the suffering servant, the one stands for the many, the many are represented in the one. The bar nasha and the edeb YHWH are both ways of speaking of the way God acts within the human condition, within our corporate character, within our relationships. These christological titles are not just ribbons to be worn, but a calling to be lived. Living this kind of life puts one on an apocalyptic edge; it is the revelation of the way God interacts with us, among us and in us.
The corporate side of bar nasha can be found in its use in Hebrew apocalyptic as well as in Ezekiel, where the prophet exercises a mediating role (representation) between God and Israel. Its use as a circumlocution (so Vermes) for one’s self accents the side of self awareness, of individuation. Jesus’ use of Son of Man was meant to be playful, it breathes a variegated background and it is not the individual pieces of this mosaic that are as important as the connectedness of the parts.
The parable asks ‘Will the Son of Man’ find faith on the earth?’ The context is the apocalyptic breakdown of culture. In the midst of this mimetic breakdown, the question is put. In the parable the woman not only perseveres, but she perseveres in hardship. The parable is not simply a moral tale on the importance of prayer or the value of pestering God until you get what you want. It is about the kind of faith that is demonstrated when things around you get ugly.
The irony of the parable and its good news is the outrageous use of the figure of the corrupt judge. This is a guy who plays by his own rules. He has that kind of power. He is above everyone and everything. He doesn’t give a darn how bad you’ve got it, time was money and if you wanted his time you had better be able to pay. Right. So how is this widow supposed to pay?
The subtle direction of the parable is from the lesser to the greater. Remember it is a parable about persevering in prayer in times of great distress. If the corrupt judge finally hears the widow if just to shut her up already, how much more will the heavenly Abba hear the prayers of his children? If we being evil know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will the heavenly Abba give good gifts to his children? This parable reflects Jesus’ belief that God is good, God is kind, Abba treats humans as his very own children.
An admittedly more curious but not unrelated connection can be made if, as many commentators note, the parables of chapter 18 have a relation to the teaching on prayer in chapter 11. One could perhaps, as Kenneth Bailey has done, look for and find a general chiastic structure to the Lukan Travel Narrative, in which case the apocalyptic teaching that frames the parables of chapter 18 is echoed in 11:14-32. The social/cultural breakdown described in 17:20-37 is mirrored by the exorcisms Jesus performs. Apocalypse is nothing other than the casting down of the Satan, the generative originator of violence, the lies of violence and the cult of violence. It is the complete and final malfunction of the scapegoating mechanism that has held the ‘world’ in place from its foundation in Cain and Abel. It is the conquering of the Crucified (‘they will look upon me whom they have pierced’). And it is certainly a time to pray.
There are no significant issues we wish to address at this time.
The sacralization process has been exposed, those deemed guilty by one side are now venerated by the other. Both sides of the mechanism (demonization/divinization) are displayed now as mimetic rivalrous positions. Over and over again these past decades we have witnessed this breakdown. As the world has become ‘globalized’ the need for global scapegoats has become greater. And the most recent failure of Saddam Hussein to function as a ‘scapegoat’ is an indicator of just how broken the sacralizing process is.
If we perceive aright the events around us, we may very well wonder just how long ‘the human experiment’ will last. The current growth of the human species continues at an exponential rate. Resources are growing thin. The accelerating nuclear crises and possibility of the deployment of WMD are cause for grave concern. The sheer fact that another 9/11-type act could create economic havoc might reasonably have us on the edge of our seats. Then just to add to this mix, consider the problems we have created in our abuse of the natural world. Are events converging on the horizon? How long can any of us survive without a paycheck?
In these times we who believe in Jesus do not see the conquering of Satan, rather we are simply witnesses to the conquered Satan. Jesus is the Victor! We can and we may, therefore, be people of faith, faith in Jesus, the ‘True Human’ (‘huios tou anthropou’), the One who lives in us and with us and whose true humanness is shared through us with others.
Maybe we will witness the collapse of culture (the casting down of Satan). What skills are we teaching our congregations for dealing with it if we are? Will they be able to pray if times turn? Will the Son of Man find faith?