Year C — The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24)

Commentary for October 20, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

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Jeremiah 31:27-34
I, for one, will be happy on the day that preachers are out of a job. 

Verse 34 is a great promise: “No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

To borrow a line from the old gospel song, “now ain’t-a that good news?”

Psalm 119:97-104
The law of the Lord is not odious; it is not harsh or bitter. Rather, as it is intended for our good, as a guide to all that is sweet and helpful for living in the way that God intends — it is a blessing, not a curse.

Those of us who could use a little more understanding and insight — and who couldn’t? — will be helped by it.

Genesis 32:22-31
Ah, Jacob wrestling with God! We previously commented on this text during Year A; you can find that reference here.

Today, I can’t help but wonder about the effort that Jacob expended in struggling with the Lord. It’s awfully hard to resist God — and, even though Jacob “overcame” in his wrestling match, it cost him. He limped for the rest of his life!

This passage could say a lot about the ways each of us is struggling with our faith and/or our obedience. Ya’ think?

Psalm 121
A classic psalm text! As above, we have also previously commented on this passage on the Lectionary Lab (see here.)

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
It is easy to read the first phrase of 3:16 and stop: “All scripture is inspired by God….” But, it only makes sense to keep on and see exactly why and to what purposes scripture has been inspired by God! 

We are all — preachers, pew sitters, sinners and saints — formed and equipped by the word for the good works that God has designed us for.

Luke 18:1-8
God is not really like an unjust judge at all; rather, God is desirous of helping us long before we have exhausted our pleas in God’s court.

Jesus’ question, from the pen of Luke, is a provocative way to frame this story. What will “the Son of Man” find on earth when he comes? Indeed!

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

A friend of mine sent me this in an email a few weeks ago: Sign seen posted in the cafeteria of a Florida hospital:  NOTICE: Due to the current budget cutbacks, the light at the end of the tunnel will be turned off  until further notice.

Today’s Gospel lessons Jesus reminds us to hang on to our faith, even when the light of God’s love grows dim or even seems to have gone out.  It is a story about not giving up in the face of difficult times. It is a story about continuing to pray and trust God, even when you’re getting no results; even when it feels like and looks like the windows of heaven are shut up tight and God either cannot or will not hear your plea. The story uses courtrooms and bad judges and poor widows to teach us lessons about life and God and our need to pray without ceasing. 

A judge in Israel was a powerful, powerful figure. Biblical Scholar Raymond Bailey says: “In Israel, the judge was the final arbiter. There was no jury, no court of appeal. . . The judge in the parable is a law unto himself, who has no sense of accountability to persons or God. He shirked his duty by not bothering to even hear the case . . . . . The widow throughout the Bible . . .  was a vulnerable victim . . . a symbol of helplessness. (The Lectionary Commentary, The Gospels, p. 429)

Jesus has set for us a scene in which a poor, helpless person has nowhere else to turn but to the judge. And the judge appears not to care about her, appears to be unwilling to help. She has no money to bribe him, no power to coerce him, no important relatives to influence him; what is she to do?

Well; she has two choices:  One – she can quit, give up, crawl away in despair and frustration. 

Or two – she can continue to beat upon his door, accost him in the streets, stand in his yard with a sign demanding justice, tell his neighbors and friends about his unwillingness to help; in short she can refuse to go away.

And it worked: verse 5 ” . . .because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”  In other words, he gives her what she wants so she’ll go away.

As I said, this story isn’t really about courtrooms and judges and poor widows; it’s about persistence in prayer and faithfulness in living. God does not “grant us justice,” to get rid of us, or because we disturb the divine repose, or to avoid embarrassment. God is not like the unfair judge in that way.

Jesus’ point is that God works on a different time schedule than most of us and it is easy for us to get discouraged if the “day of the Lord,” that the Hebrew Scriptures promise seems never to come.

We do our best to live a good life, giving to God and neighbor generously, praying and attending worship and paying attention to our religious duties.

We are faithful to our wives or husbands or significant others; our family members can rely on us to be there for them in time of need; we raise our children with gentleness, discipline and generosity; we pursue our work with both diligence and honesty;  and yet, and yet; sometimes things fall apart; sometimes the roof caves in, sometimes the light goes out; sometimes we find ourselves trapped in the darkness of our souls, with no sign of hope; with no glimmer of grace; with not even a whisper of love.

And when that happens; how do we hang on? How do we keep faith through the dark night of the soul? How do we keep on praying when things keep getting worse instead of better? How do we find the will to get up and go out each day trusting God to see us through when nothing we do seems to work? How do we keep from having “itching ears,” looking here and there and everywhere for solutions to our problems; or, if not solutions, then others to blame for our difficulties? What does it take for us to stay the course in difficult and perilous times?

Dr. Herb Edwards was professor of Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School.  He used to say, “The trouble with the church is that it has to faith in the resurrection.”  He usually went on to say something like this – Without faith in the resurrection, we will do all we can to avoid death; either as individuals or as institutions.  But if we embrace the power of God to bring us back from the dead, we can out our fear of death behind us and live bold and courageous lives, trusting God and risking all for the sake of the Gospel.

Amen and amen.

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