Whoever Shouts Loudest

by Oct 24, 2019

Luke 18:1-8

The parable of the Unjust Judge who gives justice to the persistent widow 

I wonder when the last time you changed your mobile phone was? Many years ago I remember my phone was getting old. This was before smart phones and the numbers had all worn off the keys. I went in to the local Carphone Warehouse and asked what the options were for a new contract with my supplier. The shop attendant pulled out a chart of all the options. Then he said, but what you really want to do is ring them. Complain and tell them you are going to switch suppliers. I left to consider the chart he gave me and his recommendation. It always struck me as slightly unfair that the customer who complains, who makes trouble, who is loudest. Is the one that gets the best service.

Of course, a parent gets taught to be careful not to encourage bad behaviour by giving it attention. I remember watching Supernanny, before we had children, instructing parents to go in and put the child who had got out of bed back in bed without talking to them. Of course, as soon as I had a child of my own I made the exact same mistake. Or did the extreme opposite, not spotting when the issue was more than a desire to stay up. How difficult life is when we actually try to be fair, because not every situation demands the same response. One customer’s complaint might be quite reasonable and deserving of some sympathy, another’s might just be an attempt to get a free lunch. I think an episode of Mr Bean comes to mind.

We also have to be discerning about where we get the information we make our decisions based on. Newspapers have always had one bias or another. So that if you want to hear a view you will agree with, you go to the right paper or if you want to get angry at soembody else’s opinion – you go to the wrong paper – whichever one that is for you. For a while in curacy I would read a different paper each day of the week – to give me a rounded perspective. Of course now we have social media, and with the gift of the great gamut of data that provides, algorithms have been developed so that we get more of the things we look at. I am always getting videos of people building furniture on facebook, because I pause a little longer on them. Of course when it’s just videos of DIY it’s not an issue. The problem is when these kinds of algorithms create a bubble where we only see views with which we agree. In reality we need to be willing to hear different voices in our life, that is how true growth and learning happens. So we need to be engaged with the world around us. We also need to be prepared to reflect on our own blind spots – the places which we cannot see.

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells a parable about an unjust judge. How do we know he is unjust. Well if the first two commandments are to love God, and love your neighbour. This judge is introduced as failing on both counts, having no fear of God nor respect for people. But a widow, like the noisy mobile phone customer,
is persistent at demanding justice and the judge grants it. Jesus encourages the disciples to pray always.
To be persistent, because if the unjust judge can have mercy, then surely God can if we keep at it. I used to really dislike this parable, for the same reason I didn’t go off and ring my mobile phone company to complain and threaten to leave. Does God really do what we want if we keep asking. But that isn’t really what Jesus is saying. That is how the unjust judge operates, sure. But not how God does.

There is an old myth that during the space race, the Americans spent a fortune trying to develop a pen that could write without the need of gravity. A pen which could effectively write upside down. The Russians sent their astronauts with a pencil. There is something about persistence in prayer, but it is not to convince God of a new solution. But perhaps if we are persistent persistent reflecting, listening, reading our scripture, and in relating to others in the church. If, as Jesus says, we don’t lose heart, but carry on, our prayers will be answered, but not necessarily in the narrow way we think they should.

In the Old Testament reading Jacob sends his family on and then spends the night wrestling with an unknown man Even after having his hip knocked out of joint Jacob persists. The man asks to be released and Jacob asks for a blessing before he will release him. The man gives Jacob a blessing, but also a new name. As the man blesses him Jacob realises that he has been blind to the fact that the man is actually God. It is a reminder that we often get more than we ask for. The answer to our prayers may well come with a new task. A new challenge. As Jacob becomes Israel, he is in effect transformed, reborn and the son becomes the father of the nation, the one person becomes the name for many people. And we are reminded not only of how easily we are blind to the reality of our situation but also that it is in the fullness of community, a community not built on like minded people, or people from the same walk of life, or from the same socio-economic group, or from the same country, but a group like the Church universal, as diverse as the shades of colour in the creator’s pallet.

To follow Christ is not easy, often the answers to how we respond to the issues of the world around us are not straightforward. But if we are persistent in our prayer, in our relating to others around us, in trying to love them – as a kind of spiritual discipline, in listening to God in scripture, in prayer, in the world around us. Then we should not lose heart, that God will answer our prayers, as God does infinitely more than we can ask or imagine and bring us ever closer to him.

The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams

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