“Do not lose heart!” So who is losing heart? There were many who were losing heart over the last couple weeks as our elected leaders dithered. There were others who were having an enjoyable couple weeks, beautiful fall weather, the bright sun, a crisp edge to the air, and the fall colors breaking out all over, just waiting to be admired in all of their autumn splendor!
So how does this Gospel Reading speak to everyone, to those who recently were slipping toward despair, as well as to those who have been riding the season’s wave of pleasure? This Reading speaks deeper than the shallow sort of worldly wisdom which says you simply have to take the good with the bad, sometimes up, sometimes down. The text speaks about judgment and faith and of holding to a God who loves to give.
Last week we heard about 9 lepers who got from Jesus exactly what they wanted to get…and that was all they got. One leper returned and was given so much more. “Now he was a Samaritan,” Luke told us.
Today we have another nobody, a widow, a woman with nothing, and what little she had was being ripped off. Yet she does not lose heart, she does not despair, because faith is alive in her. Like her ancestor Jacob she wrestles and wrestles and wrestles…until the judge gives her her heart’s desire.
Ah…but Jesus tells this story in such a way as to keep us from concluding that faith is some sort of virtue or quality that we create, an achievement for which we can claim credit or reward. Yes, the widow keeps pounding away at the judge…but it’s not because the widow is so great. It’s that she realizes that everything…literally everything…depends on that judge and his judgment.
So we wrestle away with God. Oh, to be sure, we might shudder to think of this wrestling match when we realize what we have done…or failed to do…with what God has already given us, how often we refuse to let His gifts have their way with us, how we treat Him as a cosmic vending machine…put in some religiousness and out pop the gifts. That is idolatry!
So, yes, often in our wrestling with God, like Jacob, we may begin to wonder who has whom?! We may start wanting something from God, but once we are in this match it is God who has us. We are in His hands. There is no escape. We cannot pull ourselves free and commandeer our own lives for ourselves apart from Him. We are His, and how will He deal with us?
Well…not in the way of Jesus’ story, this judge who cannot be bothered by the persistent widow. This One who is our Judge is so bothered that He will go to His own death on a cross…wonder of wonders, that God should die for us…in order to finish His judgment. The cross means there is no more fearful judgment in the hands of God for us. Forgiveness is how God deals with us now. “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect. It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?”
“When the Son of Man comes…” Jesus notes. And when is that? The Last Day, the final judgment, when we stand before God. Then it will how lovingly, how patiently He has brought us along our way through those dark, dark days when everything went wrong, when we and our lives seemed widowed and worthless. God’s delaying, His seeming not to care, will on that Day be seen as part of His desire for our good, of preparing us for His greater gifts, the wholeness and fullness of our salvation.
When Jesus uses the word “delay” in this Reading, it is the word for God’s forbearance. It is the word to tell of how patiently and lovingly He bears with us, with our faltering little faith…a faith that tends to treat God as a part-time deity.
God’s forbearance, His delaying, His seeming not care, is part of His nurturing us toward the much, much more which He wants to give us. You see, He loves us more than we can expect. He loves us too much to let us live with our calculations of what He would do or should do. Those calculations are much too small…like the nine lepers who wanted no more from Jesus than their healing…who were closed to anything more from Him…which is unbelief.
And to underscore all of this, Jesus will tell another parable in the verses following our Reading. It is the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. They both go up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee prays by telling God all about His fine points, and of how thankful he is that he is a good man…unlike that tax collector over there. The tax collector over there has nothing to say except “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
And Jesus ends by asking, “Guess which one went home justified before God?” The Pharisee went home empty, because he was so full of himself. The tax collector received far more than he even hoped, because he was so empty and knew that everything depended on God.
So to each and to all tonight…whether these past days have been empty days or full days…whether God has seemed close or very far away…tonight we are called to remember that despite what we experience, everything does depend on God.
And how it is with God for you, is what the Judge gives you here and now. The Judge, our Lord Jesus Christ, deals with you here and now by His words of forgiveness which are spoken to you, giving you exactly what those words say. He deals with you here and now as He gives you His body to eat and His blood to drink. And with that He gives His judgment…forgiveness, life, salvation.
Judgment now on earth. The last judgment only makes perfectly clear how it has been with you: faith or not-faith, Jesus or no-Jesus. Jesus is the Son of Man. Why would you look for another? Why make up your own son of man, your own judge?
“When the Son of Man comes will He find faith on earth?” The life of faith is a life that wrestles with God, hanging onto the Son of Man as Judge…not letting Him go until He proves to be the sort of judge for you that He desires to be, the Judge who goes to the cross for you, the Judge who rises from the grave for you, the Judge who is, even on the darkest of days, the days you feel most abandoned by Him, yet He is preparing a place for you with Him. He wants only that which makes us strong in faith, and open to receiving always more of what He is always ready to give.
Everything depends on Him. He is our certainty on dark days. He is our joy on days of delight. For all our days are the days of this Son of Man.