So, tomorrow is the BIG DAY, when Canadians go to the polls. I have been mulling over the Collect in The Book of Common Prayer for an election, where we ask that God to “which guide and direct the minds of those who are called at this time to elect fit persons to serve in the Parliament… that in the exercise of their choice they may promote God’s glory and the welfare of this Dominion.” (BCP p. 50).
Not quite sure what you make of that prayer, and what it would mean for God to answer it. The prayer seems to be less about which party and which leader forms the next government, as it is about the the people doing the voting, who don’t vote out of self interest and along party lines, but under God’s guidance and direction, seek what glorifies Him and serves the common good. It’s a wonderful nonpartisan prayer, which puts God and others first.
Back in 1887, the English parliamentarian Lord Acton, in a letter to an Anglican Bishop of all people, penned the now famous words, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…” ‘
i wonder who he was talking about?
The history of the 20th century and our own bears out the truth of what Acton wrote.
We live in an age that is preoccupied with the acquisition of power.
As Gollum put in ‘The Lord of the
Rings’, “We wants it! We needs it! Must have the precious!”
Why is this?
Well, without power how are we ever going to manage and control things?
Without any power how are we ever going to make the world a better place?
Christians can be forgiven for regarding the modern project of acquiring power for the sake of making the world a better place, with deep suspicion. We have found that what this usually means is that somebody has to die. In the debate that took place in Jerusalem over what to do about Jesus, as recorded in John’s Gospel, Caiaphas the High Priest, addressed the gathering and said, “ Don’t you people know anything? Do you not know it is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to perish?” (John 11.49,50)
if it is better for one man to die, why not 10? And if not 10, why not 100? And of not 100, why not 1,000? And of not 1,000, why not one million? And on and on it goes… So what it was with Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and others of their ilk who regarded this as a price to be paid if we are to make the world a better place.
Christians, I think, can also be forgiven for taking elections and election results with a grain of salt. We recognize, as St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Christians in the Roman colony of Philippi, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3.20).
And we recognize, as St. John wrote in his greeting to the churches in the Book of Revelation, that Jesus Christ is “the faithful witness, the first born from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” ( Revelation 1.5a) We know who is really in charge. And to think that He didn’t get single vote… But God vindicated Him, by raising Him from the dead. And so we pray to Him for them, that is the kings, the presidents, prime ministers and emperors of the earth.
We also recognize as St. John also wrote, “He who loves us and has freed us from our sins, has made us (through baptism), into a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father” here on this earth. (Revelation 1. 5b,6)
Christians have no mandate from Jesus Christ to make the world a better place. So what do we have? Well, for starters, we have His commandments. And His commandments are that we should feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, to give shelter to travelers, visit the sick and the imprisoned, and to bury the dead. Jesus Christ has also commanded us to share and teach the faith passed on to us, to counsel the doubtful, to admonish the sinner, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive everyone for everything, to comfort the afflicted, and to pray for the living and the dead. lt’s precisely in through these practices that we share in the kingly rule of Jesus Christ on this earth, a rule which works paradoxically not through victory, but though defeat.
In addition to the commandments of Jesus, we also have the promise of Jesus, which we confess every Sunday in our Creed: “He will come again to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom, in which sin is eliminated and death destroyed, will have no end.” And it is this for which we pray, “Thy kingdom come.”
Which brings us to today’s Gospel lesson, where it seems the disciples had just about had it, and were on the verge of packing it in, as far as prayer and the promise of Jesus was concerned. We pray and pray and pray, “thy kingdom come thy will be done one earth as it is in heaven”, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference. We are not getting anywhere. So what’s the point?
The temptation to stop praying is a serious one. What happens when you stop praying? You lose heart. When you lose heart, you lose hope, when you lose hope, one of two things happen: You either take matters into your own hands, like Gollum, you end up “wanting the precious” or you end up taking your own life.
And so Jesus told them this parable about their need “to pray always and not to lose heart.” In this parable we have a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. Talk about being singularly unqualified for the bench. You think this judge is going to dispense justice? Not a chance.
In Jesus day’, the judge’s decision was final. There was no such thing as a court of appeal. His power was absolute. In such a system, with such a judge, what hope does a penniless, powerless widow have that the judge would right a wrong that has been committed against her?
Good luck with that. He didn’t bother to hear her case.
But she would not take no for an answer. She kept coming to Him, with her complaint, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For the longest time he ignored her. But then decided to rule in her favor. Was this on account of the justice of her cause? Not at all. She was wearing him out with her complaints. The phrase translated as “wear me out” comes from the world of boxing and refers to giving somebody a black eye. It’s quite a comical picture that Jesus paints here, not unlike what we see in the political cartoons of own day, in which public officials are lampooned.
The power of this story I think is two-fold. it speaks to the skewed perception we might have of God in the face of ongoing injustice, that God like the judge in our story God doesn’t hear and does doesn’t care about injustice. Nothing could be further form the truth. It also Speaks to the perception that the only way to get anything from God is by badgering Him. Nothing could be further from the truth. And the Lord said, “Will not God grant justice to his Chosen Ones who cry out to Him day and night? Will he delay in helping them? I tell you, He will quickly grant justice to them.”
What on earth might that mean for God to grant justice and grant it quickly?
Let’s say you were on the receiving end of some injustice. Let’s say something was stolen from you, like your innocence in childhood, which is quite probable, or let’s say, as an adult you were fired from your job without cause, which is something that typically happens at least once, if not twice or three times over the course of a career. You know that the hunger for justice is really a hunger for the bad, hurtful thing never to have happened in the first place. “The injustice is not created by the lack of punishment (for there are no truly “just” punishments). The injustice is created by the event itself — an event in which an innocent is made to suffer for no reason whatsoever.” (1)
What might it mean then for God to grant justice? What we see in the Gospel is that God’s justice is quite unlike human justice. The vision that emerges of God’s justice is one of universal mercy and forgiveness. “You have heard it said, an eye for eye, and tooth, but I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 538,39) “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.‘ But I say to you, Love your enemiesand pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5. 43-45)
Is this is not what was shown to us on the Cross? Is this not where God answered the widow’s prayer for justice?
And so for us to pray this morning, “Lord forgive”, and “Lord have mercy” is a prayer God is lightning quick to answer for the sake of His well beloved Son. In this His kingly rule is revealed in our midst.
As often happens in the parables, Jesus turns the table on us. Having spoken about our need “to pray always, to live with a sense of God’s presence and mercy, and not lose heart, Jesus leaves us with a question, “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on earth?” which is to say, “Will He find people trusting in, praying for and exhibiting His mercy?”
In the time it takes for us this morning to pray, Lord to have mercy upon us, and get up off our knees and come forward to receive the Holy Communion, Jesus’ question will have found it’s answer in us.
“He who testifies to things says, Amen, I am coming soon. Even so. Come Lord, Jesus.” (Rev. 22.20)