29 Sunday Ordinary Time – October 17, 2010 – God’s Juries and Attorneys
Exodus 17:8-13, Psalm 121:1-8, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2, Luke 18:1-8
How would any one of us feel if we were sentenced to life in prison without ever really having committed a crime? You probably have read about Jamie and Gladys Scott, two sisters who have been locked up in a Mississippi prison for 16 years. They are serving double consecutive life sentences for a robbery committed by three others who were released a long time ago. No one can figure why these women are still incarcerated. At the trial the sisters were not allowed to testify in their own defense. 
Wrongful convictions happen all the time. Just last week a new Permanent Commission on Sentencing Reform was created to recommend revisions in the sentencing laws here in New York State. The goal in part is to promote fair trials, establish policies to protect society, reduce repeat crimes and improve rehabilitation opportunities for inmates. 
Today’s gospel tells a story about a widow who, because she was an unmarried woman, did not stand a chance of a fair trial. The word widow in Hebrew means “someone without a voice,” a silent one. Breaking the social boundaries of her time, the woman in the gospel chose to represent herself.
United Church of Christ pastor Lizette Merchán Pinilla speaks about the story in this way. “The parable is for women, children, and the disenfranchised to have equal rights, duties, and the voice … to take part in the justice system, with justice for all, not just for some.  The judge in today’s parable gave into the widow’s persistence not because she wore him down as the text leads us to believe but because she shamed him into acting justly. Studies in Mediterranean culture at that time indicate that a person’s honor was extremely important. This judge did not want “his honor” to be shamed. 
One does not have to enter prisons to see how many humans in the world have been sentenced wrongfully and have no way out of what holds them captive. Women in Congo sentenced to a life of continuously being raped; young children right here in the United States sentenced to child abduction and human trafficking; teenagers sentenced to a cell of chemical addiction with no way out. Factory workers here and abroad sentenced to long hours, low wages and no heath care. There are many more examples. Think of a few.
We believe in this church that, in the big picture and in the long run, God is a just judge and that, somehow, in some way, fair play will prevail in the world. The justice minded Jesus, the revelation of God, was obsessed with treating all persons with respect especially those who lived on the fringes on society. It cost him his life.
What is our role? How much more can we do especially with so much pressing in on all of us? In one way we might think of ourselves as a jury, humbly and prayerfully making good decisions about other people’s lives and our own. How carefully do we make decisions on a day to day basis? In another way we could see ourselves as attorneys representing all persons in our society with the same persistence that the woman showed in the gospel.
How do we carry out these roles? What are we to do? The first reading could be a suggestion to keep our bodies upright and strong. We take care of ourselves so we can take care of others. The psalm reminds us that help is on the way; that our belief in a Guardian God inspires us to be hopeful and patient. The passage from Timothy’s student encourages us to study the bible, to be faithful to what we have learned, and to put that faith into action.
Some scripture commentaries on these readings suggest we are to persist in prayer. However, theologian, Luis Fernando Garcia-Viana writes, “Prayer does not remove us from the world but rather [it] directs us toward it – to transform it – according to the criteria and values of the kin-dom proclaimed by Jesus.”  Again, the kin-dom is that time and place on earth when all people respect and care for one another.
Yesterday was World Food Day  and youths and adults from this parish worked at the Regional Food Bank  backing up their faith with action. Our own food pantry continues to serve thousands every year. Hunger, too, sentences people all over this planet to a lifetime of misery and eventual death.
There are many opportunities in this community for all of us to think about sentencing. Do we pass judgment on each other quickly, wrongfully, without even realizing it? How do we respond when being hurt by someone? With vengeance or forgiveness? What about the sentences we pass on ourselves? Sometimes we can be too hard on ourselves. Is there room for reform in our own lives? Building the kin-dom of God on earth is a difficult challenge. It not only requires us to pray and speak for those who have no voice … it requires us to be just.
1 Herbert, Bob. “The Mississippi Pardons” in The New York Times, October 16, 2010, A19
3 Merchán Pinilla, Lizette “Ask Boldly, Live Justly” http://www.ucc.org/worship/samuel/october-17-2010.html
4 Source: John J. Pilch. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle C (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1997) pp. 152-154.
5 Ibid. In Merchán Pinilla, Lizette. Source: Comentario al Nuevo Testamento