Year C, Proper 24
Our lectionary texts this week contain three of my favorite scriptures, Jacob wrestling with God, the persistent widow with the unjust judge, and the instructions to a “young” minister in 2 Timothy. They all hold themes of persistence in relationship with God and the blessings of God’s hope and justice. Jeremiah 31 sets the stage for these themes and the psalms support them.
Jeremiah gives a blessings of hope to the struggling people of Israel. They have strayed from the ways of God and suffered the consequences in exile. But now God says through the prophet ”…this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). There is continued intimate relationship.
The story of Jacob in Genesis 32 is a similar story of persistence in relationship. Jacob betrayed covenants with God and re-covenanted with God. In the wrestling with God’s messenger, with God, Jacob receives a blessing in the form of a new name…he is transformed in some metaphorical and metaphysical way. And he walks away with physical limp. A reminders of his encounter. I have prayed this story with fervor in the midst of crisis….”I will not let you go unless you bless me!” A raw and audacious move, perhaps, in relationship with God, but this story gives me hope that out of wounding there will come blessings. And that has been my experience.
Jesus’ story of the persistent widow also illustrates a raw and audacious relationship with God in prayer and in action. I always chuckle when I read this story as I imagine the judge. I know stories from real life, and I bet you do too, of women who have persisted in this way against injustice. Jesus says to the people “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
God will bring justice and we need to be ready to meet it with faith. When we do blessings and justice multiply. The writer of 2 Timothy is encourages, challenges, charges the young minister, Timothy, to meet God’s faithfulness with faith. The word in this passage were given to me as a “young’, well a newly minted, minister at my ordination in 2004. A dear friend recited and preached this passage at the service and I will never forget them. I believe the sermon title was something like, “No Junk Food!” God’s very nature is to be persistent in relationship with us, with God’s people. The character of that relationship is unconditional love, abundance and unremitting justice for all people. God shows up and we meet God by always being sober, enduring suffering, doing the work of an evangelist, carrying out our ministry fully. We heed the call to “proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth….” (2Timothy 4:2-4a).
There are several stories I can recommend this week with the themes of justice and the hope in blessing through persistent relationship. The first two I recommend are the stories in Genesis and Luke. They work powerfully on the preacher’s soul as well as a congregation’s. Internalize the words. And proclaim them from your heart.
Here are a couple of other stories with the theme of justice from the website, Wisdom Commons, http://www.wisdomcommons.org/virtue/149-justice/parables
Of a Bell That Was Ordered in King John’s Days
In the days of King John of Acre [or Atri] a bell was hung for anyone to ring who had received a great wrong, whereupon the king would call together the wise men appointed for this purpose, in order that justice might be done. It happened that the bell had lasted a long time and the rope had wasted, so that a vine clung to it.
Now it befell that a knight of Acre had a noble charger which had grown old, so that it had lost its worth, and the knight, to avoid the expense of its keep, let it wander about. The famished horse tugged at the vine to eat it. As it tugged, the bell rang.
The judges assembled, and understood the petition of the horse who, it seemed, asked for justice. They sentenced that the knight whom the horse had served when it was young, should feed it now that it was old. The king commanded him to do so under grave penalties.[i]
The story of “The Bell of Atri,” which the poet, Longfellow, told so charmingly in his Tales of a Wayside Inn, is said to have originated in Eckhardtsberg, Germany, near Breisach.
In early days, when the ruins now crowning the hill were part of a strong fortress, the lord of Eckhardtsberg, wishing to render justice to all men, placed a bell in his tower. He fastened to it a long piece of rope which hung outside the gate, within easy reach of every hand, and bade all those who wished redress to ring it loudly, promising to grant them an immediate hearing.
One day the bell pealed loudly, and when in answer to its call the lord of Eckhardtsberg, followed by all his retainers, came out to hear the complaint, he was surprised to find a poor old horse, which, urged by hunger, was trying to chew the end of the hempen rope. One of the bystanders immediately recognized the horse as belonging to a neighboring knight. For many a year the horse had been his favorite steed, had borne him safely through many a fight, but now that it was old and useless the cruel master had turned it out to seek pasture along the highway, where it found but scant subsistence.
The lord of Eckhardtsberg, seeing the animal’s sorry plight, and hearing how faithfully it had served its master in the days of its youth, declared that in return for its former services it should now be treated with respect, and condemned the unfeeling, avaricious owner to give it a place in his stable and plenty of food as long as it lived.[ii]
At the website, StoryLovers, http://www.story-lovers.com/listsblessingstories.htmll, I found three stories of blessing that resonated with me. (And there are several other good ones as well!) The first is a delightful, though slightly long tale, “The Gifts of Wali Dad.” The version I found was retold by storyteller, Aaron Shepard and he offers it freely for telling. “Please feel free to use this adaptation in any live performance or broadcast. There is no need to ask me for permission — though I’d love to hear that you’re using it. To be placed on my email list for additional Gifts of Story, just send a request to the email address below. Aaron Shepard AaronShep@aol.com.” “The Gifts of Wali Dad is a tale of India and Pakistan that tells of Wali Dad who makes enough and is happy. Through his generosity he gets himself “in trouble” and ends up with showers of blessings [iii]. Here is the beginning…
“In a mud hut far from town lived an old grass-cutter named Wali Dad. Every morning, Wali Dad cut and bundled tall, wild grass. Every afternoon, he sold it as fodder in the marketplace. Each day, he earned thirty paisa. Ten of the small coins went for food. Ten went for clothes and other needs. And ten he saved in a clay pot under his bed. In this manner Wali Dad lived happily for many years. One evening, Wali Dad dragged out the pot to see how much money it held. He was amazed to find that his coins had filled it to the brim. ”What am I to do with all this money?” he said to himself. “I need nothing more than I have.” Wali Dad thought and thought. At last he had an idea. ….” Check it out at http://www.story-lovers.com/listsblessingstories.html .
The second story is “Saying Thank You With a Blessing” from Sidrah Stories: A Torah Companion by Steven M. Rosman. Briefly the story goes….“ Natan is making his way home to Beersheba after fighting against the Romans. He is out of water and food, and still has a long way to go in the searing desert. He sees a tree. is it a mirage? No, it is an apple tree. He throws himself under the tree’s shade and falls aleep. Upon awakening, he eats many apples. “Apple tree, you may not know it, but you have saved my life. What can I do to show my gratitude?” Natan has nothing…Eventually he thinks: “Who says I have nothing to give you?” Everyone has something to give, no matter how poor he is. A blessing! A blessing is a gift everyone has to give. After some rumination: My blessing is for all trees planted from your seeds to grow up as wonderful and as giving as you. The notes to the story say that this blessing is also called Birkat Kohanim, the “Priestly Blessing,” because originally it was bestowed upon the people by Aaron and his sons.
Finally the writer of the website, StoryLovers, suggests a Japanese story, “The Boy Who Had Nothing.” He was so poor, he went to a deserted temple to ask the goddess Kannon or Kaun Yin to change his fortune. He spent the night and dreamt that he saw her in a vision standing over him saying “The first things your hands touch! The first things your hands touch!” He is so excited when he wakes up that he trips over the threshold of the doorway as he runs out of the temple and stands up with a long piece of grass/straw in his hand. “This is my fortune?” He then reaches up to brush away a bug and catches it in his other hand? “This is my fortune?” He ties the bug to the straw and walks along with the leashed bug flying circles around his head. He meets a woman with a crying child, the bug makes the child laugh, he gives it to the child and the woman gives him three tangerines in return. He meets an old woman, tired and thirsty, gives her the tangerines, and she gives him a bolt of silk in return. He sees a merchant beating a horse, offers to trade the horse for the bolt of silk. Then he sees an old man and woman trying to plow their small field together after their ox died. He offers to plow the field with his horse. They offer to adopt him, and the blessing that Kannon gave him has come true – he has gotten just the change in fortune that he wanted.[iv]
Blessings on your story journey, Jane Anne
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2016 and beyond. Commentary and pictures may be used with permission only. Please tell the stories!
[i] Il Novellino: The Hundred Old Tales by Broadway Translations translated from the Italian by Edward Storer; Page pp. 124-125; Published by George Routledge and Sons; E. P. Dutton and Company , London, New York , ca. 1925 http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0207c.html Contribution #1397
[iii] The Gifts of Wali Dad: A Tale of India and Pakistan,_ retold by Aaron Shepard, illustrated by Daniel San Souci, Atheneum, New York, 1995 Copyright (c) 1995 Aaron Shepard *Storytellers:*