The Bible and the Newspaper
Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, was one of the most influential theologians of the 20th Century, a leader of the “Confessing Church” who, based on his study of scripture, confronted the evil of Nazism and stood against Hitler’s rise to power.
Barth instructed preachers to prepare with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. But sometimes the two are not even that far apart. Sometimes they completely overlap on each other, one clearly interpreting the other. And that’s what happened today.
The Unjust Judge and the Gutsy Woman
The lectionary gospel reading for this week is Jesus’ hilarious masterpiece of Hebrew hyperbole in Luke 18:1-8. He described a judge who “never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people.” He had power, but he had no soul, no inner sense morality, truth or justice. He had no heart, no compassion for the needs of the people he was supposed to be serving.
Then Jesus described a poor widow. She was totally marginalized with absolutely no authority or power. But she had a strong, inner sense of justice and truth. Jesus said she “kept after him,” relentlessly standing up for truth and demanding justice.
The judge “never gave her the time of day. But after this went on and on he said to himself, ‘I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think. But because this widow won’t quit badgering me, I’d better do something and see that she gets justice—otherwise I’m going to end up beaten black-and-blue by her pounding.’”
Jesus’ hearers got the joke, but they stopped laughing when he drew the stark contrast between God and the arrogant judge.
“Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?”
Pow! That’s the bible! And here’s the newspaper.
The Woman in the Room
There are, of course, divergent reports on exactly what happened in the Cabinet room yesterday. The President was the first to post the picture on his Twitter page, attacking the Speaker of the House the way he attacks anyone who dares to disagree with him. The Speaker reversed the posting, saying that she was standing up for the House of Representative’s bipartisan rebuke of Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds in Syria. She told the President, “all roads with you lead to Putin.”
Aside from disagreement on the details of the confrontation, what we have is the picture of the sole woman at a table that is all-too-obviously filled with old, white, men with power, confronting a President who has all-too-often demonstrated that he has no soul — no moral core of truth or justice — and no heart — no compassion for people like the Kurd’s who are running for their lives as their towns are being destroyed because he impulsively commanded our troops to withdraw.
The details of Jesus’ story and the reports from the Cabinet room are different. The Speaker is not a person without power. But the visual image is a dramatic interpretation of the text. And here’s the point: God is always on the side of the powerless, the marginalized, the suffering. God will not sit by forever. God’s justice will ultimately be fulfilled.
Martin Luther King, Jr., often affirmed “a moral arc in the universe that bends toward justice.” That’s why Thomas Jefferson said, “I tremble for my country when reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.”
Jesus’ question for faithful people is always, “How much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?”
Grace and peace,