The Neighbors of God

protest

[Photo Credit: Jonathan Bachman, New Orleans]

This sermon was preached at Peoples Presbyterian Church in Milan, Michigan and was focused upon Luke 18:1-8  The audio recording is above and a written manuscript is below.

Luke 18:1-8

As Jesus and his disciples were traveling throughout the region of Galilee and preaching to the people, the Pharisees once asked him when the Kingdom of God was coming. As Jesus answered them, he included this parable.

Our text this morning starts in this way: “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” This is an interesting way to begin, because perhaps, in a variety of life chapters, we have known what it means to lose heart. We’ve likely known what it feels like to be in a situation that is disappointing or desperate.

Jesus then tells a story about a deep and serious desperation, perhaps more intense than most of us have known personally. It’s a story about a widow, a woman who held virtually no social standing or institutional power in Jesus’ day. In their culture, after the death of her husband, she would have been completely dependent upon male relatives for care and sustenance.

But despite this situation of institutional powerlessness, she was fierce and powerful in her relentlessness.

Jesus says,

“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.’”

The judge shifted his position because the widow was fierce and relentless in her cry and demand for justice.

Jesus continues,

“Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to the chosen ones who cry  to God day and night? Will God delay long in helping them? I tell you, God will quickly grant justice to them.”

This is an intriguing parable. It’s a challenging parable.

If we read it or hear this on a surface level, it might also be a confusing parable. Jesus tells a story about an unjust judge and then makes a conclusion about God. Are we to compare God to an unjust judge? And is this how we’re supposed to think about prayer? That is, if we just pray continually enough and bother God enough –

maybe then, God will hear us?
maybe then, God will grant justice?
maybe then, God will usher in the Kingdom?

Are we simply trying to annoy God? If we read or hear this on the surface, we might begin to think in this way.

But Jesus is talking about something much deeper. He’s talking about something that is much more beautiful. In his parables, Jesus often makes comparisons with a question that lingers in the air. That question is, “Then, how much more?”

If this unjust judge, who neither fears God nor has respect for people, will eventually grant justice, then how much more will a loving God hear the cries of God’s people and grant them justice? How much more?

This question doesn’t place God far away, perhaps distant yet listening. No, this question places God right alongside human beings in situations of injustice – bearing patiently with them, nurturing them, and crying out also. For God is truly a God of justice.

This parable teaches us that God cares about justice, but it does more than that. This parable teaches us about the location of God in times of suffering. [1] God is not removed from us. God is with human beings. God always stands on the side of those who are being wronged.

Jesus indicates this as he concludes this parable. Our translation today renders his words into two sentences: “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?” and “Will he delay long in helping them?” But there is actually another choice that translators can make as they translate here from Greek to English. A little Greek word – kai – is like the word ‘and.’ It signals the beginning of one thought and then transitions to the next. But the word kai can also be translated as ‘even.’ If so, these two sentences are one larger thought.

Borrowing from a translator named D. Mark Davis [2] we might hear Jesus’ words as, “Then will God not produce the vindication of his elect who cry out to him day and night, even bearing patiently with them?” Bearing patiently. . . with them. This gives us an image of God standing alongside those who know injustice, showing patience, nurture, and love.

Jesus asks this question to give us a picture of who God is and how God loves. But this question is not the last of this parable. There is one final, concluding question, and I believe it is asked of us today. After speaking about God’s commitment toward justice through prayer, Jesus asks, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

That is how the parable concludes. “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” This question impacts me to the core of my being. Perhaps it challenges you too. After Jesus speaks about God’s commitment toward justice through prayer and God’s location among hut neighbors, he says, “And yet. . .”

“. . .when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Will the Son of Man find us standing where God is standing —
alongside those who are being wronged?
alongside those who know discrimination?
alongside those who are affected by violence?
alongside those who are harmed through all the sinful isms we create,
systems of racism, homophobia, sexism, poverty and xenophobia –
all the harsh words and acts of violence
we put into the world against one another through our sin?

“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Where will we be standing?

God hears those who cry out day and night. But do we? As Christians, do we hear these cries for justice? As human beings, do we hear these cries with empathy as calls to action? Do we?

Like this persistent widow, our neighbors – the neighbors of God – are fierce and relentless in these cries, and we will be changed by them if we but listen, go, and stand where they are standing –
to learn,
to bear patiently,
to nourish, and
to begin to add our voices as well.

If we will follow this Jesus and stand alongside the neighbors of God — who are our neighbors — we will participate in the very Kingdom of God.

After all, Jesus told this parable as an answer to a question. The Pharisees asked him when the Kingdom of God is coming.

Now none of us can bring that Kingdom into being apart from God’s power, but we do participate in it with God’s empowerment. And I wonder what would happen if we, the Church, stepped out of this building today, determined to participate in that Kingdom by standing among our neighbors, right where God is standing? What would happen?

Perhaps we would begin to bring some of that justice into being.
Perhaps we could live alongside others as answered prayers.

So we will let this question linger in our minds and hearts:

“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Renee Roederer

[1] Diana Butler Bass’ new book, Grounded: Finding God in the World – A Spiritual Revolutionhas me thinking quite intentionally these days about the location of God with us, among us, and within us.

[2] This translation from D. Mark Davis can be found at Left Behind and Loving It. I learned about the translation and this website from the Rev. Robb McCoy on the Pulpit Fiction Podcast.

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