There are lots of things I love about Jesus.
It’s probably not surprising to hear me say that, given where we are and what I’m doing here. Frankly, it would be rather odd if I were standing before you as a priest and didn’t have many reasons I love Jesus. One hopes most followers of Christ can think of a number of admirable qualities.
But the one I have in mind is one you don’t see mentioned so much. Nonetheless, it’s something about him that springs to my mind so often when I read his words to his followers.
I love how realistic Jesus is about human nature. Often it’s even kind of funny when you think about it.
Take our lesson from the Gospel today. It’s a parable, albeit a very straightforward one that doesn’t need a lot of interpreting. It deals with a judge “who neither feared God nor had respect for people.”
While we’re not told what he did respect, we can assume it was his own enrichment. Anyhow, before this judge comes a widow, a woman with no standing in the society of Jesus’ time, someone who likely had nothing to offer the judge in terms of his own advancement.
The nature of her grievance isn’t important to the story. What does matter is her persistence. She simply does not stop bringing her case before this judge, whose nerves begin to fray a bit. Finally he thinks “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.”
First of all, I find it kind of hilarious how Jesus lays out the judge’s soliloquy. How many of us take the time to lay out our motivations in our minds before we make a decision?
“Even though I am trying to lose weight and have not exercised in several days, I will order the chocolate mousse.”
“Verily, traffic is likely to be bad and I have an important meeting this morning, but lo I will hit the snooze bar anyway.”
Apparently this judge liked to think things through really plainly before coming to any decisions.
But leaving that slightly unrealistic detail aside, Jesus otherwise delivers a clear-eyed depiction of human behavior. Even self-interested jerks like this judge will do the right thing if it spares them a headache.
All of this is laid out to contrast how much more likely God is to answer our prayers than this judge, because God actually loves us. Something tells me Jesus’ listeners were all too familiar with corrupt, compassionless judges, so the promise of a kinder listener in heaven would have been welcome news indeed.
But it’s that clear-eyed view of our all-too-fallible natures that I’d like to return to.
All of us, I think, know all too well how base and broken human nature can be. It takes very little time on earth to witness all the ways we can be cruel, self-serving, deceitful or any other of a host of terrible tendencies. If we are honest, we can recognize some of those very same tendencies within ourselves.
Now, I say none of this because I believe these fallen parts of ourselves define us. Far from it. Our faith is one that holds out the power and potential for redemption, and never, ever pulls it back. I believe deeply that God’s love is fully available for all people, at all times, everywhere. There’s nobody who has ever lived who is beyond the reach of God’s mercy and love. Nobody.
But we’re abiding in a time when those dark and dangerous parts of our nature are being encouraged and even celebrated in our country.
We’re told not to rise above our fear, but to lash out because of it. We’re told not to welcome the stranger, as Christ commands us, but to exclude anyone who looks or talks or worships differently from us. We’re told not to see the best in each other, but to imagine the worst.
If there’s a lesson to see clearly in our reading from Jeremiah, it’s that God can come and go in the hearts of nations. The people of Israel and Judah knew this well. And like their children, I fear our teeth are very much on edge these days.
We do not have to be this way. We do not have to hear words of wrath and spite, of animosity and resentment, and allow them to define who we are. We do not have to succumb to the very worst impulses within ourselves, as human as those impulses all too often are.
In a few weeks, we will all be given a decision to make. We will all decide what voices we are going to listen to. We are going to look within our own hearts, and decide what we want our nation’s heart to look like, too.
Obviously, I am not going to tell you what decision each of you should make. It’s not the nature of my vocation to do such things, and people don’t come to gather as we are for that kind of instruction. All of you should do as you feel you are called.
But I think of Jesus’ words about that judge, who did not fear God or care about any other human being. I think of who in our current culture rejects the message of the Gospel and demonstrates no respect for other human beings. I think of how easy it is to seek only our own interests and see only the worst in each other. And I remember how Jesus told us we should be living.
All of us have the capacity to be like that judge. Jesus tells us that God’s way is better. In the weeks ahead, let us consider how to find ourselves to a better way.