The unjust judge
The minister was driving home late at night in a rough part of town and ran out of gas next to a bar. He was able to coast into the parking lot of the bar which was filled with Harley Davidson motorcycles.
Even though the sign said, “Members only” on the outside of the bar he walked into the bar and proceeded to ask a large man dressed in leather and covered in tattoos whether he could spare any gas.
The man told him and not in the Queen’s English, that he better get the heck out of there as fast as he could.
The minister thought he would try another person and pulled on the shirt of another biker dude and asked for help.
“Get lost” the man said.
The minister a little desperate tried a third time with another man, a man festooned with patches on his leather coat.
This time however he must have picked the leader, because the whole bar went quiet and everybody turned to see what was going on.
The leader of the biker gang said: “You were warned and now we are going to teach you a lesson.”
He was grabbed by a couple of big burly guys and they took him outside next to his car.
The leader drew a line in the dirt and said: “Don’t you cross that line or you are in big trouble,” and then the rest of the gang proceeded to take out bats and chains and pound and smash the minister’s car into rubble.
After several minutes when the car was not even recognizable as a car, they turned to see the minister laughing.
“What’s so funny?” the leader said.
The minister almost bent over from laughing blurted out.
“While you weren’t looking, I crossed the line four times.”
Way back in the days of the Roman empire, there was a rule that Governors of Roman Provinces who commanded Roman Armies were not allowed to bring their Armies into Italy. That would be considered an act or war or treason and the punishment was death.
The northern boundary of Italy was the Rubicon River and in 49 AD, a General by the name of Julius Caesar brought his army to the Rubicon river and decided to cross the Rubicon start a civil war which ended up in him taking Rome and after winning the war becoming its emperor.
His famous words when he crossed the Rubicon were: Alea iacta est translated, the die has been cast.
He realized by crossing the Rubicon, he would a cross a line that could not be uncrossed and from that day on “crossing the Rubicon” is a phrase used to refer to passing a point of no return.
There is a truth that sometimes that the things we do cross lines or boundaries and there is no going back.
Or sometimes things said or done cannot be unsaid or undone.
You call somebody a name, you say something unkind. You strike someone in anger…
You forget your wife’s anniversary…
You cross a line of adultery.
You tell a lie, you steal from your company…
You are in a car accident, there is a death and you are judged to be at fault.
And you cannot take it back.
You can pray, you can ask forgiveness, you can admit fault, you can pay a penalty, you can beg, plead, make restitution, change your life, start a charity or cause… you can do the time for the crime…
But it will not change what you have done to someone else and to yourself….
That will always stand, and whether you are forgiven or not, whether you are reconciled or not… whether you are healed are not…
That hurt will always be in your mind and in the mind of the one you hurt.
And if you are the victim of one who has crossed a line…the one struck, violated, impinged upon, orphaned, widowed, alienated, ridiculed, ostracized, assaulted, defiled, defamed, reviled, hated etc. that hurt will always be there in your mind,
Even if you forgive, even if you are reconciled, even if the other has been born again, even if you are healed.
It may stop hurting, but you will it will still be in your mind.
Lines and boundaries are important.
God knows it.
And some of you who know me and have heard me preach are thinking. Didn’t Harry just preach about Jesus who was always crossing the lines, going into no man’s land, to hell, to seek and save the lost?
Didn’t Harry preach love for everyone, and that Jesus breaks down the walls that divide us one from another?
One of the hymns we sing at communion time has these words as part of one of the verses:
Jesus calls us to each other:
found in him are no divides;
race and class and sex and language:
such are barriers he derides.
So last few weeks Harry has been preaching about Jesus breaking the barriers that keep people apart, and this week Harry is saying that lines and boundaries are important.
Yes. I would actually argue that the only reason that Jesus could break the artificial boundaries that keep people apart is that Jesus understood his own personal boundaries and kept them.
Personal Boundaries are about us thriving as healthy people. They about us growing into maturity. Healthy boundaries protect us and nourish so that we can have healthy relationships with others.
In short personal boundaries are about who I am, as opposed to you, or anybody else.
Personal boundaries are about where “I” start and stop, and about where “you” begin.
We can break those boundaries down a bit.
There are physical boundaries about who can or should, or should not touch you and whether you want to be touched, and who you should or should not touch.
There are time boundaries as to how much time you can set aside for various people.
There are emotional boundaries about what you feel and what you are safe to share, and about what others share with you.
There are sexual boundaries about consent, agreement, respect, preferences, desires and privacy.
There are intellectual boundaries about what you think and believe and mutual respect for others who think and believe differently.
And there are material boundaries about what is your stuff and what you want to share and with whom.
All of these boundaries are about your right to be you. If there is anything I have learned in counseling, it is this.
It is all right to be me. It is all right for Harry to be Harry.
The second thing is this though. Telling your story can change lives.
Sometimes it is when a person has the courage and strength to tell their story of how their boundaries were broken, or how they broke boundaries, that we learn to set boundaries, respect boundaries, or ask forgiveness for boundaries we have broken.
I said earlier that Jesus had good personal boundaries.
He spent time alone with God. He was honest. He told the truth no matter the consequence. Jesus said no to inappropriate behaviour, like performing miracles on demand, or to do violence. He didn’t give in to pressure.
Jesus loved all people and did not let anything stop him from loving.
And I recounted in our scripture lesson, a remarkable story about boundaries when it came to Pontius Pilate.
Let me refresh your mind. The chief priests and Pharisees and Scribes members of the High Council have arrested Jesus. Not the Romans.
They put him on trial, but they don’t have the death penalty. They bring Jesus to the Romans and in particular to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate and these powerful Jews accuse Jesus of treason.
Pilate though, finds no fault with Jesus. So, Pilate ends up breaking his boundaries and doing not what his conscience tells him, or not even what the law might tell him, but does something to please the Jews and keep them in line; and to possibly please Rome, on the off change that Rome doesn’t see it the way he sees it.
By contrast Jesus tells Pilate that Pilate has no power over him. Pilate is telling Jesus to speak up and defend himself because he has the power of life and death over Jesus.
But in spite of the fact that Pilate has power over Jesus’ life and death, Pilate doesn’t have power over Jesus personal boundaries, who he is, what he does, what he believes and who he loves.
Jesus will choose to love us even when he is tortured and killed.
Jesus took up his cross, and sacrificed, and served and lost his life, not because he compromised his boundaries, but because he stuck to them.
Nobody could change Jesus from being himself.
Sometimes when we read the scriptures about us taking up our cross, about serving others, about sacrificing for others, about losing our lives for the sake of the gospel…
...we think we have to compromise our boundaries… when the opposite is true…
In order to serve, to help, to share, to give, to care, to truly love someone…
We have to keep our personal boundaries. Time, possessions, emotions, physicality, sexuality, and thoughts.
We cannot minister adequately to others if we compromise our boundaries… because we will do something inappropriate, or we will hurt ourselves, or we won’t model healthy boundaries to those we want to help, or we will end up being taken advantage of by those we want to help.
When we don’t keep personal boundaries when we minister to an other, we will not help the other, but send the other down a wrong path.
Sometimes when you love a person you say “no” because that is the best way to love them.
And so, we come to another interesting gospel story. The story of the Widow and the Unjust Judge.
The way the gospel reads is seems to be about the importance of prayer, about maybe our need to pray always and not lose heart.
And the story is that of an unjust judge who decided to give justice to a widow, not because he cares about her, or the law, or even God, but because she just keeps pestering him, and he wants her out of the way.
And the story to me seems on the face of it to raise more problems that it does solutions.
For one thing, pestering God, and bugging God and hounding at God doesn’t seem like a good idea. It would seem that would be breaking boundaries and not letting God be God.
And the thought that God would heal your dad, just because he got sick of you praying every day, doesn’t make you think of God, as the God of love.
And many of us can attest to that fact that we held up a lot of sick people in prayer and prayed and prayed and that person we loved still died.
Another thing that is interesting is that while the preface seems to be about prayer, the story is itself about justice. Someone has done an injustice to the widow. She needs justice and the judge finally grants her justice.
So, the story seems less about prayer than justice. And yet there is so much injustice in the world, and a lot of us have prayed for justice, for the poor, the disenfranchised and for Ukrainians and for oppressed women and children, for those still in slavery or some form of human trafficking, for those who can’t get education, for those who are abused…
And it doesn’t seem that God is quick to answer our prayers for justice.
So, it may be, that the real action is not about what God will do, but about the widow will do, and by extension therefore about what we will do.
Maybe what the story is saying is that the widow never gives up on her search for justice, and she doesn’t sit back just praying, she gets out there and does something about it.
Maybe what we could learn is that we shouldn’t lose hope, and that we should be persistent in fighting for justice, and we should be knocking on the doors of city hall, and provincial and federal agencies, and preaching it from our pulpits, and never ever giving up, because justice happens, the more we work for it.
But I want to bring us back to personal boundaries again and look at the story of the widow and the judge from a different perspective.
Maybe we are not the widow, and there is not some bad person, or group, or government being the judge.
Or maybe we are not the widow and God is not the judge.
Maybe we are the judge.
Maybe the unjust judge is that part of us that has indeed broken boundaries, that doesn’t care about the law, or about poor people, or about God, or about anything, but the self.
Can we honestly say that we never fit the description of the judge? That I am never indifferent? Never insensitive, never closed off or unsympathetic? Have I erected walls to keep myself from the demands and needs of others. Sometimes my personal boundaries are so closed, so well-guarded, so security conscious that nobody with needs gets in. It’s not my problem.
And when I totally shut down to the needs of others not only do I shut out the needs of brothers and sisters in the human family, but I shut out God, who the scriptures indicate is found in the poor, and the needy, and the lost, and the least…
Inasmuch as I do it to the least of these… I do it to Jesus.
So sometimes, boundaries can be unhealthy by being too strict, too selfish, too uncaring, keeping specific others out… including God.
But at the same time, we who don’t let certain others in, can be violating the boundaries of others, by taking, using, violating, ridiculing, or even ignoring.
And so, sometimes I wonder, that it might be God who is the persistent widow, knocking on the door of my soul asking me to be kind, honest, just, true, sensitive and fully human.
And God is persistent. God never gives up. God is always there asking me to grow up, and have healthy boundaries and be a fully human, loving, mature, person.
Or maybe it is this. It is our persistent prayer, our persistence to telling the truth, our persistent seeking God, asking God, knocking on God’s door, that wears down our inner judge, softening our heart, resetting healthy boundaries that let people in appropriately, and keep us from violating others and helping them instead.
Prayer maybe, is not about changing God, but about God changing us unjust judges…helping us to have healthy relationships, healthy boundaries, healthy lives.
Maybe it is in persistent prayer that we stop judging others, criticizing others, attacking others, hurting others, and instead produce the good fruit of love.
Love that not only cares for the other, but respects their boundaries and our boundaries as well.