I want to reflect on the last part of Jeremiah, the story in the Gospel, and the Lord’s Prayer.
When we look at what Jeremiah has for us, we find a love-song from God to the people. God says, even though you have broken the covenant, over and over, I am going to remake the covenant with you, and it will be written in your hearts. What a beautiful image! There is no way to run away from the God that loves you, because God is within you. This is a powerful image, and one that Jesus and the people he was speaking to would have known well.
The story in the gospel starts out with Jesus saying to the people – So! You want to know how to talk to God? Here’s a story for you – and we all know that stories are the best way to teach.
There was a judge, who wasn’t religious, wasn’t afraid of God, or the religious authorities and he also did not take bribes. In other words, he was his own man – a very strange thing in those times. The translators call him the “unjust” judge, but that is a very bad translation! It is correct to call him an impious judge, because he does not care what God thinks, or at least what the religious authorities say God thinks – have you noticed that those are not always the same thing???
Well, so here was this very strange judge, and both sides of his strangeness are emphasized here, the impiety, that is, not caring about God, and not caring about what people think either. Now we have made it a virtue to not take bribes, that is, to not be influenced by people with money – hmmm, not much of that in our world right now is there – but in their world, that was the explicit norm. They did not see anything wrong with it, that was simply the way it was, so when someone did not show deference to those with money, it was noticed, it was strange.
So the people listening to Jesus would have known that this was a very interesting and strange judge. The other figure in the story is a widow. She has a grievance. She has no money, but she does have a grievance, and she has persistence. The woman comes day after day pestering him with her request to hear her grievance, which he clearly does not want to bother with.
Then Jesus lets us hear the thoughts of the judge. Even though I don’t care that God says we are supposed to take care of the widows and even though I don’t care about who might be bothered one way or another by my judgement, that is, even though I don’t care for God or men’s opinions, I will hear the complaint of this widow because I am sick to death of having her come around!
Jesus says: This is one picture for how we should think about dealing with God. Be persistent. God may or may not have the same values that you do, in other words, God may not care that you have money, or that you don’t, or that you think this or that is important. But be persistent.
On Sunday, Oct. 13, we heard from Dr Hinohara about the Lord’s Prayer. Dr Hinohara used the concept of forgiveness as a central concept in the making of peace, and he is totally correct about that. However, if we look at the Lord’s Prayer as the response Jesus makes to how we are to pray, we get a different answer. In other words, if we ask what is the most important concept that Jesus lifts up in the Lord’s Prayer, then I absolutely agree with Hinohara-sensei, it is forgiveness. But if we ask what is the most important way to pray, then we get the concept of persistence – which is given again by our story today. Why do I say persistence is there in the Lord’s Prayer? Because of the verb tenses. I have covered this before, but it is such an important thing to understand – how we are to address God.
If your child is starving, and someone has food, are you polite? No! You demand food. Perhaps you demand politely, but it is a demand. In English, that is done in the imperative. Give me some food! My child is starving, give me food now! Perhaps there is a “please,” perhaps not. This is how the Lord’s Prayer is written. Give us bread for today! Jesus tells us, it is correct to demand. Of course, when we look carefully at the Lord’s Prayer, it is tricky. We are to demand things we need, and there are conditions. We demand forgiveness, because we have forgiven those who have wronged us. Oops! It changes the picture, doesn’t it.
A last note from 2 Timothy: all scripture is inspired by God. It does not say “written” by God. When someone says: “The Bible Says”, this is a helpful verse to remember.