Reading Rambling – October 20, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 20, 2019

Texts: Genesis 32:22-30; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

Context: The readings today are readings of exhortation and encouragement to persist and persevere in faith with God. This, of course, presumes a God who not only can be persisted with but actually desires this and responds to such efforts. Such a God invites us into relationship, invites us to not give up on him, knowing that He never gives up on us.

Genesis 3:22-30 – Jacob is en route to reunite with his brother Esau. The two parted on less than friendly terms, and in the intervening 14 years, Jacob has good reason to wonder what sort of welcome he will receive from the elder brother he outsmarted many years ago with the help of his mother. Jacob has further received word that Esau approaches with a large war party of 400 men. What are his intentions? Jacob does not believe he can meet his brother with force. He prays to God to preserve his life, but will God do so? Alone in his worry and fear, he wrestles with God himself (the pre-incarnate Son of God, Jesus). In physical combat, a test of strength and will, Jacob perseveres until daybreak, never relenting, even when he is defeated. It is God’s good pleasure to allow Jacob to persevere that He might bless him for being willing to so persist. After such an encounter, should Jacob fear Esau any longer, or anyone for that matter? He is a changed man. Changed not only in his limp, but in his wonder and amazement at being invited to grapple with God himself.

Psalm 121 – A song of trust and confidence in God. Who created us? Who holds our lives in his hand? What is there to fear when we trust in God as the sole determiner of our lives? Regardless of our situation or how dire circumstances, we know that God alone determines the outcome. If He desires to save you, who can prevail against you?

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 – Having reminded Timothy of how bad things have yet to get, Paul once again exhorts his protege to faithfulness. The depravity of humanity, both currently and in the future, is no reason for Timothy to lose faith. Paul has suffered greatly and repeatedly for proclaiming the Gospel – but God has preserved him from all the efforts to silence him. Likewise Timothy should not be fearful of whatever persecution he might have to face. His faith should be grounded in the Word of God, the truth of God as revealed in sacred Scripture (which at this point was the Old Testament primarily). Timothy is not simply to read the Word for personal edification but to preach it. Boldly. Persistently. Not angrily but in love, not hurriedly but patiently and carefully. He will find eventually that people don’t want to hear the Word of God because they prefer their own ideas about things, but that is not to deter him from his task of preaching the Word. He is to persevere because this is his task, his calling from God, and he must remain faithful to it and not conclude his worth or value in terms of how many people are listening to it.

Luke 18:1-8 – This parable is at first glance difficult to make sense of. How is Jesus comparing God the Father with an unrighteous judge? It seems to make no sense! This parable follows Jesus’ teaching about the coming kingdom of God. Here as in other places, Jesus makes it clear that there will be a delay between his current, incarnate work and the final judgment and revelation of the kingdom of God in fullness. Delays are difficult things, though! We are by nature impatient, and how are we to spend our time in the meantime? How do we negotiate the difficulties of life until our Lord returns? Luke gives us the key to this in his introduction, as though he knows it’s a perplexing parable and doesn’t want us to be unduly put off by it. The important thing is that we pray. The exhortation to always pray does not non-stop prayer, but rather repeated, consistent, persistent prayer. We are to be persistent in prayer as Jacob was persistent in clinging to Jesus, or as Timothy is to be persistent in proclaiming the Word regardless of whether anyone seems to be listening or not. We are to pray persistently that Thy kingdom come, as the Lord’s prayer puts it.

To drive this point home, Jesus sets up an unlikely confrontation. The judge has all the power in this situation, culturally. Moreover, he is an unjust judge, and fears neither the wrath of God or the opinions of man. What can a lowly widow do against such a man? If he will not give her justice out of obedience to God, and if he won’t give her justice in order to preserve his reputation with his neighbors, how can she expect to ever prevail? Yet she does not give up. She is persistent! And in the end, it turns out the judge does care somewhat about what others think – he grants the widow’s plea so that she does not give him a black eye, does not make him look bad. If he actually does care about what others think of him, is there a chance he might actually fear God as well?

The comparison between God the Father and the judge is not in terms of unjustness. If an unscrupulous judge is capable of granting justice to a persistent widow, how much more will a gracious, merciful and loving God hear the prayers of his persistent faithful? How much more certain is it that He will indeed respond, will indeed fulfill his promise, will indeed bring his kingdom in power and glory?

Is this our faith, though? Or have we given up and lost interest, presuming God’s timing remains indefinitely off in the future, another thousand years or more? The final question drives home the importance of persistence. We don’t quit praying for our Lord’s return because we don’t quit hoping for it and looking for it. We don’t allow it to be a back-burner sort of reality for us, but rather a real and present reality for us every day, a reality that drives how we conduct ourselves in loving God and loving our neighbor. In this reality, we pray and wait and are faithful for our Lord’s arrival, in his good and perfect timing.

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