Tuhina Rasche, San Carlos, CA
- How do you pray?
- Why do you pray?
- What do you hope happens through your prayers?
Your Words Made Flesh
This parable makes me think about my parents, especially my mom. My parents moved to the United States from India in 1970. My mom was a newlywed and eighteen years old. Just a few months after marrying my dad, they packed up two suitcases, with $200 dollars to their names, and boarded a plane to travel halfway across the world. My parents were strangers in a strange land. My dad was super gregarious and could make friends easily. He grew up speaking English regularly, so he was pretty much at ease in public spaces. My mom, while she knew English, was incredibly shy and was uncomfortable speaking in public places. She didn’t make friends as easily, and kept mostly to her close-knit circle of friends who were also from India. Yet my dad was always around to protect her and to advocate for her.
My parents were married for 45 years. My dad died a few years ago, leaving my mom to be a widow. Even though my mom has spent more of her life in the United States than India, she relied on my dad for a lot. Whether we want to admit it or not, men still have a lot of power in society; oftentimes men are taken more seriously than women. Our world is still bound by gendered expectations. My father was the head of the household in every way, and when he died, my mom was at a loss for what had to be done to manage the household she and my dad shared for so many years.
After my dad died, a lot that had to be done. There were the big things, like planning his memorial. But then there were small things that we didn’t immediately anticipate, like canceling his credit cards, stopping his mail, and transferring accounts that were in his name to my mom’s name. My older brother and I helped my mom through this bizarre checklist of things that have to happen after a loved one dies. My brother and I have done everything humanly possible to look after our mom, to make sure she receives just and fair treatment from the institutions and organizations she had to deal with. But we had to be persistent. If she didn’t have my brother and me, where would she be today? The thought is almost too much for me to handle. If she had to navigate this present climate on her own, having so much already that defines her as an outsider (like being an immigrant), she would be even more on the margins. I would be scared for her well-being. She would be a widow without an advocate.
Prayers seriously helped my family after my dad died, and it wasn’t just my family praying for relief and release. There were people who were consistently naming us in their daily prayers, that we would find peace and comfort in the midst of so much loss and sadness. But prayers took other forms, like meals that appeared on our doorstep, a lovely bouquet of flowers delivered, having coffee with friends to gently remind us that we were not alone while we were cooped up in a house making phone calls, sending emails, and sorting through paperwork.
I am forever grateful to those who heard the cries of my mom and my family when my dad died. I hoped that someone would hear our prayers, and not only were our prayers heard, they were embodied! The words became flesh! I also wonder what if no one heard our cries? Are we hearing the cries of the present-day widows around us? Are we not just hearing the cries and prayers, but are we also acting on them out of response to God’s love and grace?
We are called into action, into persistence, into an active, lived, and embodied prayer. I do not know how this will look for you; that is a conversation you have to undertake with your siblings in Christ and with God. We are not called to give into who and what this world wants us to be. We are not called to give into giving into the ways of empire; that will kill us. We cannot look away from one another. We are intertwined with one another; we are accountable to one another. That was professed to us in our baptisms, that we belong to God and we belong to one another. We’re called to do something. We’re called into a form of action. We’re learning that people’s identities and their lives very much depend on how we act or how we do not act. Your prayer is your action; let your action be your prayer.
- What are ways that you can embody your prayers?
- Is there someone in our faith community who is currently struggling? How can you pray for that person, both spoken prayers and putting actions to those spoken prayers?
- What keeps you going in tough times when you’re close to giving up?
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
The primary focal point of this Gospel lesson is a widow with no one to advocate for her but herself. What does this look like in the world of this Gospel lesson? This widow can be considered to be ultimate loser. When it comes to telling stories about marginalized people, she’s lowest of the low for many reasons:
- she’s low because she’s just a she;
- she doesn’t have a husband or a family to be her advocate and to be her voice; and
- she has no property.
Theoretically, her community in this city is supposed to take care of her. That’s all good in theory, but there is something wrong.
This woman repeatedly—over and over and over and over—confronts a judge to grant her justice against an opponent. We’re not given much information on this opponent. Time after time, the judge is unmoved. But then, the judge’s thoughts run away with him. He says to himself, “I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” If we want to get to the nitty-gritty of the translation here, let’s rephrase it to the more honest and more brutal, “I shall avenge her, or she will give me a black eye.”
Only when the judge thinks that violence will be inflicted upon him does he decide to finally act, because heaven forbid that violence be inflicted upon those in positions of power. Yet violence has already occurred with the judge; he should have moved to act without the threat of violence. The judge’s inaction in the face of obvious need is evidence of his own spiritual brokenness. This system of oppression has damaged the judge, too.
It is important to name that both the widow and the judge are under God’s care. Because God’s grace is ultimately unfair, we cannot talk about one being outside God’s grace and the other being the sole recipient. What we must come to understand, especially in situations where we seem to be pitted against one another, where one has offended the other, where one has done damage to the other, is that the Gospel is still for both the widow AND the judge. What they may hear is different. The Gospel comforts, but if it only comforts, we would be a people of cheap grace. The Gospel both challenges and afflicts. We are a people of both/and, simultaneously saint and sinner, and we are to be both challenged and comforted. We cannot just receive grace and not respond to the Gospel message. We are called to respond.
But there was something to the widow’s response in her persistence. She kept coming back to the judge. She kept using her voice to advocate for herself. She used the strength of her voice to advocate for her survival. She spoke out, she moved. This was her embodied and incarnational prayer. This prayer for her survival against her opponent was her life of prayer. In that prayer we need to be persistent. The lives of our neighbors depend upon it. Our prayer should be that of movement, that of action, that response. If our Lord and Savior was of flesh and blood, that can be the embodiment of our prayer life.
- Has God answered your prayers? Are there unexpected ways in which God has responded to your prayers? How do you feel when God hasn’t answered your prayers the way you wanted?
- What are they ways in which the world has been unjust and unfair to those in need? How do you feel called to respond? How have those in Scripture (like Isaiah, who said, “Here I am, send me) responded? How do you think they felt?
- Where have modern-day judges not acted justly to present-day widows? Have any of these present-day judges had a change of heart? How do you think that change came about?
- Is your faith community hearing the cries of present-day widows? If so, how is your faith community responding? If not, find a way for your faith community to pray for and engage with those who need our help. Is there participation in local, state, national, and international connections? Are there gaps where your faith community can participate? If so, how could your faith community further participate in being connected to the greater world in spoken and active prayer?
- Have a conversation on how you can best pray for one another. Spend a few minutes each week praying in the way that you feel most comfortable, holding members in your faith community in prayer. Is there a way you can act on those prayers? Meditate on how such prayers can create an active response.
- Prayer can take many shapes and forms. Have you colored while you prayed? Sang? Danced? Explore and try out a form of prayer that is different from what you are used to.
Gracious and loving God, you are so wild and free in giving your grace and mercy. In receiving your grace and mercy, may we prayerfully be called to action. In these actions, may we be reminded of your beloved Son Jesus, who both prayed and acted on his prayers. In our prayers and actions, may you continue to guide us to act for justice. Amen.