For Oct. 20, 2013: Proper 24, Year C

The Reading            Jeremiah 31:27-34

In this Sunday’s reading, from the closing chapters called the Book of Consolation, Jeremiah prophesies a new covenant, not written in stone but written on hearts because it is no longer between God and the nation as a whole but between God and each one of us.

The Response            Psalm 119:97-104

“I do not shrink from your judgments, because you yourself have taught me.”

The Epistle            2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

This Sunday’s second reading counsels the young church leader to continue in belief that is founded on faith in Jesus and to persist in proclaiming the message “with the utmost patience in teaching”. Those with “itching ears” can as well be those who insist on biblical literalism as those who never open the book.

The Gospel            Luke 18:1-8

“‘And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?’”

 

Further thoughts

This Sunday’s readings deliver mixed messages, comforting even as they make us squirm.

The last several weeks’ readings from the book of Jeremiah have cemented for us his reputation as “the weeping prophet”. This Sunday’s closing reading begins with a promise to repeople, as plentifully as wheat in a field, the lands of Israel and Judah that were deserted in the exile. In addition, in place of the covenant with the entire nation—which required good-faith performance on both sides, with the result that, when the leaders led badly, the whole operation went off the rails—the Lord is instituting a new covenant with each individual, written on each heart. Great news… except that I can no longer legitimately blame the government or my dysfunctional family or my lousy job for my failures to love God and all those around me: it’s now all on me.

Could that be too much? The selection from Psalm 119 praises the individual relationship with God, perhaps to the point of preening or the pride that goeth before a fall. Salvation is individual, but its means are communal, and its ends are also: notice how much of the hard work recommended in 2 Timothy is work in community.

The parable of the widow and the crooked judge is a tidy little package with its moral right there in the first line. Parables rarely work that way. With respect to God and others, I am surely the Widow Nobody, with no more right to salvation or others’ intervention than God and they give me, and therefore the onus is on me to express what I need and to keep expressing it. But I am also the crooked judge, well-bribed by the baubles of the world or my own sense of entitlement to ignore the expressed needs of those around me, and the onus is on me to reject the goodies in favor of listening and responding to the cries of all the other Widow Nobodies. And thus may the Son of Man find faith on earth.

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