A funny story about a judge
For more commentary on this week's readings, see the Reflections on the Lectionary page, which includes Maitland's current Living by the Word column as well as past magazine and blog content. For full-text access to all articles, subscribe to the Century.
Iâ€™ve been thinking about Jacob a good deal lately, so for this weekâ€™s Century lectionary column I wrote about Jacob and the angel. But I also rather wanted to write about the Gospel reading, the Unjust Judge parable from Luke.
I wanted to write about the parable because on the surface it is a bit nonsensical. Jesus cannot have meant to compare God with someone who â€śneither feared God nor had respect for peopleâ€ť but could be wearied into submission by boredom. Moreover, experience in prayer has taught me that endlessly banging on about some petition is not usually particularly effective in getting it responded to the way I want it to be.
I think the best way to read this parable (and pray with it) is as a funny story. There are other examples of this. Unless you assume a degree of mutual affectionate teasing, the exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan womanâ€”before he does in fact heal her daughterâ€”is cruel and excluding. But I have never heard a sermon on Jesusâ€™ sense of humor, much though we value that quality in our other relationships.
I cannot imagine having a deep personal friendship with someone I could not laugh with. I need to believe that heaven is alight with merriment, and that on earth Jesus and his friends giggled, guffawed, laughed and exchanged both silly and profound jokes. I think the Unjust Judge parable is meant to be funny, and indeed it is funnyâ€”if we are not too pious or un-incarnational to accept that Jesus had a good sense of humor.
For the magazine column, I decided not to risk it. My New York-based daughter often says the only thing she finds difficult about being an ex-pat is that Americans have a really different sense of humor from ours in the U.K. A great deal of humor gets lost in translation, and in the subtle shift from verbal to written forms. I was afraid that any attempt to share my sense of Jesusâ€™ frequent playfulness might come across merely as offensive. But I do think about it.