Summary: When Jesus tells a parable about a widow who engages in a tireless campaign to get the justice she deserves, he offers an illustration of Christian faith. In the parable, the woman continually beseeches an unjust judge who finally grants her requests because he grows tired of her endless appeals. The parable associates Christian faith with an unflagging commitment to see justice become a reality. Christian faith complains about injustice and advocates for those who need justice. Faith does so because it takes God’s promises seriously, believing that God is indeed a God of justice. This depiction of faithful advocacy is especially important to consider during election season. Christians can advocate for candidates who will create just laws and policies, but Christians also equip themselves to persist in advocacy after elections are complete.
Category: ON Scripture–The Bible
Summary: When Jesus heals a woman’s debilitating and oppressive spinal condition on the sabbath, his action draws a rebuke. His sharp retort to his critics implies that his action was totally appropriate, since honoring the sabbath entails reiterating God’s commitment to freedom from oppression. The theological logic that drives this passage and justifies Jesus’ urgent concern for the anonymous woman’s well-being resonates with what Martin Luther King Jr. argues in his famous book Why We Can’t Wait. Well-meaning religious people seem to have a habit of impeding God’s commitment to justice and liberation. Our problem goes beyond ignorance or a lack of compassion. Sometimes our theology, security, and idealism are to blame. We need to rediscover the priorities to which God is committed, such as delivering people from suffering.
Summary: The book of Acts tells a story about two traveling evangelists, Paul and Silas, as they encounter severe resistance in Philippi, a Roman colony. After the pair are dubiously accused, savagely beaten, and shamefully incarcerated, an earthquake miraculously frees them from their chains and cells. What might look like a story of supernaturally aided escape is really a story about vindication, a means of God exposing the futility of Roman attempts to obstruct the preaching of the gospel. The whole scene has a burlesque quality to it, for its aim is to expose the powerlessness and peevishness of an imperial culture that sets itself up to resist God’s presence, with violence if necessary. The passage speaks about more than ancient Roman realities, however, for its portrait of imperial abuses looks uncomfortably similar to the ways in which modern societies protect their interests and prerogatives. In the end, the story suggests that God offers a different reality, one beyond our ways of suppressing outsiders and clinging desperately onto our attempts at self-preservation.
Summary: According to the book of Acts, when the temple-based authorities in Jerusalem command Peter and his associates to stop preaching and teaching about Jesus in public, the apostles refuse. With a pithy reply, “We must obey God rather than any human authority,” they declare their intention to honor their spiritual convictions no matter what consequences may result. The apostles’ heroic and bold resolve stands in a long tradition in which people have pondered when it is right to insist on honoring one’s conscience in the face of political and legal pressure to do otherwise. Given the contours of the current cultural discourse in America, when many are quick to demand laws and concessions that respect their “religious liberty,” this episode from Acts and the travails of other Christians who have paid a price for resisting tyranny remind us how we should conceive of “religious liberty” in the first place. Such liberty in a civil society should not become a license to do whatever one wants or a legal basis to deny rights and hospitality to others. Rather, it is a free determination to do what’s necessary to promote our neighbors’ well-being, even if those actions invite uncomfortable repercussions.
Summary: Mary, the mother of Jesus, responds to what she has been told about her son with a bold declaration about God’s habit of overturning the status quo. Mary speaks about God as one who will not let powerless and discarded people remain trapped in those conditions. Her words offer more than wishful hope or religious platitudes; they restlessly and impatiently urge God to spring into action. Listening to Mary respond to her pregnancy has particular poignancy for Christians during Advent: she rouses us into action and expectation. This passage also can help citizens of certain nations think about the long-running war our countries continue to wage, leading us to consider its costs and burdens and to join God in God’s commitment to fostering a different kind of existence.
Summary: Political campaigns and commencement ceremonies seem designed to rouse feelings of hope from within us, giving us the energy and courage to move toward a better future. But when the Apostle Paul speaks about hope, he anchors it solely in God’s determination to deliver us from the decay and oppression wrought by sin and death. We know this divine determination because of what God has done through Jesus Christ and because God continues to be among us in the Holy Spirit, restlessly groaning in concert with all creation to express dissatisfaction with the status quo.
Summary: When terrified women flee Jesus’ tomb on the first Easter morning, Mark’s Gospel comes to a jarring end, refusing to let us forget that the prospect of Jesus’ resurrection will deeply unsettle us. This Gospel seems to know that we view Easter from a place situated between hope and fear, between disappointment and fullness. What propels us forward, as we live in the midst of uncertainties and events that remind us how beyond control our lives are, is the promise that Jesus continues to go before us.
Summary: The Christian church in Corinth was divided over the question of whether Christians could eat meat that had come from sacrifices to Greek deities. Paul tells them to eat whatever they want but not if doing so would trample the consciences of those in the community who might be enticed back into old idolatrous practices. His words raise questions of what it means to be strong, what it means to be weak, and what it means to pursue unity and mutual harmony. In our American context, in which we’re enticed to equate strength with dominance, Paul’s words encourage us think about our cultural values and how they affect our understanding of what we expect God to be like.
Summary: Jesus’ Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids is one of several parables in Matthew’s Gospel that describe the Christian life as actively anticipating God’s promise to bring God’s intentions to fullness. This anticipation involves a readiness that manifests itself in perseverance, obedience, and compassion. It leads Christians to action on behalf of those who suffer, especially those who suffer exclusion.
Summary: Jesus tells a parable about two sons, neither one of whom lives up to what he says, to show that true, life-giving devotion shows itself in efforts to participate in God’s work on behalf of the world’s well-being. We might respond by thinking about ways to participate in God’s work to improve the lives of our neighbors.