Keep Protesting, Pastor Fred
“…pray always, and do not lose heart!”
Today, is Day Four, of the teachers strike in Chicago, and residents of Chicago are keeping their eyes on the negotiations, and of course, on our students! How long can each side, Administration and Teachers, keep up without losing heart?!
The stakes are high, as they always are when it comes to this – to putting up picket lines, calling off classes, and protesting unacceptable conditions for teachers and their students. No one, including the teachers, want to call off school! So, it takes a breach of justice to come to that decision.
Rhetoric from the Mayor’s office is different than 7 years ago, during the last strike. Newly elected Mayor Lightfoot seems to understand the needs that the Chicago Teachers Union is asking for, though, after taking office, the mayor decided to retain the former mayor’s less-than-popular lead-negotiator with the teachers.
On the campaign trail, candidate Lightfoot promised that under her Administration, we wouldn’t see a teacher’s strike in Chicago, signaling she’d do things differently, and that she understood that every school needed at least one nurse and librarian, as well as an increased number of Counselors, Social Workers, Case Managers and Psychologists. The need is great in Chicago, and critical to a basic learning environment. Suburban schools seem to have no problem meeting these demands.
So, each side is advocating tirelessly, coming time and again to the bargaining table over the past few months, and of course, pleading their separate arguments in the press, as we move, hopefully, toward a quick resolution, and avoid having each side dig-in and prolong the pain. And before everybody loses heart!
Which is what Jesus’ parable says it’s about today – “our need to pray always and not to lose heart.” Though the parable – at least on first take – is more about a poor downtrodden widow, who is tireless in going up against a corrupt and heartless machine, represented by a Judge, who as Luke says, ‘has no fear of God and no respect for people!’
So, does Jesus describe this woman’s persistent quest for justice, as our need to not lose heart in our praying?
In the parable, the widow keeps coming with her persistent plea, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” And “for a while the judge refused. But later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant justice to her, if for no other reason than, she not give me a black eye by continually coming and swinging at me!
So the corrupt judge still doesn’t care about the widow, and whatever her cause is. But he does care about all the trouble she can cause him, which he decides he’d rather not bother with.
Not unlike the teacher’s strike when they take to the streets, over the objection of the mayor! But that’s only because the mayor holds all the cards, all the power of the purse, but the only power the teachers have, is organizing their people to stop teaching, and stand up for their demands together – to be persistent, and not lose heart.
And it makes you wonder, doesn’t it, what the demands of the widow were, when she kept coming and asking for the judge to ‘grant her justice against her opponent?’ What justice was she asking for? Was the price of her medication she needed raised beyond her means, or her hospitalization denied by her health care provider? Or maybe her brother was detained at the border, trying to enter the country for work that would help provide for his extended family, work which he knew was available in the orchards and fields at this time of the year? Or perhaps her deceased husband’s lawyer was dragging his heels in settling the estate? Or, maybe she was out of her mind worrying about her son or daughter who had been thrown in jail, for driving while black or brown?
There are so many forms of injustice, then as now, and no lack of pleading widows, and oppressed people of color and lgbtq, asking.
But still, is this story about prayer, or about justice? Or, if both, what is the connection? It’s not the typical parable where the judge would be a metaphor for God – Unless you see God as having no respect for anyone! And, the widow isn’t going to God to persistently plead for justice, as an example for us that we should pray harder, or that it should make us feel guilty if we don’t get an answer to prayer, and may lose heart. Neither do we need to force God, to see how unjust people can be; how corrupt our systems can become. God knows our sins already!
And God will grant justice to God’s followers and ‘chosen ones, day and night’ because that’s what God wants to do! ‘God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!’ God does not advocate delaying justice, but wants to give it freely and abundantly.
The obvious winner to emulate in this parable is not the judge, but the widow – the one who was at that time considered to be, a socially stigmatized loser. In a patriarchal society where women were either the property of their father or their husband, and were dependent on them for their livelihood, unable to obtain paying jobs of their own – not that they didn’t work, unpaid, for their families – but women who were widowed, were penniless, except for the Levitical laws that mandated charity and care for them.
But as Luke so often does, he lifts up this women as an example. And this widow has extraordinary faith! Why? Because she is already stigmatized and not expected to succeed. Normally, no one would notice her, especially a judge, especially this judge, who is an unfaithful opponent, corrupt as the day is long!
So, the story of the widow is one we are familiar with! Especially if we’ve already read to the end of the gospel! This is the story of Jesus, who pleaded his case before his own people, who was stigmatized and scapegoated, and faced his own unjust judge, in Pontius Pilate.
On the road to Jerusalem – which, by this story in chapter 18, is getting quite close now – Jesus is preparing the Disciples for what’s going to happen in Jerusalem. They will be tempted to ‘lose heart’ when Jesus is crucified, and his state-sanctioned murder will be committed by the heartless combination, of the mob, the religious leaders, and a foreign government.
In this parable, Jesus is looking for followers who get it! He’s challenging his disciples, the men and women followers, to step up and see Jesus for who he is, the long awaited Messiah, and Son of God. And to have faith – to throw themselves in, body, mind and soul – as the followers that can receive the Holy Spirit, and let it live in them, even after Jesus is Ascended to be at the right hand of God.
Jesus concludes his parable with a question: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” If we don’t lose heart that Jesus has won the victory of justice over the powers of evil, and we keep coming, on behalf of the kingdom and realm of God, no matter how corrupt the system is we’re up against – then Yes!
Jesus – in the greatest irony of all time – wins his case in a higher court, after his loss with Pilate, Herod, and the crowds.
And so the ball is now in our court! The followers of Jesus do not pray, and walk away. We, the followers of Jesus, keep coming, we keep protesting, we keep demonstrating for the kingdom and realm of God to come. We keep following the Master, who showed us the way.