HANG IN THERE
This is Jesus’ ‘hang in there’ sermon. All this Fall we have been walking along with the disciples as they follow Jesus to Jerusalem. As the shadow of the cross grows, the pace of our walking starts to go out of sync. We disciples begin to develop the confident step of “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war.” We will save the world through revolution.
Jesus’ footsteps however, are feeling the weight of his soul as he prepares to save the world through sacrifice. Either way, the anxiety levels are rising. Fear spurs doubt. How do Jesus and his disciples keep from losing heart through the dark days ahead? Jesus does what Jesus does best. He tells them a story. The amazing thing is, that even as they approach this valley of the shadow of death, Jesus is able to see the irony in the world. He tells a story with a little comic relief thrown in to break the tension.
Have you ever watched Corner Gas? I know, it’s a little hokey but Brent Butt’s comic commentary on human behaviour is really quite brilliant. Anyway, in the sleepy Saskatchewan town of Dog River, Brent’s know-it-all assistant, Wanda, who works at the only gas station in town which Brent happens to own, usually knocks heads with Hank, the town’s most useless and annoying person and Brent’s best friend. Often the show will end with little wee Wanda, all of 5 ft nothin’, leaping over the counter and chasing Hank out the door and out into the open fields ready to lay a beating on him.
Believe it or not, Jesus’ story is something like that. We need a little backdrop here to get the full picture. We know this woman was a widow. Widows were considered one of the most vulnerable in Judaic society, which is why Hebrew law made provision for them. However, the heart of the law does not always beat in the heart of humans. Women were not allowed to own property or have capital under the law.
Therefore, when a husband dies, his holdings go to his brother who is supposed to provide for the widow.
It’s not hard to understand that sometimes the scales got tipped a little in the brother’s favour. Sometimes the scales tipped so far the sister-in-law ended up living in poverty. Being powerless, the widows usually just ended up taking it. No so with the widow in Jesus’ story. She has the audacity to go to the local judge. But this man fears neither man nor God so he really doesn’t care much about her. But she will not take no for an answer. And here’s where the story takes on a little humour.
The way the story has been translated, the widow seems to be nothing more than a pest. But Luke’s language portrays this woman more like a boxer. For Rocky fans, think of Rocky I, where Rocky, a no name fighter from Philly, stays in the ring with the World Champion, Apollo Creed for 10 rounds. Rocky keeps getting pummelled but he keeps getting up and heads straight back, gloves up, taunting Apollo to bring it on. This widow keeps getting the door slammed in her face, but she picks herself up, dusts herself off and goes right back in. Her brother-in-law and the judge keep hoping she will just let this drop. Not happening. Luke tells us that after awhile, the judge gets a little concerned about this widow boxer and says, “I had better give her the justice she seeks before I end up with a black eye.”
So, picture the high and mighty judge running just like Hank across the open Saskatchewan fields as the powerless widow chases him, ready to give him a black eye. Jesus is hoping that this humourous story will stick in the disciples minds as they face their darkest hour. He is telling them that some day, with persistence and prayer, the mighty of this world will be found running away from the powerless and vulnerable who persistently seek justice from them. Some day the powerful will fall. It seemed as funny an unlikelihood then as it does to us now. sometimes it feels like the corrupt shall always be with us.
Let’s go back to the beginning of the story. As we said, The disciples are marching as if to war. But Jesus knew of the stuff of which people are made and knew his disciples would not be marching for long.
Soon they would be ducking the temple police as Jesus turns over the tables and drives out the money changers. Soon, they would be cowering in the crowd that is shouting, “Release Barabbas!” because the authorities have lined their pockets. Soon, they would be warming themselves around the fire barrels in Pilate’s front yard, whispering, “No, I never knew him. Did you know him? Me neither. Never saw him before.” Soon, they would pocket the key to the upper room, locking out the world and locking themselves in. It won’t take long before Peter gets impatient. “Let’s face it,” he will say. “ We had a good run at it. But now it is over. We can’t just sit here waiting for something to happen. I’m going back and get my nets out of storage and start making a living again.”
It was to be the darkest period in their lives. Fear kills their hope, their dreams, their visions. That is why, before they walk into this valley,
Jesus implores them, “Pray always, and do not lose heart.” Pray, even when you’re warming yourself at the neighbourhood fire barrel and you fear being ostracized if you were to whisper “Yes, I know him. He is Jesus, my Lord and Saviour.”
To pray: even when the world keeps lashing itself against you and we don’t think we can take it any more so we lock ourselves up in a safe room or escape the world’s inevitable future by living in our own little bubble.
To pray: when the world is full of so many judges and leaders that neither fear Man nor God, and pull unexpectedly out of Syria, killing hundreds, and displacing 250,000 people, all the while saying it was a ‘brilliant strategy’. Or living in a country on the brink of an election with leaders who act more like they are celebrities on the Big Brother reality TV show, than the dignified, mature world leaders they are poised to become.
Maybe I’m just getting older, but I sure am getting tired of the games people play in this world. A world built on people producing things and then get in my face trying to sell me the latest fashions, the newest truck, the bigger house and a bunch of other stuff I don’t really need.
I have to confess to my brothers and sister here that I was a little more than rude to the person from the Conservative party asking if they could count on my vote. Not bloody likely after this phone call. I interrupted her spiel with, “You do understand that it is Thanksgiving Sunday at dinner time. This is just plain rude!” Then when I hung up I felt badly. She was just trying to do her job. But we live in a world where people in authority egotistically care more about preserving their own 1% of the country’s fortune than they do about the grass roots people who help them acquire it. The judges who fear neither man nor God. A world where our own comfort is more important than the wounds we inflict on mother earth, literally biting the hand which feeds us. The truth is, I have been fighting for justice and the purity of people’s hearts for a long time now and I think I would like to find a safe upper room to hide away in.
But Jesus keeps telling me to pray and to not lose heart. The day of reckoning will come. The day of resurrection will soon be upon us. There will a dawning of a new heaven and new earth and one day I will be walking along the seashore at daybreak and find my saviour sitting by a fire having made me breakfast and asking me to join him. He will tell me to not lose heart and to keep boxing against the injustices of the world for the day will come when the high and mighty will fear receiving a black eye as the meek begin to inherit the earth.
Until then, keep praying, keep praying, keep praying.