Living in the Now and Not Yet
It started with a question.
“When is the kingdom of God coming?”
When will God make things right? Because we’re not ok. We’ve been oppressed for centuries, conquered by other nations.
When is the kingdom of God coming? That was the question.
And Jesus gave two answers:
The kingdom of God is among you. It’s within you. It’s here, now!
But then he says. “The days are coming when the kingdom of God will be revealed”
Two answers to the same question. It’s here, now. It’s not here, not yet.
There is a tension between the now and the not yet. A gap. A space.
Then Jesus drops this parable right into the middle of this tension:
“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 saying,
‘Grant me justice.’ Justice. Justice. The word is repeated four times. This is a story of justice being dropped right into the tension between now and not yet.
For Jesus listeners, this was a real story. The widow was real. Because every single one of them would have known a widow who had been denied justice. It might even be their mother, or aunt or neighbour. Because widows were vulnerable in those days, with few legal rights and even less power. And despite the injunctions in scripture, over and over again, that they were to be protected, the reality was that they were often exploited. For Jesus’ listeners, the widow in this story was real.
The widow cries out “grant me justice.” Who is this widow for you? Let’s make her real.
I think of one of the elders of the Grassy Narrows First Nation, whose waters were polluted with 10 tonnes of mercury in the 60s and 70s, contaminating the food supply, making people sick. I think of that elder crying out “Clean our Water”, over and over again for the past 50 years.
I think of Cindy Blackstock, who called out our government for underfunding child welfare services on First Nations reserves. “Grant us justice” she said to the Canadian Human Rights Commission back in 2007. The Commission agreed – but the government challenged the ruling. So she kept on coming. “Grant us justice”, over and over again. Finally in September of this year the Human Rights Tribunal ordered the government to pay out $40,000 to each child who had been taken from their homes. The Government refused, and is appealing the decision in Federal Court. Cindy will be there, crying “grant us justice” once more.
I think of the widow from a Kurdish village near the Turkish border. Her husband was killed in the fighting. She was forced to flee from her home by the Islamic State. “Let me go back home” was her cry. Last year there was a turn in the war and she was finally able to go back home. Last week, the US government and the Turkish government struck a deal and forced her to leave again.
Who is the widow in this story for you? How do you make her real?
In Jesus story, the widow never gives up. She keeps on coming, she is relentless in her pursuit of justice. And finally the unjust judge caves.
“I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out, in fact the greek actually says, so that she will not give me a black eye by her continual coming.”
And I’m thinking, “Yes!” she got her justice, and I’m liking this parable.
Then Jesus takes it up a level.
“And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night?
Will God delay long in helping them?”
And that’s where the parable falls apart for me. Because I can’t answer that question the same way Jesus does.
Jesus says, “I tell you, God will quickly grant justice to them.”
But sometimes I don’t see it.
I mean, sometimes I do. Cindy Blackstock is going to win her case and there will be justice for all those children, and when there is I will celebrate.
But the elder of Grassy Narrows has been waiting 50 years now, and the truth is there is probably no way the water and the lands surrounding it can be decontaminated. I don’t know what justice there will even look like.
And the Kurdish widow fleeing her home once again? The Kurds have been oppressed for centuries. All she can do is cry out like the psalmist does: “how long O Lord, how long?”
When it comes to justice, there is this big tension between the now and the not yet.
But that is exactly where we live and sometimes that’s really hard, and frustrating, and discouraging, and it causes us to lose heart. It’s hard to keep on coming, to keep on calling out for justice.
In the gap between now and not yet, we are called to live by faith.
To faith means to trust God. To trust that God sees, God hears, God is present, God is at work. To trust that the kingdom of God is among us, here and now, even though we know it hasn’t been fully realized yet. But even that is coming.
When we live by faith, when we trust God even in the face of injustice, I think that something shifts in us. I can think of at least two things change for us, that change inside us.
One is that we see differently. We don’t necessarily see the when or how. But we do start to see, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
The second thing that changes for us is that we can go on without lose heart. We can be like the widow, who never gives up, who keeps on coming, who keeps on crying out for justice.
In this space, in this tension between now and not yet, we live by faith. Trust God. See, and lament injustice. Work, and cry out, for justice. Don’t be afraid to ask “How long?” Don’t give up.
Pray always, and do not lose heart.
Homily Yr C P29 Oct 20 2019
Readings: Luke 18.1-8
Image by Shunpei Sano Creative Commons