‘Protest, Prayer and Justice’ – 16th October 2022 – Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity – Eucharist

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22 10 16 18th Sunday after Trinity Eucharist

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The Readings

Jeremiah 31. 27 - 34

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say:
‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 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.

Luke 18. 1 - 8

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he 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 her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’ And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

Scripture Quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By  Rev Canon Dr Matthew Rhodes

One of the news stories I’ve been following recently has been the protests in Iran. These began with
the death of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman, in police custody. She had been accused by
Iran’s morality police of failing to wear her hijab properly. Since then, other young women have died.
Iran is a country dear to the heart of my wife’s family. My in-laws were missionaries there until the
revolution and they long for greater freedoms for the people there.

One of the things that strikes me about the protests is the bravery of so many women and girls who
have come out on the streets to protest. Some of burned their hijabs. Others have cut their hair in
public. School girls have berated government officials and thrown water bottles at them. Though
woman and girls in Iran have often been taught to be seen and not heard, many have raised their
voices in opposition to the regime. Although the Iranian government shows no sign of compromise at
the moment, it must be fearful of the power of so many women.

I see a similar power in the widow who comes to the judge seeking justice in our Gospel today.
Widows in the Bible are often seen as particularly vulnerable and deserving of care. Exodus 22.22
says ‘You shall not abuse any widow or orphan.’ Deuteronomy tells us that God has a preferential
option for the widow and the orphan and says that they should be supported economically. Widows in
the Bible certainly have challenging lives. But they are not just victims. They are often the most
unconventional of conventional figures. Expected to be weak, they move mountains; expected to be
exploited, they make the most of their opportunities. We think of Tamar, Naomi, Ruth and Orpah,
Abigail and the widow of Zarephath. All these women all defy the convention of the poor and
dependent widow. And the widow in our Gospel today is no exception.

Luke’s Gospel has more women in it than any other. More stories about women and more words
spoken by them. But he does have a habit of domesticating the women he writes about. Of trying to
keep them under control. Jesus, on the other hand, gave women agency. He didn’t try to control
them. We think of women like Mary and Martha, the Samaritan woman at the well or the woman who
anointed him.

Luke introduces today’s parable by telling us what it is about, which is a pity because parables are
rarely about just one thing. They stand on their own and can be read in all sorts of different ways.
Parables are like onions. They have lots of layers. And they deserve to be unpeeled.
The widow in our parable seems at first glance to be a victim. She has been denied justice. We root
for her because we have been told that the judge is a bad man. He has neither fear of God nor
respect for other people. And if the judge is bad then the widow has to be our hero.
But we may be missing something here. Our English translation tells us that the woman is seeking
justice. But the Greek word we translate as justice is ekdikeo. And ekdikeo actually means
vengeance. It’s the same word used in Greek versions which describe the vengeance executed on
the first born of Egypt in Exodus. Or Samson’s vengeance on the Philistines. Equally, when the judge
says that the widow might wear him out, the Greek word that we translate as wear out actually comes
from the world of boxing. The judge is concerned that the widow might beat him up, hit him in the face
or give him a black eye. The word appears in 1 Corinthians 9.27 and gets translated as punish, as in
‘punish the body’. It seems unlikely that the widow would punch the judge in the face but this
suggests that this is not just some sweet old lady who is the victim of circumstance. This is a woman
who is not to be messed with and her cause is not necessarily any more righteous than the judge is
just. It may be that there are no heroes in this story.

And perhaps that’s significant. Because in spite of the fact that we have two imperfect human beings,
the widow and the judge. In spite of the fact that this justice system may be far from ideal. There is a
result. A breakthrough. Change. The widow is given what she seeks. And that should give us all
hope. Because if things can happen at that very imperfect human level then how much more might
they be possible with God. He who loves us. Who wants the best for us. He who is just. Jesus isn’t
suggesting that we try to give God a black eye but he is suggesting that we bother him in the way that
the widow bothered the judge. That we are persistent and hopeful. That we don’t give up. We don’t
have to be perfect. We just have to pray.

And prayer changes us. That daily discipline of placing ourselves in God’s hands. Bringing our needs
and the needs of the world to him. It allows God to do his work in and through us, imperfect though
we are.

The more we pray, the more we align ourselves with God’s priorities. We learn to fear the Lord to use
an old-fashioned phrase. And we grow in respect and love for others. And that can cause our prayers
to change. We find ourselves praying for different things to the ones we started with. And we may
also discover that we are not just helpless widows but people with agency. Sometimes the answers to
our prayers lie with us. Perhaps we are being called to give a particular problem a black eye. Perhaps
we are being called to grant justice in a situation that keeps bothering us. Prayer may not always take
us where we think we want to go but it rarely leaves us where we were. So, just as we should not
underestimate widows, we should not underestimate the power of prayer. Pray always. Be persistent.
Never lose heart. Amen.


The Prayers
Prepared by Oli and Catherine

Lord God, we pray for our world. We pray for all those living in war zones and places of conflict. We pray for all those working in dangerous conditions, thinking of those killed or injured in this week’s mining disaster in Turkey, and of their loved ones.  We ask that your resurrective hope is made known to those in these hellish situations.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
Lord God, we pray for our planet. As many world leaders remain apathetic while the climate crisis continues, help us to do what we can on a personal and local scale. Help us to use the car less, to use less plastic, to eat less meat, to buy locally and to reuse what we can.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
Lord God, we pray for our country. As our current political leaders struggle to address the core issues affecting the most vulnerable in society, we pray that all who hold your values of equity, restorative justice and unconditional love may be enabled to make a difference where they can.  We pray for the work of the law courts, for judges, magistrates, barristers, solicitors and juries, that justice is upheld. We pray for those who cannot afford legal representation. We pray for all who are in prison and for their families.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
Lord God, we pray for our community. We pray you be with: our neighbours who selflessly give their time to make our streets safer and quieter from traffic; our neighbours who give generously to the food bank; our neighbours who look out for the elderly and disadvantaged; and all those who want to make Walkley a friendlier and fairer place to live.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
Lord God, we pray for our families. We pray as many of us face financial hardship over the next few months, having an impact on the choices we make about food and leisure. We pray that your presence is made know to those in our families who are processing recent separation or loss. We pray for parents who must juggle work commitments and spending quality time with their children.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
Lord, we pray for ourselves, We pray that you give us energy and inner light as the evenings get darker and we turn to introspection and the time for remembrance. We pray that we can find holy rest on days spent with loved ones as the trees turn red and the sun sits lower in the sky. We pray you are with us when we suffer with physical and mental health issues.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
We now enter a period of silence for our own intercessions.
Merciful Father:
Accept these prayers
For the sake of your son,
Our Saviour,
Jesus Christ.
Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is used here is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000