The Long Game

 

The other news story this week was the announcement that Bob Dylan won this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. Now regardless of the debate over the quality of Dylan’s singing ability, there should be little controversy about his literary work. His best known song is Blowin’ in the Wind. It’s been included in Roman Catholic and Protestant liturgies and hymnody for decades.

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind..[1]

I hear echoes of today’s Gospel in the lyrics.

“Yes, and how many ears must one man have, Before he can hear people cry?”

How many times must a widow cry out, Before her pleas will be heard?

For people of faith the cry of pain, the cry for recognition, is clearly heard in one of the earliest justice stories in the Bible.

The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.[2]

It all begins with a cry. The Hebrew slaves didn’t have to meet any requirements: no orthodoxy tests, no legal standards or benchmarks. They simply “groaned under their slavery, and cried out.” In six short words the entire Exodus tradition from slavery to freedom was set in motion. “And God took notice of them.”

The prophets were about taking notice, seeing injustice, hearing cries of pain. God hears those cries. But there’s something that rings untrue about the conclusion to the parable of the widow and the unjust judge.

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.[3]

How quickly is quickly? Too often we experience long delays from the utterance of a cry and the granting of relief. We pray for healing, for peace, for leaders who take seriously the threats to our environment. We pray for many things that God appears to delay in answering or doesn’t appear to answer at all. And if I sometimes experience frustration in my relatively secure and sheltered life, I wonder what it must be like to be Haitian, a family in Alepo, or among the 65.3 million refugees in the world. Has God grown deaf?

The introduction to this parable challenges whether this is a story about God. It suggests that it’s about us. The text says, “Jesus told the disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

Debie Thomas, a writer for The Christian Century, recently wrote:

“What does it mean to ‘lose heart’? The words that come to my mind include weariness, resignation, numbness, and despair. When I lose heart, I lose my sense of focus and direction. My spiritual GPS goes haywire, the world turns a murky gray, and all roads lead to nowhere.

“In sharp contrast, the widow in Jesus’ parable is the very picture of purposefulness and precision. She knows her need, she knows its urgency, and she knows exactly where to go and whom to ask in order to get her need met. If anything, the daily business of getting up, getting dressed, heading over to the judge’s house or workplace, banging on his door, and talking his ear off until he listens clarifies her own sense of who she is and what she’s about.”[4]

This story and the reading from Second Timothy invites us to remember that we are in for the Long Game. 2 Timothy tells us to “be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.”[5] The temptation is to hang in there for a short while, and in our impatience, to drop away, to give up.

We forget that at the end of his ministry, Jesus had 11 disciples and all them ran away. John’s Gospel has the disciple John at the foot of the cross, but the other three gospels do not. So let’s just say that at the end, Jesus had no disciples or, at best, one.

It’s God’s church, not ours. It will survive in whatever form God wills. Faith is about persistence. We’re called to be faithful, not successful, in whatever ways the world defines success.

Faithful in prayer.

Faithful in persistence.

Faithful in crying out.

Faithful in listening for the cries of others.

And confident that the Holy Spirit, God’s Holy Wind, is always blowing.

 

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, The answer is blowin’ the wind.

 

[1] Lyrics and music by Bob Dylan, 1962.

[2] Exodus 2:23b-25 (NRSV)

[3] Luke 18:7-8 (NRSV)

[4] The Christian Century, September 28, 2016, p 21.

[5] 2 Timothy 4:2b