Bread for the World
A sermon preached on Bread for the World Sunday in All Saint’s Episcopal Church, Princeton, Year C, Proper 24 on Luke 18: 1-8 by the Rev. Hugh E. Brown, III, D. Min., Rector, Sunday, October 20, 2013
You just heard of a judge who did not want to help a widow. Jesus does not explain why this is the case.
We’ve learned the judge has no fear of God and no respect for human beings.
Perhaps the judge is too lazy to act.
Perhaps he just does not want to be bothered.
Maybe the judge simply disregards widows. Given the judges public status, he might have ties to the widow’s oppressor.
We must accept that we don’t know why the judge is reluctant.
The point is that the vulnerable woman’s plight does not move him to do the right thing.
But something else does. The woman’s pressure. The woman’s persistence. The woman’s power. The woman’s demands.
This woman did not give up!
Reminds me of another story. Not a story of an unjust judge—but of an uncaring Jesus.
You heard me right! And unmoved and uncaring Lord. This story is in both the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. It bears an uncanny resemblance to Jesus’s story of the persistent widow this morning? What Jesus thinking about himself?
Jesus, no doubt weary and simply trying to get away from the incessant demands of the world—seems have found some time apart.
And suddenly a woman—and not only a woman but a gentile woman—a foreign woman—one of “those kinds of women,” crashes his meal and interrupts his “Sabbath.”
He begs him to heal her daughter; her daughter is not with her but is very ill and away.
We don’t know that she was a widow but her desperation and the fact that she came to Jesus alone tells us she probably was.
Widows were some of the most vulnerable persons in ancient Israel in a patriarchal society when a woman’s source of bread might be dependent on the labor of her husband, father, brother or another man.
Do you remember what the response of Jesus was?
Here is what Jesus said to her: “Why should we take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs!” Boy was Jesus having a bad day!
Well, it is not only a merciless judge who had no respect for someone—for a widow. So did the very human Jesus of Nazareth.
There is an old rabbinic saying following the Holocaust: “I’ll make a deal with you Lord; I lie at times; I’m lazy at times; you in your infinite power– let innocent children die; you let innocent women be raped. I’ll forgive your big sins if you forgive my little ones.”
I don’t think Jesus ever forgot that widow.
I don’t think God ever forgets heartfelt prayers of his children who dare to hold him accountable.
For this amazing woman, in the spirit of the Post-Holocaust laments of the Rabbi’s, came right back at Jesus: “Yes, Lord, even the Dogs eat the crumbs which fall from the Masters table.”
This is no prayer of supplication; it is a prayer of rage! “How Dare You?”
“How dare you call yourself the Son of Man and betray your Father with such disgusting behavior?”
Even Jesus, the Son of God and Lord of Life—was Human.
Even God almighty—is Human.
A woman held Jesus accountable. Her daughter was healed.
Long ago—a prophet named Jeremiah held God Accountable. You heard his words this morning too.
He pleaded to God on behalf of God’s people.
He was their advocate; let us read his lamentations; let us here him weeping.
He cared. He never gave up. His laments bordered on the heretical!
“If you are a just and merciful God—you will NOT do this; you will not give up on Israel”—says Jeremiah. He risked blasphemy with God.
Yes, sometimes one person can stand up for themselves.
But, sometimes a person needs a defender and advocate—in the spirit of Jeremiah’s wailing, and pleading and angry righteousness advocacy on his people’s behalf….!
The Lord said this, “I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel. (I will not give up!); I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer shall they teach one another or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more.”
Yes, there are vulnerable women in the spirit of widows out there who, in the spirit of holding God accountable, hold others accountable.
The Afghan girl, shot by the Taliban—still fighting so girls can attain education and empowerment.
God’s heart was changed—by a persistent prophet.
Jesus’s heart was changed by a persistent widow.
And I think there heart was changed because they crossed boundaries from judgment to empathy.
God’s heart finally found heart with the people Israel.
His prophet Jeremiah, because he was human—because he made the people of Israel Human to God again—changed God’s heart.
The Gentile woman who demanded her daughter be healed—slurs and all—changed the heart of Jesus.
On this Sunday we once again hear the cries of the 16,000 hungry and starving children throughout the world-including our own country and our own neighbors (!)—for they are in the church this morning with us—crying for Justice to God and to you and to me!
Let us hear them! Let us hear them weep! And, then, let us do two things:
*First, let us open our eyes with a new respect for the poor!
Jesus discovered a gentile women’s dignity and moved from calling her a Dog to Healing her daughter; why did he do this? How did he move? Because he was truly God—he was open to change- to empathy-to humanity—for those are things of God—not control and power and domination!
Let us put ourselves in a position to be confronted by the Gentile women all over the world who demand justice, healing and our attention to their despair, demands and needs.
Let us volunteer for our day at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen in November; Megan Thomas, our new Deacon will take anyone who desires down to the Cathedral for their programs of feeding and clothing the hungry.
I don’t think those of us who went to the evening at Christ Church Tom’s River will ever forget—will ever forget the vulnerable opening their hearts to the vulnerable.
As I was greeting some of the folks at the Christ Church event, a man pointed at side of the table where three women were sitting.
All three women had lost their homes; all three women were on the front lines of the shelter, food and dignity Christ Church was giving; all three women told me when I met them in their different ways that “we are all together” and “so many are worse than I am” “the person asking for food is me.” We help each other.
“The person asking for food is ME!!” THAT is the spiritual place where, I think, that Gentile woman took Jesus; Jesus could finally say, “She—this woman—is ME!” And on the cross, they were united—in suffering and redemption.
Jesus became as the poor. So we are challenged to be—poor in spirit, open to learning– because that way is the way to life—the way of empathy…mutual respect.. and compassion.
Learn about what we do as citizens, using the immense power of our democracy and OUR government (repeat OUR government) to help the hungry! Let us learn and be open!
Before we condemn and disparage programs like Food Stamps and WIC; every time we fill out our taxes in the Spring—on tax forms, millions of hungry people in our nation cry out to us for our justice!
In that spirit imagine 24 bags of food.
The Trenton Area Soup Kitchen and the Trinity Cathedral and the Feeding programs of Christ Church Tom’s River compose one bag to feed the hungry.
The other TWENTY-THREE of 24 bags are given by our nation and our democracy to feed the hungry.
A tiny portion of the hungry are feed by charity; the vast majority of our nation’s sisters and brothers are feed through the tax dollars of you and me.
*In the Spirit of Jeremiah—weeping on behalf of us his people– and in the Spirit of Jesus who changed his heart–and took the side of widows–his mind and not only healed the daughter of a vulnerable widow but then took the sides of the widows—take the side of the poor and the hungry!
In the spirit of Jesus who overturned the tables of the money changes in the temples saying, “they devour widows!”–
Let me be blunt; God almighty had the courage, the grace, the power to put himself squarely in the lives of his people and allow himself to be confronted by their cries—from Egypt to Roman occupied Palestine; he spoke through the prophets but the prophets spoke to him; and the people confronted him through his own prophets.
Let us put ourselves as intercessors and spokespersons, in the line of fire for the poor and be their voice to the powerful!
In the spirit of Jesus who dared to hold the powerful accountable as he was held accountable by a foreign woman—let us never give up on the powerless. As Marion Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund once wrote in a marvelous little book written to her children and grandchildren:
“Never give up!….Don’t get overwhelmed! And do not think you have to make big waves in order to contribute.
My role model, Sojourners Truth, slave woman, could neither read nor write, but could not stand slavery and second class treatment for women.
One day, during an anti-slavery speech, she was heckled by an old man: “Old woman, do you think that your talk about slavery does any good? Well, I don’t care any more for your talk than I do about the bite of a flea!”
And she replied, “Perhaps not, but the Lord willing, I’ll keep you scratching!”
Edelman continues, “A lot of people think they have to be big dogs to make a difference. That’s not true. You need to be a flea for justice bent on building a more decent home life, neighborhood, work place, and America. Enough committed fleas biting strategically an make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation, as we will and must transform America in the early 21st century!
Help transform America by biting political leaders until they respond!
In a few moments, our Sunday School children–at the Offertory–will offer the following prayer which is our parish mantra over the next year as we keep the poor close to our heart—as did Jesus—as did Jeremiah—as does God almighty:
“The World now has the means to end extreme poverty.”
“We pray we will have the will.”
A prophet pleaded with the Lord to save His people. A woman pleaded with Jesus to heal her daughter. A judge granted a persistent woman justice.
The powerful–even God Almighty and His Son Jesus our Lord—had the means to save, heal and transform lives.
With some “strategic bites,” they found the way.
Now let us go and bit the powerful—until they to do the right thing!
And you better believe–they will find the will!