Homily – Sunday, the 16th October 2022
Readings: Luke 18:1-8 & Genesis 32:22-31
Earlier this week, I send a SOS text to a friend of mine. She’s a well-seasoned mum and I needed a listening ear and some outside perspective. A chat on the phone was quickly arranged. After our conversation I joked about how God must have humour, considering which readings were assigned for me to speak on this morning.
These bible passages hit so close to home for me these days. Two guys wrestling for hours, a constantly bickering woman, the stubbornness of a fellow-human… This sounds like scenes taken from my family’s day-to-day life.
Reading about Jacob makes me think of my kids, especially the boys, for whom pointless wrestling & fighting seems to be the go-to activity to deal with boredom, stress and even excitement.
Sometimes one of us feels like the mystery man Jacob strove with: not meaning any harm, but drawn into a confrontation and held up by other people’s demands.
The moans of the widow echo at our house too. It might be me lamenting about everyone else’s alleged lack of discipline, politeness and help, or someone else kicking up a fuss about how unfairly they are treated.
And of course the hassled judge finds his match as well. All of us experience at times a flood of demands that appear to go on and on.
And please, before you start contemplating if you should phone the Jugendamt do know that overall it’s not quite as bad as it sounded just now. It’s the same everyday madness most other families, and indeed, employees, bosses, Vereinsmitglieder and church members are dealing with when it comes to their fellow-humans. If we are honest, there is the potential or even reality of conflict in every single area of our lives. Conflicts with individuals, with whole systems, but also with ourselves and with God.
In my good parenting moments I try to follow the advice of wise people, who recommend not judging situations I hadn’t been involved in. Those teachers encourage to ask the right questions, to listen to the feelings and grievances of all parties and to help them find a solution, instead of barging in with a quick, ill-informed verdict. This approach reveal nuance where before there was only black & white. It fosters empathy, which invites us into liberation and reconciliation.
So let’s put aside our handed-down conclusions and truly listen to the protagonists of our two narratives.
If we’d offer the judge from the parable a seat on our sofa, make him a coffee and be genuinely curious about him and his job, what might he tell us? We might hear about all the different, at times petty cases he has to deal with. He may have seen distressing cases that kept him up at night, had to make decisions that ruined people’s lives, but were nevertheless the correct way to rule. Dissociation might be his survival strategy, which includes setting aside other people’s opinions and dismissing a seemingly hypocritical or overly romanticised faith in God.
How about the widow? She might tell us about losing her husband and her subsequent grief and fight for survival. Perhaps she is falling through the cracks of a system that normally would look out for widows and orphans. This might be one of those situations where the rights that are guaranteed on paper are not implemented in practice. Yet, she decided not to take it anymore and fight for her rights, the future of her children and on behalf of other victims of discrimination.
And then there is Jacob. How did he feel that night by the river, after leaving his uncle in a row and about to face his brother he had betrayed many decades ago? Was he scared? Anxious? Ashamed? Humiliated? Angry? What made him start the fight with the stranger? Was it to blow off steam before next morning’s showdown? Did he overreact due to the impossible situation he was in the middle of? Or was he attacked by the stranger?
Let’s turn to this mystery man, the one who personifies God’s presence in the narrative. Why did he come to meet Jacob that night? Was his intend to start a fight or did he mean to comfort and support Jacob? Was he the angel who many centuries later met another man, full of fear, loneliness and threat during a long, cold night at the garden of Gethsemane. He, Jesus, just about to face arrest, trial and death, must have been terrified too. However, there in the garden the angel was received very differently. He wasn’t met with fists and aggression, but with tears and vulnerability. I wonder, if angels are real, do they always know beforehand what they get themselves into?
I don’t know who you identify with this morning or whose perspective intrigued you the most. For myself, it really depends on the situation. I do at times, relate to each of them.
There are Jacobs among us, those that feel like struggling and wrestling alone through the the night, or fought their battles, like the widow, for weeks, months and years. We fight with others, God and our own selves because of injustice, stubbornness, seemingly random misfortune and more.
In light of this, and considering reality all around me, I honestly do wrestle with Jesus’ confident words at the end of the parable: “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.”
This polished outcome is not what our experience teaches us. God’s miraculous intervention doesn’t seem to necessarily reach all those who pray fervently & fight righteously. I wish it would, but a quick reality check tells us that this is not the case! The burdens in this life are not evenly distributed and that is plainly NOT FAIR! So please, first and foremost, don’t let them tell you that your distress continues only because you didn’t pray hard enough. That a very destructive interpretation of the parable.
Even though the outcome of a struggle might be unknown to us, the companion isn’t! In our dark nights of the soul there is an angel beside us – The one from the river Jabok, who gladly receives the blows of our shame, guilt or fury; or the one from Gethsemane, who comforts our sadness, fear and anxiety – even if we don’t feel him as closely as Jacob or Jesus did. That is also true when our situation is self-inflicted like Jacob’s decades of lying, cheating and acting egoistically, which came out sideways that night. His irrational wrestling caused him limping off with an injury, but brought him also a blessing and the token of a changed life: a new name.
But what about when we find ourselves on the other side, the situations when we are the ones that have the power, and responsibility to make far-reaching decisions? I know I would love to see myself as the poor widow, the righteous one, the victim, yet more often than I dare to acknowledge I’m the judge of our parable. I have more privileges than most other people in this world, and thus my verdicts have consequences not only for my children, husband and all other relationships in my life, but the world at large – the poorest on this planet, and creation at large.
This thought makes me feel instantly overwhelmed. I wonder if the angel of the Lord is at hand here too? Perhaps hes not only up for boxing matches and wiping tears, but also for some direction-giving when it comes to us trying to execute just and wise discernment.
And even when you and I are not the ones who sit at the judge’s bench at a national or global level, we can still become advocates for those petitioning their case. There are many ways of stepping out of being part of the silent majority! Yes, this requires courage and strength. But consider the angel who came to encourage and bless, but still endured the beating that came with it.
We’re about to head into another week that will surely bring it’s fair share of conflict with colleagues, spouses, ourselves, or our children. Perhaps you and I could, at least in one or two heated moments, try to picture the Angel of the Lord standing among us. Let us find out if he’d be happy to wrestle, comfort and give direction in the courtrooms and dark nights of our lives.
God of peace and justice,
We pray for wisdom, honesty and reconciliation as we head out today.
May the conflicts in our lives transform us and draw us closer to one another and you.
16th October 2022