Monday, October 21, 2013

Justice, Faith, and the Law

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

"When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?"

This is a compelling and somewhat awkward question given that the parable of the judge and the widow seems to have more to do with persistence than with faith.  Yet it is a colossal mistake to read into this parable any notion that we will always get what we want if only we are persistent in our prayers - because the key word in this parable is "justice", and it is the ideal upon which the entire parable hinges; "justice", not "personal desire".  In other words, the Lord's Way and not our own.

The widow was persistent as she "kept coming" to demand "justice against my opponent", but it must also be assumed the widow had a legitimate beef in the first place; that in the fullest sense of the word, real "justice" had been denied her.  It would not do for our Lord to use an entitlement-minded chronic complainer who simply did not get her own way as a positive example of our "need to pray always and not lose heart"; that in the face of persecution, in whatever form that absence of justice may take, true justice will one day be restored.  We just don't know when that day will come nor can we demand that day on our own terms or in our own time strictly by persistent prayer. 

It must also be noted the judge did not simply give in to the widow's personal demands.  Rather, as it is written, "I will grant her justice."  And yes, as it pertains to the parable itself, there is a profound difference because depending on the actual case before the judge (we are not told what the complaint was in the first place), the truly "just" ruling may not have favored her.  So it seems inferred the widow had a "just" claim.

We often think the world would be a much better place if everyone would just go along and get along, but there is a crucial component missing in such a foolish notion that would pretend such a concept would ever work, let alone become a human reality according to human standards.  Looking at the hot mess that is the United States Congress, we can clearly see that 535 "alpha" minds between the House and the Senate representing 535 different constituencies and agendas will never fully agree on anything. 

The crucial component missing in that human dynamic, the crucial component often missing in the Church itself, the crucial component that is inferred in the parable is - DIVINE WILL.  Of course there are many who have convinced themselves they are doing the Lord's work (because their personal desire for whatever they seek for themselves is so intense), but Jesus teaches that "not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven ... I will declare 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness'" (Matthew 7:21-23).  Righteousness and justice transcend the false idea that we need only know Jesus' name or call Him "Lord" in an empty prayer. 

Thus it is written in 1 John 3:4: "Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness."  The absence of justice.  St. Paul writes to the Galatians that "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law" (5:18) even though he follows this statement with a list of behaviors which are specifically prohibited by The Law.  Yet St. Paul also writes to the Romans: "Do we overthrow the Law by faith?  By no means!  On the contrary, we uphold the Law" (3:31).

Righteousness and justice are clearly defined by the Law according to One Divine Standard rather than many human standards, so it is a rather disingenuous argument to suggest faith and The Law become somehow disconnected and incompatible in the New Covenant - for this reason: Jesus IS the Law (Matthew 5:17).  So faith in Jesus as Messiah, the anointed One of the Lord our God, is faith in The Word, the same and very Word that was "with God in the beginning".  One Eternal God.  One Eternal Word.  Not an Old (or "obsolete") Testament Word opposed to a New (or improved) Testament Word. 

Anything less than this One Standard is "polytheism" - that is, belief in multiple gods, more than one deity often with conflicting standards.  When we try to pretend that "faith, justice, and the Law" are incompatible according to different covenantal standards or that they have no meaning apart from "being saved", we pit the Holy Father against Jesus of Nazareth as if Jesus Himself can or did rewrite or throw out altogether The Law. And yet, just as we are shown through Jesus' very life, it is not only possible but required that The Law be upheld by and with "great grace".  Not shallow "excuses" as "God understands me" but rather allowances and patience for time to come to one's spiritual senses.

If this parable is read carefully enough, we should see the promise of vindication for the faithful not for the sake of any individual plea but for the sake of justice itself, the true restoration of the Holy Kingdom.  We would also see a tension that pits the coming "true justice" against the current emptiness by which justice can never be truly measured or upheld by fickle human standards: the absence of faith - unqualified trust - in our Lord.  That we claim to believe the Lord is coming and will restore His Just Kingdom is not the question as it pertains to persistence in our faith and "not losing heart".  Rather the question is - will our faith be part of His Solution, or is our lack of faith part of the existing problem?  Only a fool would suggest there is no problem.  An even greater fool who claims Christ as Lord would suggest "it is not MY problem".

The psalmist writes, "Oh, how I love Your Law!  It is my meditation all day long" (119:97).  That is, every waking moment is devoted to The Word not only in its written form but also in daily living.  And our Lord Jesus says, "Will not God grant justice to His chosen ones who cry to Him day and night?"  If there is no reading and meditation of the Word, there can be no appropriation or appreciation of the Word; for the Word does much more than simply call out Jesus' name, and it is much more than simply being "religious" or "spiritual".  It is about BEING Christ in the world today which is the Holy Church. 

This is "justice, faith, and the Law".  They each require response, and they each demand complete devotion "all day long" - for they each represent the Word; the Word which existed before the birth of Messiah and yet the Word "which became flesh and dwelt among us".  The Word of God for and in the people of God - and yes, even for the people who do not yet know our Holy Father! 

The witness of the Truth, the witness of "justice, faith, and the Law" moves far beyond simply inviting people to "know" Jesus' name.  They need to know what Jesus represents.  They need to "see" Jesus in us.  They need to "see" the Word manifest in our daily living.  They need to see that we believe it enough to actually "do" it, to embrace it, to revel in it, to rejoice in it, to live it each and every day of our lives inside and outside the Church. 

WE need it, too!  When life beats up on us, when the world tries to convince us we have no intrinsic value, when we feel we have nowhere to turn, when we feel we are standing alone against the tide of secularism and popular culture inside AND outside the Church, we need to know we can depend on one another - or the Church crumbles.  It does not do well for anyone to discover we are only butting heads with someone who, like the judge in the parable, "neither fears God nor has respect for people" - especially if that someone is inside the Church.  

The promise of the parable is that the Lord will one day come and make right the many wrongs which should have never have been allowed or ignored by the people of God in the first place.  And in that Day our Lord's question will be answered: whether there is "faith on earth".

In the Revelation it is written: "I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the Throne, and books were opened.  Also another book was opened, the Book of Life.  And the dead were judged according to their works as recorded in the books ... and all were judged according to what they had done ... and anyone whose name was not found written in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:12-15).

We must not allow ourselves to be deceived by cheap grace and expressionless theology that professes empty prayers and hollow promises of Something from Him for nothing from us.  Faith is much more than an acknowledgement of a concept.  Faith defines the character of the whole person.  Faith is a life devoted to Christ in Word AND in works!  Let our Lord find this upon His return, so that we may find Life Eternal in Him.  Amen.

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