Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Unjust Judge

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The Unjust Judge

 

Luke 18:1-8  Gospel Reading

New International Version (NIV)

18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Bishop Tony Howard once again presents in his homily a reading from “The Parables of Grace.”

So this Gospel lesson leads to many questions, at least to Robert Farrar Capon author of “The Parables of Grace” it does. Do we have to earn our way into heaven? If we do then where is the cutoff point? What percentage of goodness or good behavior merits us the gold prize? If there are no requirements for entrance into heaven does that mean everybody goes? Only the chosen? Does what we do dictate what God does or does God just do his own thing? How can God use bad people to impart grace? Why would he do such a thing? For what purpose? Did God set down a list of rules we must live our lives by with failure to comply resulting in the ultimate punishment? If so how our we justified? How many chances do we get?  These and other considerations Capon tackles in his answer to the Parable of the Unjust Judge.

The Parables Of Grace

The Parables Of Grace

The Unjust Judge, like the Good Samaritan and the Unjust Steward, is another notable example of Jesus’ use of an anti-hero.  Never having been to a theological seminary, he was blessedly free of the professional theologian’s fear of using bad people as illustrations of the goodness of God. There is an ole seminarians’ joke that stigmatizes this don’t-let-God-be-disreputable attitude perfectly: You go to seminary to learn about all the things God couldn’t possibly have done, and then you go to church to ask him to do them anyway. In the spirit of that healthy skepticism, I proceed straight to the exposition of the parable itself.

The parable is prefaced with a comment by Luke that Jesus told it as a lesson to people that they ought always to pray and not become discouraged. While this is by no means an unfair or irrelevant hint as to the parable’s meaning, I still think that on balance it is a case of Homer nodding. Luke is still using up his last few index cards here; and while his decision to insert the Unjust Judge at this point puts it brilliantly in context (whether you take it as dealing with either grace of judgment), he really should not simply have copied into the text the rather general, early-Jesus-style introduction he originally jotted down for it in his notes.

Be that as it may, the parable itself begins at Luke 18:2: “There was a certain judge in a certain city who neither feared God nor respected public opinion.” This is a bold stroke on Jesus’ part. He is about to take two subjects that most people find diametrically opposed – the grace business and the judging business – and expound them conjointly. Here is a jurist, a practitioner of the law, whom Jesus will portray as a barefaced agent of grace – and whom he will portray that way precisely because he breaks the rules of his profession and puts himself out of the judging business. All of which, Jesus implies without apology, makes him a perfect stand-in for God. He suggests, in other words, that God is not cowed by the supposed requisita and desiderata of the God-business any more than he is impressed by the rules that people (especially theologians) have dreamt up for him to follow.

Jesus then continues by saying there was a widow in that city who came to the judge asking him to render her a favorable judgment against her adversary. The choice of a widow for the other character in this parable is a stunning device for displaying the antithesis between losing and winning that recurs constantly in the parables of grace. On the other hand, the woman is a twenty-four karat loser: widows, especially in ancient times, were people who had lost not only their husbands but their social standing – they had, in a word, lost their life as they knew it. But this particular widow is also a compulsive winner. Like so many of us who, while we may be poor, still go blithely on rejecting our poverty and trying to fake out some kind of wealth – who are, in the last analysis, just high rollers who happen to be unaccountably and embarrassingly broke – she is still committed to making a buck out of her loss. Like the prodigal son when he first formulates his confession, she is dead and she knows it, at least to some degree; but she has not really accepted her death because she hopes she can ace out the system and get some old-style, if marginal, satisfaction from it.

For a while, Jesus says, the judge tells her to go fly a kite. Her suit, no doubt, strikes him as having nothing but nuisance value to anyone but herself: he will not have his calendar clogged up with a case that no self-respecting jurist would give even the time of day.

Then, however, Jesus goes on to give the judge’s reasoning for his change of heart. “even though I don’t fear God or respect public opinion,” the judge says to himself, “still, simply because this widow is giving me such tsouris, I will grant her a favorable judgment – just so she doesn’t finally wear me out by her constant showing up in my courtroom.” He arrives at his judgment, you see, not on the merits of the case but simply on the basis of his own convenience. He is willing to be perceived as a bad judge just so he can have a little peace of mind.

And what does that say about God? It says that God is willing to be perceived as a bad God – and for no better reason than that he wants to get the problems of a worldful of losing winners off his back. It says he is willing – while they are still mired in their futile pursuit of the spiritual buck, the moral buck, the intellectual buck, the physical buck, or the plain ordinary buck – to just shut up about whatever is wrong with them and get the hassle over with. It says in fact what Paul said in Rom. 5:8 “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” It says, in short, that God doesn’t even wait for us to accept our losing: he simply goes ahead with his own plans for the season, for the kairos, the high old time he has in mind for himself. Like the father in the Prodigal Son, he just runs, falls on all our necks – the widow’s and yours and mine – and showers us with injudicious kisses simply because he wants to get their wet blankets off his back and let the party begin.

The prodigal, of course, responded positively to the father’s ungodly behavior: he left out of his actual confession the silly, life-preserving gesture of asking to be made a hired servant and he frankly accepted his status as a dead son who had been raised. The widow does not seem to have responded so favorably to the judge’s gift of grace, but the outcome is the same: the son is justified and she is justified. And the words she uses to ask the judge for a favorable verdict (ekdikeson me, justify me) and the words the judge uses to announce his attention to do precisely that (ekdikeso auten, I will justify her) both contain the root dik-. This root enters into a whole string of major New Testament words” dikaios (the just), dikaioun (to justify), dikaiosyne (justice, justification), dikaioma (justification, justice, judgment), dikaios (justly), and dikaiosis (justification). Taking those words into account, therefore, ask yourself a leading question: how in fact does the New Testament say we are justified? The answer of course is: by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8) – that is, by our simple trust in the graciously disreputable thing that God did when he fixed up his own insides by the death of Christ.

So Jesus ends the parable by saying, “Listen to what the unjust judge says: ‘And will not God judge in favor of his own people who cry to him for help day and night? Will he not have mercy upon them?'” Pay attention to what I’m telling you, Jesus says in effect. Do you think it makes the least difference to God whether anyone’s cause is just? Do you think it matters at all to him that they, even in their loss and death, still try to function like winners? I tell you, none of that amounts to a hill of beans with him, He finds all the lost whether they think they’re lost or not. He raises all the dead whether they acknowledge their death or not. It’s not that they have to make some heroic effort to get themselves to cooperate with him; and it’s certainly not that they have to spend a lot of time praying and yammering to get him to cooperate with them. Don’t you see? It’s the bare fact of their lostness and death, not their interpretation of it or their acceptance of it, that cries out to him day and night. Lost sheep don’t have to ask the shepherd to find them. Lost coins don’t have to make long prayers to get the housewife to hunt for them. And lost sons – who may think that they are  only allowed to ask for some plausible, sawed-off substitute for salvation – are always going to be totally surprised by the incredible, unmasked-for party that just falls in their laps. All they have to be is lost. Not fancy lost, perceptively lost, or repentantly lost; just plain lost. And just plain dead, too. Not humbly dead, engagingly dead, or cooperatively dead; just dead. “I, if I be lifted up,” Jesus says, “will draw all to me”: the sheep, the coin, the son, the widow – the whole sorry lot of you. You don’t have to do a blessed thing, make a single prayer, or have a legitimate case, I do it all.

Finally, though, Jesus answers the rhetorical question he proposed when he first began to point the moral of the parable of the Unjust Judge, namely: “Will not God judge in favor of his people…and have mercy on them?” His answer is: “You bet he will – and soon.” Forget, if you will, all the hopeless arguments over what Jesus, in his first-century Jewish mind, might have meant by the word “soon.” And forget especially all the critics’ assertions of what he couldn’t possibly have meant. For my money, none of that matters: at the very least, he said soon because, for some reason unknown to us, he felt like saying soon.  In any case, both in terms of the parable of the Unjust Judge and in terms of what Jesus rather shortly did on the cross, I opt for the crucifixion and resurrection as the most likely scriptural referents of that soon.

In any case, what Jesus actually did soon was die and rise – and that, for me, governs everything. Like the unjust judge, he went out of business. He issued a totally disreputable verdict of forgiveness over an entire race of unrepentant, unreconstructed nuisances just because he didn’t want to be bothered with the unnecessary job of proving what they had already proved, namely, that they were a bunch of jerks. All that mattered to him was that they were pitiful jerks. And because he was willing to drop dead to give them a break – because, like the judge who was tired of the widow’s hassling, he was tired of having his cage rattled by a worldful of idiots – he destroyed himself rather than have to destroy them. And that, Virginia, is why “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” There is no condemnation because there is no condemner. There is no hanging judge and there is no angry God: he has knocked himself clean off the bench and clear out of the God Union. Nobody but a bad judge could have issued a favorable judgment on our worthless cases; and nobody but a failed God – a God finally and for all out of any recognizable version of the God business – could possibly have been bighearted enough to throw a going-out-of-business sale for the likes of us.

Jesus concludes the parable, however, with a warning in the form of yet another rhetorical question. “Still,” he says (nevertheless, notwithstanding, in spite of all the lovely good news I’ve just given you), “when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” The implied answer, of course, is no: a dead God is no more acceptable to a world of respectable winners than a corrupt, self-pleasing judge would be to the members of the ABA Ethics Committee. As they would not trust such a judge to sit on the bench, so we will do almost anything to avoid putting our faith in a God who doesn’t come up to our standards for divinity.

And there, if you will, is the ultimate dilemma of the church. The one thing it doesn’t dare try to sell – for fear of being laughed out of town – turns out to be the only thing it was sent to sell. But because it more often than not caves in to its fear of ridicule, it gives the world the perennial spectacle of an institution eager to peddle anything but its authentic merchandise. I can stand up in the pulpit and tell people that God is angry, mean, and nasty; I can tell them he is so good they couldn’t possibly come within a million miles of him; and I can lash them into a frenzy of trying to placate him with irrelevant remorse and bogus good behavior – with sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings, all of which are offered by the law (Heb. 10:8); but I cannot stand there and tell them the truth that he no longer cares a fig for their sacred guilt or their precious lists of good deeds, responsible outlooks, and earnest intentions. I can never just say to them that God has abolished all those oppressive, godly, requirements in order that he might grant them free acceptance by his death on the cross. Because when I do that, they can conclude only one of two things: either that I am crazy or that God is. But alas, God’s sanity is the ultimate article of their non-faith. Therefore, despite Scripture’s relentless piling up of proof that he is a certifiable nut – that he is the Crazy Eddie of eternity, whose prices are insane – it always means that I am the one who gets offered a ticket to the funny farm.

Which is all right, I guess. After the unjust steward, the unjust judge, and the God who hasn’t got the integrity to come down from the cross and zap the world into shape, it’s a nice, rough approximation of justification by grace alone, through faith.

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The Tenth Leper

The Gospel

Gospel Lk 17:11-19

As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem,
he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying,
“Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”
And when he saw them, he said,
“Go show yourselves to the priests.”
As they were going they were cleansed.
And one of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
Jesus said in reply,
“Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you.”

 

At Sacred Heart Church Deacon Jack gave the homily. His theme was that the Jews of that time and to a lesser extent Catholics and others today put form over spirit. In other words they followed the steps of the rules of their religion rather than their heart. The Jewish religion of the time, he illustrated, had a step one for leper cleansing, a step two, a step three and so forth. It was these steps to which nine of the cleansed lepers fled to.

“Where are the other nine, “asks Jesus? The answer is they were in church or the Temple following the rules and regulations of the Jewish religion. Why should they pay any homage to this rebel Jesus, asks Deacon Jack, who is ripping the Sadducees and Pharisees and priests of the Temple? But in obeying their religion they are more concerned with steps 1, 2, 3 and beyond then in actually giving some thanks, some praise and adoration of the Lord.

And the Leper who returned was a Samaritan. And Deacon Jack reminds us that Jews hated Samaritans. So while the Samaritan was a leper the other nine were able to forgive his foreign, heretical ways as they were all in the same boat. But as soon as they ten were cleansed then the Samaritan once again became an outcast. Once again, says Deacon Jack, this demonstrates the adherence to rules and regulations that may not necessarily be the will of God and most surely violate the spiritual practice of holiness, that is, that relationship with the Creator taking all precedence over any man-made rules of religious adherence.

Bishop Tony Howard of St. Clement  gleans from this passage a message of being thankful. But also he signs on to the chapter on this subject from Robert Farrar Capon’s book “The Parables Of Grace.” Here is what Bishop Tony read to us from this book as part of his homily:

 

 

The Parables Of Grace

The Parables Of Grace


The nine, who presumably had no such faith as the Samaritan, were not one bit less healed than he. What difference is Jesus trying to pinpoint between him and them with this terse, if not gruff, reply? Well, I can think of two ways of coming at it, one more or less doctrinal and the other based on the parable of the Prodigal Son.

 

The doctrinal approach looks at the lepers as an illustration of the resurrection of the dead: just as all the dead (not merely the just, the holy, and the good) are raised by Jesus, so all the lepers (not just the perceptive and thankful) are cleansed. But for the lepers to enjoy, to accept, to celebrate the power of their resurrection from the disease…well, that cannot happen until they see themselves not simply as returned to normal life by some inexplicable circumstance but precisely as lepers cleansed by Jesus – that is, as living out of their death by the gift of someone else’s life. So too with the resurrection of the dead: it is not the return of corpses to their previous living state; it is an eternally new creation arising out of an equally eternal death – just as, if you will, our old, natural existence is a perpetual, moment-by-moment emergence out of an equally perpetual nothing.

 

Which brings me to the approach based on the Prodigal Son. The nine lepers in this story are like the son when he formulates the first version of his confession to his father. like him – as he sits by the hog trough in the far country – they realize they are dead. But also like him, their idea of resurrection is just a matter of revival, of return to some form of ordinary life. The prodigal makes plans to get himself hired on as a servant; the nine lepers, possibly, propose to go back to the garment district and find work as pressers,

 

The Samaritan leper, however, is like the prodigal when he makes his confession the second time and leaves off the part about “make me a hired servant.” For just as the prodigal suddenly sees – when his father kisses him before he confesses – that he can only be a dead son who has been raised to a new life, not a hired hand trying to fake out an old-style life of his own, so the Samaritan realizes that it is by his relationship to Jesus, and by that alone, that he now has a new life out of death as a leper. It is not, you see, that either of them is told to forget about the death out of which he has been raised, or to put it behind him, or to “get on with his life.” That was what the nine lepers, and the prodigal in his first self-examination, had in mind – and it is, unfortunately , what far too many Christians think about their risen life in Jesus. But the prodigal’s startlingly new life (Party!, Party!, Party!) is, by the very words of the parable, based squarely and only on his death (“Let us eat and be merry: for this my son was dead and is alive again”). Death, in other words, remains the perpetual reason for the party and the abiding ground of the new creation – for the prodigal, for the Samaritan leper, and for us.

 

And what a gift that is! It means that contrary to all the cartoons of heaven as a place where we shall sit on clouds wearing bedsheets and flapping irrelevant angel wings – as a place, that is, where none of our real history, and certainly none of the diseases, defeats, derelictions, and deaths of our history can find a home – contrary to all that, everything about us goes home, because everything about us, good or evil, dies in our death and rises by his life. The son’s prodigality goes home, the Smaratan’s leprosy goes home; and so does your lying, my adultery, and Uncle Harry’s embezzling. We never have to leave behind a scrap! Nothing, not even the worst thing we ever did, will ever be anything but a glorious scar.

 

And that is a gift, because it means we don’t have to deny one smitch of our history. The nine lepers go away with their lives unsaved precisely because their lives as lepers have been put behind them and denied. All those years…just gone – into unsalvageable oblivion, into irretrievable discontinuity: “Who, me? A leper? You must be kidding, buddy. I’m a pants presser.” But the Samaritan goes away with his life saved because, like the prodigal, he has not put his derelict life into forgettery. At Jesus’ feet he sees himself whole: dead and risen, an outcast and accepted, a leper and cleansed. And he sees himself that way because, like the prodigal, he has not hated the light and he has not lived the lie of trying to keep his wretchedness away from the light; rather he has done the truth (John 3:21), and come to the light with the whole sum of his life, so that it might be clearly seen, in the light of Jesus’ resurrection, that everything he ever did, good or bad, was done in God.

“Covert Messiah”

Self-Professed ‘Bible Scholar’ Makes Explosive Allegation About Jesus That He Believes Could Rock the Christian Faith to Its Core

In the release, Atwill said that governments often create “false histories and false gods” and that this is often done in an effort to secure social order.

Rather than a theology, Atwill believes that Christianity was concocted as a government project that was used to control Roman citizens. During a time in which Jewish residents were waiting for their Messiah, he says they were a constant source of insurrection, leading the Romans to seek out an equalizing and tempering force.

“When the Romans had exhausted conventional means of quashing rebellion, they switched to psychological warfare,” Atwill explains in the press release. “They surmised that the way to stop the spread of zealous Jewish missionary activity was to create a competing belief system.”

And that’s when Jesus was allegedly created – a man who advocated peace rather than violence. Atwill contends that the Christ that billions embrace never actually existed and that he is a “fictional character.”

He bases his theory on a study of “Wars of the Jews,” a book by Josephus, a scholar who provided insight and documentation first-century Judea. The historian contends that the prophesies of Jesus line up with Josephus’ writings about the Jewish-Roman war and are, thus, proof that “the biography of Jesus is actually constructed, tip to stern, on prior stories, but especially on the biography of a Roman Caesar.”

“Is this the beginning of the end of Christianity?,” the press release cryptically asks.

While Atwill doesn’t think it is, he did say that the purported discovery will give those who are looking to leave the Christian faith the perfect motivation to do so. He maintains that his evidence shows exactly where Jesus’ story came from.

“Although Christianity can be a comfort to some, it can also be very damaging and repressive, an insidious form of mind control that has led to blind acceptance of serfdom, poverty, and war throughout history,” he said. “To this day, especially in the United States, it is used to create support for war in the Middle East.”

Patheos blogger James R. McGrath, though, doubts that the symposium will be groundbreaking. Of Atwill’s claim to be a Biblical scholar he wrote, “there is no evidence that he has relevant qualifications or research to his name.”