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
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
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
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.
Prepared by Oli and Catherine