Persistence

20 October 2013
Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 24C (RCL)
Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 3:14 — 4:5
Luke 18:1-8

Again, we have an optimistic oracle from Jeremiah. For all his doom-saying before the fall of Jerusalem, once it was a reality, he changed his tone. Now, he foretells of a time when God will restore the people, and will not need to make a covenant with them like the old covenant, which promised blessings if they obeyed and curses if they disobeyed. Now, instead, God will write the divine law on our hearts, and each of us will suffer the consequences of our own refusals of God’s love, rather than the consequences extending out through the generations. No longer will the mediation of a priesthood be required to teach the community to know the Lord, for we will all know the ways of the Lord. Jeremiah certainly couldn’t have foreseen (in the same way he foresaw the disaster) the return from Exile, but holds out a hope for an ultimate restoration. We are still waiting.

The author of the second letter to Timothy tells him to be persistent in his oversight of the community entrusted to him, in good times and bad. Hardship cannot be the excuse for us to abandon what we know of the divine ways. It takes the whole community working together to maintain the vision of God’s restoration. We may all know the Lord, but we need to remind each other of that vision, convince each other it is possible and encourage each other to continue to dream it.

The Gospel reading (among others) is often misused to tell us that if we just pray hard enough, we will get what we ask for. If it is read that way, it makes God into a callous judge, and us into nags. The story is rather about justice. What comes to my mind is the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. During the military dictatorship in Argentina in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the government waged a “dirty war” against its critics. Thousands of people were “disappeared”. Beginning in 1977, the Mothers began to march in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires outside the presidential palace. They carried pictures of their disappeared children. Several of the mothers were disappeared for their troubles. But their activities brought international attention to the situation in Argentina, and helped lead to the eventual overthrow of the government.

I believe we are being encouraged, in this parable, to continue to stand against injustice in whatever form we find it. Our stand need not be dramatic. The mothers simply marched every Thursday with the pictures of their children. But we need to be persistent. In our situation, the need for persistence is as present as ever. It would be easy to throw up our hands in despair at the political gridlock that characterizes this country at the moment. But we need to convince, reprove and encourage one another to stand firm. We, like Jeremiah, may not be able to foresee the restoration God intends, but that does not free us from the obligation to testify. I think that is the meaning of the last sentence of the Gospel reading: when the son of Man comes, will he find faith(fulness) on the earth?

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