“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart….”
On Friday, Beloved, I got a phone call from our daughter Meg who was teaching at SPASH. She was calling to see if I might be able to pick up our grandson Gus, if needed, since all schools in the District were in a “lockdown.” A threat had been received, so in lockdown mode nobody can come in or go out---for the safety of students and staff.
My heart began to race a bit, and of course, I became distracted by the thought that Meg, our granddaughter Annahleah, and all the lovely folks I know from the Beloved Community who are students and staff in the School District were in a position of possible danger.
And I know you can’t keep your loved ones completely safe. When I left teaching in 2008, we were already beginning to practice lockdowns and drills for if a shooter entered the school building. And I also know there are some folks who would rather I not talk about gun violence because it often leads to a conversation about gun legislation and we don’t all agree on that issue. And that’s okay; we do not need to agree on it in order to remain in community. We can disagree about what should or shouldn’t happen; we can disagree on what will or won’t help. But I would hope that we can find a way to agree on the Gospel: that Jesus came so that all might have life and have it abundantly, that God is the creator of life and calls us to be co-creators and co-sustainers of life in God’s realm.
So Friday, distracted by the threat at Stevens Point schools, I was haunted by the many interviews I have seen of residents who live in places where there have been one of the many school shootings, and those interviewed usually say: “I never thought it would happen here.”
Because most often, it’s not until it touches us that it becomes our problem to solve. And while we haven’t had a mass shooting at Stevens Point schools, or the schools in our area, and Friday’s threat was merely a hoax, thanks be to God, and we are probably saying to ourselves: “it won’t happen here,” that doesn’t mean it isn’t already touching us.
Beloved, I am so thankful for the soldiers and police officers, past and present, who have chosen to defend and protect---and by choosing that route, they know they may face AK-47s and weapons that can shoot multiple bullets before ever reloading. What a sacrifice they choose for others’ safety. God bless them. But here’s the thing, as a teacher, I never made that choice; I did not sign up for that. Our teachers today haven’t made that choice, nor have our students. This possibility of a shooting in a school building from a weapon that can wound and kill many people in mere minutes shouldn’t be possible. Simply having to go through a shooter drill, having to experience a lockdown, having to hear about students and teachers dealing with colleagues and friends murdered simply because they went to school----this alone is traumatizing. And these drills are not something we should have to practice. It isn’t something one just shakes off, and I pray to God, it doesn’t become our new “normal.”
On Friday, I was thinking of the other school shootings in just this past year where students and adults have died, and how a common response is “You are in our thoughts and prayers.” And that led me to today’s Gospel. Because I think Jesus is saying something to us today about “thoughts and prayers.”
Jesus tells us about our need to pray always and, as today’s translation puts it: not to lose heart. The Greek here can also be translated as not to have a loss of hope-----or a loss of courage (because of course courage and heart come from the same word). Another fun translation is not to be remiss or not to be slothful, idle or inactive.
So, what exactly do we promise when we say: You will be in our thoughts and prayers? Does it mean anything more than “I’ll think good thoughts and ask God to take care of you?” I think Jesus is telling us: Yes, Yes, it means more. Jesus tells us not to have a loss of courage…..not to be remiss or negligent….not to be idle and inactive. Instead, our prayer should help us to have the courage…..the courage to take the action or actions needed to not only heal the wounded, but to end the injustice.
Let’s look at this parable Jesus tells today. One way to “listen” to the Word is to ask: where is God in the story? Where am I…where is humanity in this story?
What if this judge---who doesn’t revere or obey God and who doesn’t have respect for others…..what if this judge is us---humanity? What if we are the ones who sit in judgment of others, the ones whose lives do not show reverence to God, the ones who do not have respect for others? Jesus goes even further and says this judge is “unjust” using the Greek word: adikias which means unjust, unrighteous, vicious, deceitful…..” Maybe the simplest way to think of unrighteousness and injustice is any way of being or acting which opposes or works against God’s plan for abundant living for all of Creation. And then, friends, then I think we can safely say that all too often humanity fits this description.
And if humanity is this unjust judge….what if that persistent widow is God. God who repeatedly and persistently comes and knocks on the judge’s heart saying: Get justice for me! Get justice for me.
Get justice and enact righteousness on the issues of gun violence and school shootings. God knocks persistently, asking us to grant justice against God’s opponents of poverty, homelessness, warfare, refugees and immigrants being kept in cages, racism, white supremacy, our climate crisis and the disappearance of entire animal species, incarceration for profit, bullying, and the genocide of indigenous peoples…..Beloved, the list is far too long. And God is knocking; God is calling out: Grant me justice against my opponent!”
Beloved, do not lose heart for as the Talmud states, "Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
Jesus promises us that God hears our cries, day and night, and God works for justice with swiftness.
And today, Beloved, Jesus asks us, we who are God’s living agents of justice in the world today, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.