simple white fading png image
widow

Ordinary 29

Order of Service

Weekly Bible Study Notes and Worship Resources for Ordinary 29

Year C, Colour = Green

picture of a persistant widow

Introduction


In today's Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about an unjust judge and a poor widow woman. Luke tells us that the purpose of the parable is to remind the disciples about the need for persistence in prayer and in their lives. We are supposed after reading this parable to be brought to a point of asking ourselves the question, 'Am I the kind of Christian who is characterised by faithful endurance.'

The story is full of the contrasts which so often leap out of the ministry of Jesus. On one side there is the judge, who has all the power on his side, on the other side we see the woman, who doesn't even have a male relative to do her pleading for her, she is at the bottom of the pecking order. However she does manage to get what she wants, by sheer persistence. The judge, whose title and position arise out of the need to administer justice, doesn't actually care about justice at all. He just wants a quiet life. The woman, on the other hand, is determined that right will be done, and she is not going to give up until it is. She ignores her own low status compared to that of the judge; she ignores all the conventions of when it is proper to approach the judge with her requests; she just goes on and on. She is convinced of the rightness of her cause and so she will not be content with a cursory brush off.

In what ways does God call us to strive for justice and peace this week? It may be in our business practices, or in the way we treat others, especially those less fortunate than ourselves. It will most certainly be in the way that we pray for an end to the suffering of people around the world tormented by war and terrorism. And when we do behave like this, we behave in a God-like way. We make ourselves available, and God uses us. It may be that we as Christians have something important for the whole world to hear as it races towards self-destruction. How persistent are we in seeking God's help in making known a better way for our world. The passage finishes with a warning that Jesus will return and that he expects his followers to be living lives which are prepared.

Opening Verse of Scripture - Psalm 119:89

Your word, O LORD , is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures.

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters, we do also for you. Give us the will to be servants of others as you were the servant of all; for you gave up your life and died for us, but live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever Amen

First Bible Reading - Genesis Chapter 32:22-31

That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.

After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, 'Let me go, for it is daybreak.' But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered. Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." Jacob said, "Please tell me your name." But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared."  The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.  

Second Reading - 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

Gospel Reading -  Luke 18:1-8

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.' "For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!' " And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" 

Post Communion Prayer

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Commentary

The story today of the widow and the unjust judge shows two extremes of power. The judge is a senior male in a male dominated society. The widow is not only female, she is without any sources of power. As a widow she had no means of support, she would be facing financial ruin and the loss of her possessions. A widow could not inherit her husband's estate and they were dependent on the compassion of the community. The fact that the woman appears by herself in court means that she has no male relative to speak for her.  She is totally powerless and poor.  Widows are symbols of vulnerability in the Bible. The are many passages in the Bible which give instructions to consider the needs of widows, orphans, and strangers. (Exodus 22:22-24; Deuteronomy 10:18-19; 24:17-21; 27:19; Luke 20:47; Acts 6:1-6; 1 Timothy 5:3-5). We are not told exactly what the circumstances the widow found herself. Whatever her situation she would have some grounds for expecting that the judge would listen to her and act to give her justice.

Sadly, the reason why these instructions to care for widows are repeated so often, is probably because nobody ever took much notice of them. It is most often the poor and weak who are exploited and taken advantage of because they can do little about it. It is interesting to note the politicians of all parties who are currently stating the importance of ensuring that in a time of financial tightening in our own society, we must try and protect those who are most vulnerable and weak. The challenge is how to do that when their voice is not the strongest. The temptation is always to listen to those who can shout the loudest.

Jesus as we know sided with the poor and the weak and the oppressed. In Luke chapter 20 he says
'Beware of the teachers of the law, they like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplace and have the important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. They devour widows houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely’

Was this widow facing the same fate?  Perhaps following the death of her husband the vultures came by to devour the estate leaving her unjustly deprived. Clearly the widow feels aggrieved with a sense of injustice she cries out to the judge
'Grant me justice against my adversary’

The judge is very powerful, he has the fate of others in his hands. He is at the other end of the power scale to the widow. No doubt the judge was busy, he would have had other things on his mind, there would be more important people calling for their needs to be considered. It was much easier to ignore the widow who was weak and defenceless. So she suffered, having no means to force his attention, no male, no money, no power. However the widow will not take ‘no’ for an answer. She never gives up, she follows the judge, she pursues him and becomes like a stalker! No doubt she went to his house, followed him to the shops and his friends would have seen what was going on.

Eventually the judge and acknowledges that whilst he has no change of heart towards the widow, he will act for the widow, simply because he has become completely fed up of her making a nuisance of herself. We are told that she bothers him so much that she might wear him out. The word which is used for ‘wear him out’ is hupopiaze, and it comes from the world of boxing and refers to striking someone under the eye.  The judges is saying that the widow is making such a nuisance of herself that he realises that she must be listened to before she gives him a black eye. The judge is worried about his reputation and the expression ‘blackeye’ means that this is what she is capable of destroying. If he fails to act he will look foolish in the community. The widow has no money or status, she appears weak and yet she has discovered power in perseverance. That is what this parable is about, discovering that those who persevere, who endure all that life throws at them, will win out in the end.

Put this parable into a Christian context and we realise the importance which Jesus attaches to perseverance in the face of adversity. Think of what those early Christians would have thought when they read this parable as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. These were Christians who were persecuted and powerless, awaiting the return of the Lord, disappointed that he had not already appeared. The words of Jesus as recorded by Luke would have given them encouragement to continue to keep the faith and walk in the way of Christ. The message was clear, if the dishonest judge, worried about his reputation, would eventually give justice to the widow who persevered, could not God be relied upon to be faithful to his words. God’s reputation was significantly better than that of a corrupt judge, there was no question of God defaulting on promises made to his people. The questions therefore is not whether God will fulfill his promises, but whether his people would be capable of perseverance to endure until he came. This explains why the end of this parable is about the return of Jesus. Look at the last sentence it asks,

‘Will the Son of Man find faith on earth when he returns.’

The assumption is that Christians must endure the sorrows and trials of this world. They will not be immune from the tribulations of human life, the very faith which they confess might lead to greater suffering and trials. Neverthless, the Christians must remain faithful, they must not quit and give up, they must have the substance to remain true, whatever adversity might come a long. One of my favourite prayers is by John Henry Newman (1801-90)

Support us, O Lord, all the day long, of this troublous life.
until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over,
and our work is done.
Then Lord, in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest,
and peace at the last, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The reason why I like this prayer is because it is honest about the realities of life and the troubles which befall God's people. This recognises the realities of life in exactly the same way that Jesus does in the parable. There will be difficulties ahead, so will we persevere through to the end?

The widow found justice from an unjust judge who was worried about his reputation. The reputation of God is of far more importance and he will not ignore the plight of his people. It the reassurance of the character of God which is our motivation never to lose heart and continue to press on in prayer for the establishment of God’s kingdom of justice on earth. Charles Royden

Meditation

“In Lectio Divina (Holy reading) we offer ourselves to God; and we are people in motion. In ancient times this inner spiritual motion was described as a helix - an ascending spiral. Viewed in only two dimensions it appears as a circular motion back and forth; seen with the added dimension of time it becomes a helix, an ascending spiral by means of which we are drawn ever closer to God. The whole of our spiritual lives were viewed in this way, as a gentle oscillation between spiritual activity and receptivity by means of which God unites us ever closer to Himself. In just the same way the steps or stages of lectio divina represent an oscillation back and forth between these spiritual poles. In lectio divina we recognize our underlying spiritual rhythm and discover many different ways of experiencing God's presence - many different ways of praying.” (Fr Luke Dysinger)

Hymns

  1. Ye holy angels bright
  2. Will you anchor hold in the storms of life
  3. Lord Jesus Christ
  4. At the name of Jesus

Prayers for Sunday and the week aheadrepresentation of prayer as seed growing


"Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian.
If it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die."

Take from me, O Lord, all desire for worldly praise and all uncontrolled anger and remorse. Give to me a humble and lowly heart, and a mind tender with kindness and compassion. Grant to me also, good Lord, fullness of faith, firmness of hope and fervency of love, that my one desire may be conformity to your gracious will; through Christ our Lord. Amen Thomas More, 1478-1535

May we sow seeds of justice, may we nurture holy visions. May we harvest gentle wisdom, may patience be our grain. Make we mix in grain and courage, may we kindle the fires of truth. May we share the bread of healing. May god’s banquet fill each hand. Amen

On leaving this place, may the worship not end, nor the presence of God feel taken away. On leaving this place, may we not forget the holiness of worship. On leaving this place, may we always remember that we go to live among people created by God. On leaving this place, may we carry the music of God within us and proclaim His glory as we go. Amen

Bless all of us Marthas, Lord as we prepare the meals and do the laundry and struggle with the shopping. Bless all of us Marys, Lord, as we study late at night, and love the times of worship and treasure silence. Bless the Lazarus within us, Lord, dead to the world, curled up in a private tomb. Call us out, give us life and bless us. Amen (Bernard Thorogood)

Additional Resources

Introduction

Do you read the Bible? The Bible is an astonishing collection of writings compiled over 3 thousand years and it tells the story of how we have come to learn more about God. From the stories of the creation of Israel until the coming of God himself in the person of Jesus, it is a fascinating journey of religious discovery. From the Bible we can learn a great deal about the best ways to live and serve God in the world. The mistakes of kings who committed adultery and murder are contrasted with the heroic deeds of ordinary people like the poor widow who generously gave of her meagre resources. We are encouraged in the Bible to think of others, to be forgiving and kind, these are qualities which are world deeply needs.

Commentary

I was telephoned on my mobile recently by somebody complaining that I had not answered their Email. I apologised and asked when the Email was sent, it transpired that the unanswered Email had been sent four hours earlier, during which time I had not been home to visit the machine of slavery which my computer has now become. A few years ago a letter would have been sent to me, this was then delivered by the postman after a day or so. It would have been opened the following day, or the day after that, leisurely, perhaps over a cup of tea and piece of toast. Now things have changed in the working environment, we are all inundated with Emails, they demand instant satisfaction. This is progress we are told, but I am not really sure. We have become more demanding and intolerant and we demand instant gratification for our needs. This might be considered a good thing, but regardless of your point of view, one outcome has been that we are less able to understand long term goals and commitments. if it doesn’t happen now and quickly, then we loose interest. Things seem to me to be more shallow and lacking in commitment. many people want instant results in everything, jobs, wealth, success and yes, even relationships. There is less willingness to persevere and make sacrifices, indeed those two words are less and less appealing as each year goes by. People do not want to persevere any more and sacrifice is considered a bad thing. The result of this is that often people give up and don’t make the effort which really important things sometimes need. Many couples will end a relationship rather than work at it.

This sounds like a rant more than a commentary but the point is very pertinent to the readings. Paul encourages Timothy to persevere in his faith as he goes through a difficult ministry. He must stick at it in season and out of season. Jesus speaks about the value of persistence, a widow is rewarded for perseverance in her appeal for vindication against an adversary. Commitment, perseverance, these are old fashioned values which do not chime with our current demand for instant gratification which quickly looses interest. True happiness and fulfilment sometimes requires endeavour and it is often only as we go through the hardships and trauma, that we develop as individuals and in our relationships.

This is as true for our spiritual and prayer life as it is for our human relationships. We persevere knowing that something worth having is worth the effort, and worth as much effort as is necessary for as long as it takes. Our prayers are just the same, they may take a considerable time to be answered in any way which we recognise as God’s purpose. Yet if they are worth praying, then they are worth waiting for and doing all within our power to make succeed.

There is a real danger that as members of the first generation which has ‘enjoyed’ the benefits of Email, we may start to think that God is just sitting there at his computer waiting to send one back by return. Failure to receive that instant answer will therefore lead to disappointment and frustration. Luke tells us that the purpose of the parable is to remind the disciples about the need for persistence in prayer and in their lives. We are supposed after reading this parable to be brought to a point of asking ourselves the question,

The story is full of the contrasts which so often leap out of the ministry of Jesus. On one side there is the judge, who has all the power on his side, on the other side we see the woman, who doesn't even have a male relative to do her pleading for her, she is at the bottom of the pecking order. However she does manage to get what she wants, by sheer persistence. The judge, whose title and position arise out of the need to administer justice, doesn't actually care about justice at all. He just wants a quiet life. The woman, on the other hand, is determined that justice be done, and she is not going to give up until it is. She ignores her own low status compared to that of the judge; she ignores all the conventions of when it is proper to approach the judge with her requests; she just goes on and on. She is convinced of the rightness of her cause and so she will not be content with a cursory brush off.

We know, of course, that God is not like the unjust judge of the parable; but the implication is that if such a wicked man will give in when he tires of the widow's pleas, then surely a just, merciful, and loving God will be that much swifter to answer our prayers. God is not devoid of morality like the judge, he is compassionate and more caring than we can imagine, hence our prayers do not fall on deaf ears. God is only too willing for us to come before him in prayer and seek out justice. When we pray and mean it, tremendous resources are set free in our world and this is how real lasting change can take place.

Faithfulness in prayer and the commitment of our lives as we seek to live out our prayers, is a hallmark of Christian ministry for all of us. Charles Royden

Commentary

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about an unjust judge and a poor widow woman. Luke tells us that the purpose of the parable is to remind the disciples about the need for persistence in prayer and in their lives. We are supposed after reading this parable to be brought to a point of asking ourselves the question, 'Am I the kind of Christian who is characterised by faithful endurance.'

The story is full of the contrasts which so often leap out of the ministry of Jesus. On one side there is the judge, who has all the power on his side, on the other side we see the woman, who doesn't even have a male relative to do her pleading for her, she is at the bottom of the pecking order. However she does manage to get what she wants, by sheer persistence. The judge, whose title and position arise out of the need to administer justice, doesn't actually care about justice at all. He just wants a quiet life. The woman, on the other hand, is determined that right will be done, and she is not going to give up until it is. She ignores her own low status compared to that of the judge; she ignores all the conventions of when it is proper to approach the judge with her requests; she just goes on and on. She is convinced of the rightness of her cause and so she will not be content with a cursory brush off.

We know, of course, that God is not like the unjust judge of the parable; but the implication is that if such a wicked man will give in when he tires of the widow's pleas, then surely a just, merciful, and loving God will be that much swifter to answer our prayers. God is not devoid of morality like the judge, he is compassionate and more caring than we can imagine, hence our prayers do not fall on deaf ears. God is only too willing for us to come before him in prayer and seek out justice. When we pray and mean it, tremendous resources are set free in our world and this is how real lasting change can take place.

So we have to ask whether we give in to convenience and the desire for a quiet life. Faithfulness in prayer and the commitment of our lives as we seek to live out our prayers, is a hallmark of Christian ministry for all of us. Have we dropped the stringent demands of the gospel, or are we faithful? The widow was persistently pleading in this parable for justice. God calls us all to further the cause of justice in this world and to be on the side of those who cannot call for themselves. In this One World Week perhaps this is an excellent passage as it reminds us that we should all be committed to the process of justice and peace. Remember the words from the prophet Micah: "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."

In what ways does God call us to strive for justice and peace this week? It may be in our business practices, or in the way we treat others, especially those less fortunate than ourselves. It will most certainly be in the way that we pray for an end to the suffering of people around the world tormented by war and terrorism. And when we do behave like this, we behave in a God-like way. We make ourselves available, and God uses us. It may be that we as Christians have something important for the whole world to hear as it races towards self-destruction. How persistent are we in seeking God's help in making known a better way for our world. The passage finishes with a warning that Jesus will return and that he expects his followers to be living lives which are prepared. Charles Royden

 

Meditation: Flying further

At this time of year, we can see and hear flocks of geese as they fly in V-formation, migrating into Britain from Iceland or Russia. Scientists at California's University of Technology have used computers and flight simulators to show that flocks of geese fly in V-formation because that is the most energy-efficient way to fly. The air turbulence from the lead goose gives uplift to the two geese on either side. In turn, uplift is passed on to the geese further out in the V-formation. Each goose takes its turn to be leader, and then moves to rest on the outer edge of the V-shape. As the geese co-operate with one another, a flock can fly over 70% further than the same number of geese flying individually.

In times of difficulty, Lord, we appreciate the support and encouragement of others. In better times we feel stronger and more secure. Remind us then to co-operate with other people and look out for the needs of others, being ready to offer a smile, a word, and other support and encouragement. Amen.

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead.

The prayers this week may be especially suitable for One World Week

We pray for our nation and those set in authority over us and for all the rulers and nations of this world. We ask that you would endue them with your spirit of justice and of compassion that peace may prevail. Lord God, especially we ask, that all people may enjoy the benefits of this great world which you have created. We pray for a more equal sharing, that all may prosper and share the blessings which you pour out upon the world. Amen.

Father we are concerned about the world and its conflicts and we are fearful of the hatred and bitterness which causes such waste of human life. Bring peace to those who are anxious and may we learn your lessons of peace and forgiveness. We pray for those in other lands and in our own country also who experience injustice and oppression, for those who hunger and cannot find food, for those who thirst and have no drink.

Gracious God, you have richly blessed us and yet so often we fail to thank you for these blessings. Instead we focus on what bothers us, what afflicts us, and we cry out, not in faith, but in doubt. Lord when we become mired in anger and despair and help us to have a faith that perseveres.

Lord Jesus Christ, whose arms of love were stretched wide upon the cross so that all may come within your saving embrace; stretch forth in mercy the hands of your Church today that in its ministry of compassion we may enter again into the Kingdom of your justice and grace. Amen. Charles Henry Brent, 1862-1929

Additional Hymns

  1. All Hail the power of Jesu’s name!
  2. God’s spirit is in my heart.
  3. From all that dwell below the skies.
  4. Give to me, Lord, a thankful heart
  5. Father, who on man dost shower