Jeremiah 31:27-34/ Psalm 119:97-104/ Luke 18:1-8
Need to Study the Scriptures
Getting to Know a New Friend
I shared with you last Sunday that my new friend was going to join us in our Thanksgiving dinner. We first met at my community theatre group this summer and had just started to form a relationship recently. While knowing practically nothing about him, since I had invited him over for dinner, I had to ask him if there was anything he didn’t eat. The told me that he didn’t like pork. It was crucial information to have since we were planning to cook pork. So, now I know one more thing about him; that he doesn’t like pork. As our relationship develops, we will get to know more and more about each other, as it should.
When we love someone or something, it is only natural to learn more and more about them. How can we love someone and have a relationship with them without knowing that they don’t like pork? Because I love Beethoven, I read books about him, as well as the letters he wrote in his lifetime. If I love him, I should know about him quite well. Among those of us who call ourselves Christians, there are a lot who enthusiastically proclaim how much they love Jesus. It frustrates me how a lot of them don’t even bother to learn the essence of the Gospel of Jesus. They may claim that Jesus hates the gays or call the United Church of Canada a fake church. If they had ever read the Gospel texts closely and studied them, they would know that Jesus would never hate the gays or condemn our church for accepting and loving the marginalized.
Love for God’s Law
Today’s scripture readings are full of God’s law and the love for God’s law. Jeremiah talks of the new and different covenant that God will start with Israel. This new covenant is more forgiving and less vindictive, considering that the first covenant was full of “Do this, or else.” This new forgiving and less vindictive God will not remember their sins or punish their descendants for their sin. God will engrave this new law into people’s hearts so they will know God. To know God, people must teach their children about God’s law.
Today’s Psalm is a love song towards God’s law. We only read one small part, since this psalm is really long, but it is full of love and yearning for God’s law. It starts with, “O how I love your law! It is my study all day long.” If one loves God’s law that much, one will spend a lot of time and energy studying it. The point of this psalm is that God’s people should love God’s law, study it constantly, and live by that law.
Why Study the Scriptures?
The reason why God’s people should diligently study God’s law, the Holy Scriptures, can be found in today’s gospel story. This is one of the most misunderstood stories in the Bible.
In this parable, an evil judge who doesn’t even fear God ends up granting the widow’s plea because she was persistent and annoying. So many Christians in history and today take this story be mean, “if we ask God persistently and earnestly enough, God will end up granting our wish, no matter what it may be.” That is why a lot of Christians believe that, if our wish didn’t come true, it is because we didn’t pray hard enough. Let us pause for 3 seconds to just let this sink in.
My children in Ottawa throw a lot of tantrums when they don’t get their ways, but as any responsible parents, my friends don’t let them have their ways if it is not good for them. Those who believe that today’s parable is a lesson to annoy God with our persistent prayer are missing the point.
Today’s parable is connected to the previous passage about coming of God’s kingdom and living in the in-between time until that day comes. To quote the prestigious theologian Justo Gonzalez, “The judge refused to do justice for a while. In contrast, God will not “delay long,” but “will quickly grant justice” to them. This contrast between the judge’s delayed reaction and God’s prompt response must be stressed. Otherwise, the parable may be understood (and has often been understood) in the sense that God is like that unjust judge, and will eventually answer prayer, not out of justice or compassion, but out of sheer fatigue at the insistence of petitioners.”
Why then does Jesus teach his followers to “pray always and not to lose heart?” It is because the disciples in Luke’s community were living in the in-between time with a lot of trials and persecution. They needed to hear the Good News that God, who is compassionate, will promptly grant justice, unlike the evil judge who only grants it out of annoyance.
Scriptures as Dangerous Weapon or Tool of Love
This is why we should study the scriptures. If we don’t understand the scriptures, we will misunderstand them and take away an unhealthy lesson, such as, “If we annoy God long enough, God will grant our wish,” or “God hates the gays.” Those of us who misunderstand Jesus that they claim to love with all their hearts will be less and less like him. Holy Scriptures can be a dangerous weapon in the hands of those who fail to learn the intended lessons.
Love, Study, and Live by God’s Law
One last remark on our gospel parable: what is important in prayer is WHAT we pray for, not how much tantrum we should throw trying to get what we want. The fact that so many Christians believe in things that are opposite of what Jesus represents should be a stern warning that we should aspire to keep learning and better understand his teachings and any other scripture lessons.
We learn today that love for God’s law and the Holy Scriptures should lead to diligently studying them and end with living by them. May we aspire to know Jesus and his teachings more and more, and be inspired by learning about them to live like him.