Engaging the Word: Readings for 10/16/16 (The 22nd Sunday after Pentecost)

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 By Barbara Klugh

Jeremiah 31:27-34; Psalm 119:97-104; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary. In our reading from the Book of Jeremiah, God promises a new covenant, the only reference to it in the OT. The other readings demonstrate how our persevering faith allows us to live into God’s fulfilled promise.

God the Father (detail) by Guercino, c.1635. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

God the Father (detail) by Guercino, c.1635. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jeremiah 31:27-34: Up to now, our readings from the Book of Jeremiah have been about God’s judgment and punishment for sin. Yet, if you remember in our first reading back in August, when God commissioned Jeremiah, God said, “See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10).

In this week’s reading, Jeremiah is about building and planting. But more than that, God “will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” The new covenant will replace the old one, which God’s people have broken again and again. “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall 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 sin no more.”

Doesn’t this passage just blow you away? I’ve underlined and highlighted these verses in my Bible, and in the margin I wrote “Done!” Jeremiah was talking about the return from exile, yet this is a universal and eternal message of hope for all people. Christ sent us the Holy Spirit to write God’s laws on our hearts, to guide our thoughts, words, and actions. The Kingdom of God has come near.

Psalm 119:97-104: Psalm 119 gives a beautiful pattern for living by the Torah, God’s sacred law, and it brims with piety, praise, thanksgiving, and joy. It’s the longest psalm in the Psalter, with 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet; it’s arranged in an elaborate acrostic. For those who pray the Daily Office, you’ve probably noticed that a section of Psalm 119 is assigned every Wednesday.

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5: In this week’s reading, Paul continues to encourage Timothy to stand firm in the teachings of the scriptures. “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”

Paul urges Timothy to be persistent—to continue proclaiming the gospel message “whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.” False teachers are undermining the faith, but Timothy is to continue in his work no matter what.

Parable of the unjust judge (1882). Palace of Facets, the Kremlin, Russia. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Parable of the unjust judge (1882). Palace of Facets, the Kremlin, Russia. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 18:1-8: In another story found only in Luke, Jesus told his disciples the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge to teach them “about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” At first, the parable seems to suggest that we are supposed to pester God for what we want until he finally answers. I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind though.

In this story, we have a bad judge “who neither feared God nor had respect for people.” And we have a widow who kept coming to the judge to “Grant me justice against my opponent.” The judge refused for awhile, but eventually the judge grants her justice, “so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” Jesus says, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will God not 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.”

Here’s how some commentators interpret this parable.

In Understanding the Sunday Scriptures, H. King Oehmig asserts that “the purpose and result of constant prayer is not to change God’s mind, but instead, persistent prayer allows the ongoing presence of God to have power over our lives and brings us into fuller relationship with God.”

Bill Loader, Emeritus Professor at Murdoch University, suggests that the widow is Israel (God’s chosen), crying for liberation from the Roman oppressors. The story has been shaped in the cruelty of exploitation and the arbitrary abuse of power. It belongs in the world which Jesus is addressing. Jesus is reading the signs in the wounds of the people…. Finding a glint of God in the gray of corruption is a way of affirming we do not have to be God; we are not alone; faith and hope are possible.

The Rev. Dr. Janice L Hunt (cannot locate the link) sees Jesus as the persistent widow. Jesus was willing to go up against all kinds of disrespectful, unjust powers for God’s beloved people. Indeed, Jesus did so to the point of suffering and death—and still he kept praying. And the outcome of those three days alone should be enough for all of us who follow him to keep praying and not lose heart when we find ourselves in situations that bring us up against principalities and powers.

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