Sunday, 20 October 2019

‘Will not God grant justice
to his chosen ones who
cry to him day and night?’

‘Grant me justice against my opponent’ (Luke 18: 3) … a painting by Una Heaton in a pub in Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 20 October 2019,

The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XVIII)


9:30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

The Readings: Jeremiah 31: 27-34; Psalm 119: 97-104; II Timothy 3: 14 to 4: 5; Luke 18: 1-8. There is a link to the readings HERE.

An emphasis on justice is found in this morning’s readings … the scales of justice depicted on the Precentor’s Stall in the choir in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Our readings this morning offer an opportunity to reflect on what we mean by law and justice.

In the Old Testament reading, the Prophet Jeremiah speaks on behalf of God, when the people have been restored and know about justice and mercy, and he says:

‘I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts’ (Jeremiah 31: 33).

The portion of Psalm 119 we read talks about love of the Law, and declares:

‘Lord, how I love your law!
All the day long it is my study
Your commandments have made me wiser than my enemies,
for they are ever with me’ (Psalm 119: 97-98).

In the New Testament reading, Saint Paul reminds Saint Timothy that they are ‘in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead’ (II Timothy 4: 1).

The Gospel reading tells us the well-known parable of the ‘Unjust Judge,’ a judge ‘who neither fears God nor has respect for people,’ and how he is forced to grant justice to a widow who keeps coming to him, saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’

Does the judge abandon his sense of impartiality when it comes to the administration of justice?

Or is he forced to realise the difference between what is legal and what is just, and the difference between justice and mercy?

The parable in our Gospel reading is well-known. We often know it as the ‘Parable of the Unjust Judge.’ But we might also call it the ‘Parable of the Persistent Widow,’ for we are told to take this woman and not the judge as our example: an example of how to pray to God, as opposed to an example of how to prey on people.

And yet, let us take some time first to look at the judge.

Are we asked to think that God behaves like an unjust or capricious judge?

Is this a judge who exercises his office without fear or favour?

Is justice about that?

Is justice about seeing that the law is enforced?

Or is it about seeing that justice is done, and is seen to be done?

How many judges implement the law without dispensing justice?

How many judges implement the law without dispensing mercy?

Is this not what happened in Nazi Germany, in apartheid South Africa, or in racist states in the American ‘Deep South’?

How many judges in Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa merely applied the law?

Could a Jewish widow expect justice from a judge in Nazi Germany?

Could a black widow expect mercy from a judge in apartheid South Africa?

The woman in our parable is not asking for what is her legal right. She is not asking for her neighbour to be punished. But she may be asking for something she is not entitled to: justice.

When we find ourselves saying we cannot accept a judgmental God, is that because our image of a judge is of a distant figure who applies the full rigour of the law, rather than an accessible figure who dispenses justice and mercy?

These contrasting images of God are found too in our Old Testament reading (Jeremiah 31: 27-34); it concludes:

No longer shall they teach one another, or say to one another,
‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,
for I will forgive their iniquity,
and remember their sin no more. – (Jeremiah 31: 34)

Who is ‘the least of them’ in our readings this morning?

Certainly, a widow would fall into that category at the time of Christ. She would have no man to argue her case for her, and so would go unheard. All other cases – commercial, civil and criminal – would take priority in the courts before her request to be heard.

Who is the widow in this story?

The first part of the Old Testament reading might suggest parallels between this widow and the chosen people who have turned their back on God: a people whose covenantal relationship with God has died, and a woman whose covenantal relationship, her marriage, has come to an end with death.

Without love, there is no covenant. Without love there is no true religion, and no true marriage.

We are reminded this morning that a true relationship with God is marked by love – God’s love for us, our love for God, and our love for others.

If that love is the foundation of our Christianity, then justice becomes more important than law, and mercy more important than rules, and God the Judge becomes a loving rather than a tyrannical image.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of the just, loving and merciful God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

In those days they shall no longer say: ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’ (Jeremiah 31: 29) … grapes on a vine in Lichfield last month (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Luke 18: 1-8 (NRSVA):

18 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming”.’ 6 And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

‘Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice’ (Luke 18: 5) … the sign at the Wig and Pen near the courthouse in Truro, Cornwall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical Colour: Green (Ordinary Time)

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty and everlasting God:
Increase in us your gift of faith
that, forsaking what lies behind,
we may run the way of your commandments
and win the crown of everlasting joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of the Word:

O Lord God,
tireless guardian of your people,
you are always ready to hear our cries.
Teach us to rely day and night on your care.
Inspire us to seek your enduring justice.
for all this suffering world,
through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord.

Hymns:

59, New every morning is the love (CD 59)

596, Seek ye first the Kingdom of God (CD 34)

81, Lord, for the years (CD 5)

‘Your commandments have made me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me’ (Psalm 119: 98) … the Ten Commandments woven on the mantle on the Aron haKodesh or Holy Ark in the Nuova or New Synagogue in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

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