Tuesday October 12, 2010
I love this cartoon. This week we hear of Jacob wrestling with... not sure who. Do we go with that message or that of Jeremiah who encourages the faithful with rich images of a covenant, written on the heart? We also hear the writer of Timothy shouting across the centuries, “stay on message!” And we experience one of Luke’s classic parables of Jesus, the persistent widow and the unjust judge. Let’s take a look.
Background on this weeks readings:
This is one of the classic stories of Genesis with the classic manipulator, Jacob. He is still on the run trying to avoid Esau, whose blessing and birth-right he had stolen. The night before he will be forced to face his past, Jacob sends his family and belongings on ahead and stays behind to spend the night “wrestling ‘til daybreak.” This feels like a story of archetypal proportions. Think about the features: main character on the run from his past, his brother, wrestling with a stranger who brings a blessing in the end, battling with no clear winner and no clear loser, from which he emerges both blessed and wounded, limping forward to face what he must face. Let go of history folks. This is all of us in every time and place. It is about you.
We have been working our way through Jeremiah these last weeks. The hard tones of earlier give way now to softer, more hopeful tones. Where in Chapter 1 Jeremiah was talking about foreign nations being set over Israel to “pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow,” now it is time to “build and to plant.” In the past injustice, oppression and brokenness cycle down the generations. “Parents eat sour grapes and children’s teeth are set on edge.” How is that for an image of brokenness passed on.
But the hope lies in the covenant, newly written not on stone but on the human heart. Here we find Jeremiah pointing to the way, in mature faith, the covenant relationship with God becomes no longer something externally imposed and legally understood, but accepted from within and understood intuitively. People will live by the covenant because it has become so a part of them that they can do no other.
2 Tiimothy 3:14- 4:5
Do you sense the urgency in this letter? Although there is some dispute about who actually wrote this letter, it has a clear personal tone, and feels like a letter of advise from a veteran Paul to a younger worker. How about the image of “people having itchy ears,” following the latest new fad-doctrine that comes their way. Sound familiar to anyone? If the theme is, “never give up,” the call here is, “stay on message, hold fast to the core of the faith!” Presumably this would not be difficult for those with the covenant written on their hearts.
Here is a classic parable from Luke that comes from the same storehouse of great story from which we get “The Prodigal Son,” “The Good Samaritan,” and others. In this one, “The Persistent Widow and the Unjust Judge,” Luke hands us interesting introduction and conclusion words that are worth paying attention to.
The parable is basic. A widow needs justice, and calls for it persistently from a judge who doesn’t give a rip about her or God. Yet for the sake of peace and quiet, he gives her her due. If that’s how he acts in his unfaithfulness, how much more ready do you think God, who cares deeply for us all will hear and respond. The introductory words tell us what to look for. This is about the need to pray and never give up. But the concluding words are striking. If God showed up today, would there be faith on the earth?
The temptation is to look at this as a parable about the faithfulness of God. But the introductory and concluding words point us back upon ourselves.
I am sure you have experienced a disagreement in which you, or someone else, likely because they have decided that the outcome is not worth the argument, say “whatever.” Often there is a tone that goes with the word. “Whatever!” It usually means, I care about it but I am just not going to argue about it any longer. Often it means someone has just let go of something that was precious to them. Sometimes, if it becomes a regular way of dealing with disappointment, “whatever” can become an indication that someone has lost their heart. What used to matter doesn’t matter anymore.
That is a sad state. The world needs us to care, to persist in the things that matter. This way of faith is not easy and can involve no small measure of disappointment. How do we deal with our disappointment? Do we swallow it and carry on? Do we, like the widow, push back and insist. Do we cave in, say “whatever,” and walk away. None of the great human achievements have taken place without disappointment along the way, and if you are Jacob, without coming away with a wound and a limp. How is it for you?
1. Have you ever had a wrestling night as you have come face to face with your life? What came out of that night for you? Wounds? Blessings? Were you limping? Stronger?
2. In Timothy, Paul seems to be clear what is core and what is fluff- the stuff of itchy ears. For you, what is the core faith (written on your heart) that is worth holding fast to, and what experience do you have of itchy ears?
3. The picture of the persistent widow banging on the judges door sticks with me. Do you see this in the world? Where? Do you ever feel like you are banging on God’s door and not getting a response? What would Luke say to this?