Brief synopsis of the readings: We begin in the Old Testament book of Exodus. On their way from liberation from Egypt to entrance in the Promised Land, the Israelites came into conflict with the Amalekites. Moses, Aaron, and Hur headed to a hilltop where Moses raised his arms as they watched the battle. As long as he raised his arms, his people were winning the battle. But when his arms grew tired and he lowered them, his people began to lose the battle. Aaron and Hur then provided a stone for Moses to sit on and they held up his arms. They won the battle. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus told his disciples to pray continually and never lose heart. He then told a parable about an unjust judge and a widow who demanded justice. The judge didn’t care about her or her case, but eventually relented in her favor because he was tired of hearing from her. Jesus then tells them that God will not choose justice out of weariness but instead out of a belief that the just deserve justice. Jesus ends this reading with this quote: “But when the Son of Man comes will he find any faith on earth?
From time to time we read passages from Scripture that change the course of our salvation history, and sometimes we barely recognize them. I think this is one of those weeks.
Last week we read about people who sought relief from leprosy. In the reading from 2nd Kings Naaman was instructed to immerse himself in the Jordan, while the ten lepers in Luke’s Gospel were told to do nothing more than present themselves to the priests. They weren’t required to bathe, or give, or pray, or frankly do anything.
The need to “do something” continued on in our first reading. I think most of us, at least those of us who watched the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments, believed that once the Israelites left Egypt and cleared the Red Sea they were good on their march to the Promised Land. Our first reading tells us that this wasn’t the case.
History is written by the winners and followers of Amalek don’t have much claim to a place in history. But here they had the possibility to stop our ancestors and perhaps he would have, except that Moses, Aaron, and Hur looked over the battle with Moses’ raised arms. Aaron and Hur participated when Moses’ arms grew tired and they kept his arms raised.
For those of us who read this passage today it appears to be peculiar. Does God’s blessing of victory demand that Moses have strong arms, or at least the help of his friends? Had Aaron and Hur not climbed to the hilltop, would Amalek have won and ended our story?
I pray this isn’t true. As much as I love the fact that God involves us in the story of our salvation, I find myself troubled by the idea that our salvation is dependent on us, or at least Moses’ arms.
And that brings me to today’s Gospel. Most of the time when Jesus describes a parable we can easily tell the good guys and the bad guys, the heroes and the goats.
But here neither the widow nor the judge appear to be heroes. We can care for the widow, and even admire her courage, but she does nothing more than demand justice for herself. And as for the judge, he’s pretty reprehensible. He cares nothing for justice or fairness, but instead cares only for his own weariness. He does the right thing only to get rid of a problem.
Where does that leave us? I suggest that we live in a world where we think we can only get what we want by demanding, or negotiating, or compromising. Here in the United States we are led by a President who wrote a book called The Art of the Deal. He believes that we get what we want only by taking it from someone else, and we have to learn to find strategies to take it from them.
In fairness we can look on today’s Gospel with the same eyes. But Jesus didn’t end his words by telling his followers that the widow was justified and the judge did a good thing.
Instead Jesus tells us that God will do more than the unjust judge. Jesus tells us that while the unjust judge did the right thing for the wrong reason, God will judge us with divine justice. Jesus tells us that God’s justice doesn’t require us to bathe in the Jordan (from last week) or have strong arms (from Moses this week), or judge well to a widow. Instead we are told that we need to do nothing more than understand God’s love for us.
And that’s radical. God’s love doesn’t depend on us sacrificing an animal or checking off a list of beliefs. It doesn’t even depend us doing the right thing: again and again we see how God loves sinners regardless of our sins. Understand that God wants us to do the right thing, but God’s love doesn’t hang in the balance.
I know some will disagree with me but hear me out: a few weeks ago I spoke of the rich man who refused to accept God’s love but that doesn’t mean God’s love wasn’t offered. If we believe that God has a “Santa’s list” of who is naught and nice, I think we miss what Jesus is telling us.
OK, so what do we do with the last line of the Gospel: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?” As I child, frankly, I passed over this question. After all, when I was a child, most of what adults said made no sense to me. But several years ago I looked at this question through the eyes of a discouraged Jesus. I’m frankly surprised that this doesn’t happen more often, but I see Jesus trying to make this point and understanding that his disciples just didn’t get it.
The idea that God’s love is both infinite and unconditional troubles many of us but it especially troubles those who believe that God loves them better. And it makes some sense: we see times when the disciples follow Jesus in the hopes that God will love them more.
God won’t. We need to deal with the fact that God loves the people we don’t as much as God loves us.