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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Parish Council Talk: Persistent Widow and the Unjust Judge

You have some difficult decisions to make as a parish community shortly. How are you going to do it? Your pastor and bishop ultimately make the decision with your recommendations. What do you plan to do? How will you do it? In your gut you probably know the answer. What is it going to take for you to bring it out into the open and set your strategy? You probably will not get any further information that is going to be critical to your decision. You will probably not experience a tipping-point event that it going to cause it all to make sense. It seems that what is required is that you become comfortable with your authority enough to act upon it. What do you need to do to interiorly make yourself comfortable? The anxiety is the confusion we face in times leading up to a decision; clarity occurs when we finally choose. You can never live in freedom until you choose. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Yes, when we choose, we say yes to some options, and it closes down other options. We'll never have a perfect environment by which to make a decision. You've been given all the information you need. The decisions are in your gut. How do you bring your gut to prayer?

In our readings today, we have an example of a woman who brings her gut to prayer. This widow persistently brings her petitions to an unjust judge who tries to pay no attention to her. Without wearying herself, she wears down the unjust judge who finally relents and grants her justice. He fears that she will be so fed up with him that she will take it out on her personally. He acquiesces and grants her justice. End of story. She lives in peace now that her livelihood is secured. He will probably go on being unjust, but she was only petitioning the he show her justice. She received what she needed.

Let's look at the probable event leading up to her encounters with the judge. She is a widow, which puts her on the margins of society. Her deceased husband's family is to take her in, but it appears that she is on her own. She has an adversary who treated her unfairly and she wants an equitable resolution. As our social structures are inherently sinful, she asks for a judge to intervene. Perhaps he was friendly with her adversary. Who knows? He does not grant her any justice and she is left even further vulnerable. She is fighting for her life. Her cause is not global justice. Her cause is to go on living with minimized hardships because no one is looking after her. The poor woman. She, and her desires, her voices, gets dismissed by the very powers that could help her. She knows in her gut what she is supposed to do. She acts upon it at great risk, but she is doing something that will ease her burden.

What is Jesus saying about God? He is saying God is not like the unjust judge. God is much more generous and wants to come to our aid when we are ready. Jesus tells us that God wants us to bring our needs forward. We must speak about what we want. We must hear ourselves say it to God. We don't have to worry about solving the larger problems of the world. In fact, we can't. We can only take care of the choices within our areas of responsibility. These are good boundaries to have in prayer. Jesus tells us God will not be slow in answering us. God will secure our rights as Jesus tells us. Why wouldn't we want to petition God as often as we can. God is waiting for us to speak up.

This widow disposed of pleasantries. What were the natures of her cries? She wants to live. She wants a justice that will arc her way - not for selfish gain, just to live. What do we learn from her?

1. We are to always present our gut feelings to God. This is our boundary, our conscience, that we cannot betray. This is our baseline. When we are making decisions, what baseline are we not able to cross?

2. She was able to speak for what she needed. I'm sure she refined it many times until she came across a message that was right for her. She found her way of expressing what was needed in a way she could be heard. Many voices want to stop us from going forward. It comes in anger, disgust, frustration, passive-aggressively ignoring us, and many other techniques. God will not reply to us in those ways. God wants us to continue speaking until we get down to what we really want. God wants to provide for you.

3. She can live in moderate comfort. She knows a judgment has finally be rendered in her favor. She doesn't have to worry about sustenance any longer. She is not wealthy, but she has enough means to provide for her daily meals and shelter. For all intents and purposes, she no longer worries about her big concern in life. Sure she will have smaller ones, but right now she is free because she acted prudently. God's will was for her to live in freedom. We know we can turn to God for our needs and God will satisfy us.

What does this mean for me as part of the Parish Council? We are to ask God for what we individually want in a communal decision. This means that we each have to get to our baseline. What are the non-negotiable parts of our discernment? Once we figure that out, we have to tell each other in the group our baselines. We have to do it even though they might be in direct contrast to someone else's baseline. We also have to tell God what they are. Perhaps, God will say something about that surprises us. What if God tells you to let go of your baseline for the sake of a larger issue? Are you going to be free enough to do that?

We have to look at our authority issues around the priest-pastor who is ultimately accountable for the salvation of the souls entrusted to his care. We are responsible; he is accountable. He is counting on you for advice on ways to proceed for you are a microcosm of the parish. He is looking for your courage because he knows that hard decisions come with unpopular consequences. He wants to know he has a team that stands behind him - a team that makes decisions in charity that arises from one's prayerful discernment. He wants to know that we have all prayed well over some heartbreaking choices.

What does God want for the parishioners? What is God most interested in giving them? In what ways do they come together to pray for the future of their community? Is there a way we can announce difficult decisions while still caring for their needs? I think there are many ways to do that. Needs and wants are not the same. Our task is to help bring people closer to the Lord in a way that they know God is responding to their deepest needs and even their desires. Our job is to bring them to the Lord so they may live in imitation of him and in the freedom that he has won for them. Discipleship is not relegated to church buildings. It is nurtured through a community of faith that sees no limits for themselves - sees no boundaries. In what ways are we going to fashion this community of faith? Let's be free enough to dream of the possibilities that Christ has for us. This is where our desires come in. This is where we listen to Christ's desires for us. We need to spend lots more time with him asking about what he wants for us. He is going to take care of everything. With that in mind, we have not worries. Let's step out more boldly into his dream, his vision for us. I think we will find this is ultimately what we want.

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