Beware of cultivating perpetual outrage. Here's what you can do instead.
Are you feeling a little upset about the state of the world?
Political Facebook posts got you all twisted up inside?
Are you feeling the burden of injustice around the world?
Me too. Me three. Me one hundred.
This week I've been meditating on an obscure little story that Jesus told about someone who faced massive injustice.
The lessons in this story for our situation today are profound...
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)
When I was a kid sitting in the pews at church, I was taught that this is a simple story about why we should pray more. "God is like the judge - actually much better - but still, like the judge," they said, "So, keep praying even when God seems to be ignoring you and one day, like the judge, He will relent and grant you your 3 wishes."
When I come back to this passage as a grown-ass man, immersed in a context here in South-East Asia that overflows with injustice and corruption, I see it a little differently. And it brings me great comfort.
Here's the important difference:
God is NOT the evil, apathetic judge. Jesus never meant for us to see the judge in this story as being like God. In any way.
In fact the judge represents every unjust leader and corrupt government official ever.
I mean, Jesus described the judge as someone who neither "feared God nor cared what people thought" - TWICE. This bad guy is described as "unjust" - both in action, and attitide. He doesn't give a toss about God or the ways of Jesus (and he sounds exactly like a few political leaders I know).
So, let's look a bit closer at what this story is really about, and see what's in it for us.
We have two characters - firstly, a downtrodden widow who is seeking justice. We know that because the word justice is mentioned multiple times, and also because she says, "Grant me justice..."
And secondly, we have a powerful person who can bring change and grant her justice, but isn't too keen to do so. We know that because he says, "this mosquito, I mean widow, keeps bothering me..."
Ever feel like that widow?
Ever felt a widow's outrage?
Oftentimes, the ones we are asking for justice, literally do not care. They don't care about us, and they certainly don't care about the poor. They are unjust and corrupt leaders.
If you've sat with mistreated orphans and widows, or slum evictees, or refugees denied entry to a safe haven, you know the outrage...
It wells up inside you.
It threatens to overflow from your chest and eyes.
It feels like a tightening jaw and a clenched fist.
It feels hot.
Everything turns green.
That's righteous anger right there.
If you have eyeballs in your head, you will see injustice all around. And it would be easy to cultivate a perpetual sense of outrage. That widow would have had every right to walk around with clenched fists and a burning heart.
But, here's the lesson we need today from Jesus in the midst of all that is wrong and oppressive...
Jesus told this story to teach his disciples that they should pray and never give up their pursuit of justice, even in the face of indifference, and even downright evil.
He is calling us to prayer and perseverance. Not perpetual rage.
Brian Zahnd puts it like this:
"Beware of cultivating perpetual rage. I know there's much to be angry about, but your soul cannot bear the strain of perpetual rage. Pray more."
Pray more. For God is good and He loves justice even more than we do.
I need this simple word today. And maybe you do too.
No-one can healthily maintain a continual sense of outrage. We need righteous anger to push us towards action. But first we need to allow it to push us into prayer.
As my friend Chris Heuertz says, “Through activism we confront toxicity in our world, but through contemplation we confront it in ourselves.”
We need both. We need to bring this anger to God in solitude and silence, so that we can know his will, persevere, and come back to fight the battle another day. We need God to carry our anger for us, and help us transform it into something meaningful and wise.
So, let the widow's prayer become our prayer..."Grant me justice against the adversary."
But prayer alone is not enough. Through prayer God guides us into wise action. The Pope nails it, "First you pray for the hungry, then you feed them. That's how prayer works."
After crying out to God, after weeping and giving our anger to God, we return to work for justice again another day. We don't give up, no matter what. We keep knocking on their door. We keep marching and pushing and asking for justice for the poor.
And ultimately, even though hearts may not be changed (though we pray that they will) we will see justice roll down like a river. For this is what Jesus promises:
"Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?" (Lk 18:8)
Yes. May it be so.