The Fragility of Heart and the Weakness of God

Posted: October 13, 2022 in Uncategorized

The Fragility of Heart and the Weakness of God

It is true that millions of people around the world grow flowers in their gardens. We give flowers as gifts on special occasions, whether as a simple thank you for an invitation to dinner,
or as a sign of congratulations, or as an acknowledgement of bereavement. We associate flowers with love, with joy, with sympathy, with sorrow, with death. I can remember my Father in Law who brought a bunch of flowers to his wife every Friday evening for every year of their marriage, Flowers and their symbolic power in our lives is immense…

The important thing about flowers that affect us deeply, is that they are given to us by nature. They are the products of evolution and play their own role in the great web of life. This role is independent of human feelings. Flowers are what they are. Humanity breeds many varieties of flowers to make them yet more affecting to us, but they are nature’s creation, not our own. Another significant factor is that most flowers are at the most vulnerable end of the natural spectrum. They are mostly fragile and susceptible to damage and destruction. There is a fragility about them that suggests that beauty is like things of the heart, they are fragile and susceptible to damage. They are of the most vulnerable and not unlike the crucified God, or the God that is at the whim of human need vulnerable to human use. They are at the whim of acceptance, and ultimately love.

Many decades ago, in the spring of 1936, while waiting for his beloved to arrive from London for their wedding, “and germinating the ideas that would bloom into Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four”, George Orwell (1903-1950) planted some roses in the garden of the small sixteenth-century cottage that his suffragist, socialist, bohemian aunt had secured for him in the village of Wallington.

Three and a half years after he planted them, and after thirteen seasons of tending to them, Orwell’s roses were struggling to bloom for the first time. World War II had just begun. Orwell recorded in his diary: “Cut down the remaining phloxes, tied up some of the chrysanthemums which had been blown over. Difficult to do much these afternoons now it is winter-time. The ‘chrysanths’ now in full flower, mostly dark reddy-brown, & a few ugly purple & white ones which I shan’t keep. Roses still attempting to flower, otherwise no flowers in the garden now…”

This man. most famous for his scrutiny of totalitarianism and propaganda, and an unyielding political vision, had planted roses!  “That a socialist or a utilitarian or any pragmatist or practical person might plant fruit trees is not surprising,” wrote author Rebecca Solnit. “They have tangible economic value and produce the necessary good that is food even if they produce more than that. But to plant a rose — or in the case of this garden he resuscitated in 1936, seven roses early on and more later — can mean so many things…”

If war and injustice and power and destruction have an opposite, gardens might sometimes be it, and people have found a particular kind of peace in forests, meadows, parks, and gardens.”

Yesterday a woman was planting flowers in her garden. Her activity was more than a hobby, even more than a pleasure. She was digging, dirtying, straining, mulching and lugging,
under the power of plants which do not yet even exist, but whose images have taken up residence in the atoms and cells within her imagination.

Weeks or months will elapse before her labour is fulfilled. Patience and faith will sustain her until, under the majesty of Earth’s dominion, the unprepossessing little bulbs and seeds will explode into daffodils, tulips, irises, freesias, geraniums, pansies, daises, and sunflowers.

A warlike pathway will have been won by soft and coloured things. The yellow eyes of asters, the purple tongues of irises, and the crayola pansies have raised their banners above the turrets of Earth’s soil to defy the dark cold space that pervades almost all of everything else. (Fleischman 2013)

It is Spring. Hosanna! Not in the highest, but right here. Right now. This. (Goodenough 1998) Today, in the spirit of persistent women as presented in the biblical ‘justice’ scenario we read of and patience and faith experiences captured through beauty and nature, independent of the gospel story, yet somehow embodied in the metaphor we honour the spirit of flowers, of wonder, and of beauty. “Beauty… transforms like no other encounter and sets us squarely in the realm of the sacred…. Justice in the face of absurdity, beauty enlarges, transforms, and embraces the whole complexity that is life.  Beauty prefers to feel all and feel deeply, thereby participating in the divine act of creative transformation.” The challenge of flowers featuring in church Harvest Festivals, is always that it is not enough to express fully our gratitude for the beauty we encounter in the visions, smells and placements of those flowers. Nor in the beauty of the transformation that justice reveals.

Our story today is generally known as the parable of the importunate widow, or the parable of the unjust judge.  The text is unique to Luke.  Jesus is speaking to the disciples, though throughout this section, the pharisees are still within earshot. 

The passage follows immediately upon 17: 22-37, a major theme of which is the suffering and rejection of Jesus, which provokes an eschatological crisis, out of which comes the New Day of the Lord–“the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Humanity be in his day” (17:24). 

The judge did not fear God (phobos) or have respect (entrepomenos) for people.  Entrepomenos is an unusual word.  It can mean “to shame” or, in the passive, “to be ashamed.”  It can also mean “reverence,” though this is the third meaning. The judge not only felt no “reverence” for people, but also had no sense of “shame” in how he treated them– a typical Roman judge it is easily said, in other words.  Roman judges had vast power within their jurisdiction.  If they wanted to, they could decide cases based on personal whim alone.  The judge in this story is just such a judge–one with no concern for justice.

But there was an importunate widow in that city, and she was coming to him, saying, ‘Avenge me from my opponent,’ and he was not willing for a time. The stage of the parable is set by the contrast between, on the one hand, a powerful magistrate who can do whatever he feels like doing, and, on the other, a poor widow who must take what she can get. That the woman appears by herself in court means that she has no male relative to speak for her.  She is indeed powerless and poor.  On the “power scale,” the judge is at one end and the widow at the other.

We remember here that the Hebrew scriptures are replete with injunctions to consider the needs of widows, orphans, and strangers.  Perhaps these injunctions are so frequent because the people of Israel needed continual reminding and, as it could be construed, to little effect! 

By the time of Jesus, the powerful and unscrupulous were still preying on widows.  Jesus will later say that the Temple elite “devour widows’ houses” (20:47), such as when the Temple bureaucrats swooped in upon the death of the husband and “managed” the estate, taking a sizable cut for themselves.  It should not be surprising that a judge who does not fear God would likewise not care about God’s demonstrated concern for the weak and vulnerable.  If he does not fear God, why would he respect people?

The widow says, literally:  “Avenge me from my opponent (antidikos).”  The widow, normally a sympathetic figure in Jesus’ stories, seems to expect that she may actually get justice in this kangaroo court.  She thinks she might yet come out a winner.  For all its well-known corruption, she still believes in the system! This certainty for the widow could be her belief that she has faith in it being in Gods tine that she would receive justice….

“For a while he refused” literally, but it seems that the woman’s faith was in Gods “inbreaking time”, if you will.  According to “regular time,” the judge has no use for the widow but in God’s time she would. In God’s time will come justice (though justice will be defined in a surprising and unusual way, as we shall see).  “God’s time” is not something that happens after chronological time ends.  “God’s time” is any time in which the reign of God breaks in.  It can be right now. It might be a stretch but for me here is the place of the vulnerable beauty of the fragile flower the fragility of the heart in the face of might, the fragile beauty of the flower in the  face of wind and rain and storms of all kinds.

In his speech to himself, the judge openly acknowledges what had originally been said about him, i.e., that he doesn’t fear God or respect people.  This tells us that he has had no internal change.  He remains the same person he was when first identified. Nevertheless, he decides to change his approach regarding the widow:  “Though I am not fearing God nor respecting human beings, yet because this widow gives me trouble, I will avenge her, so that she might not come (and) give me a black eye unto the end.” 

The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translates hupopiaze as “wear me out.”  This seems weak.  The word comes from the world of boxing and refers to striking someone under the eye.  “Give me a black eye” is not only faithful to the Greek, but paints a rather startling and humorous picture of the poor widow battering the powerful judge.

Such is the power of beauty and the fragile and the heart in the face of rules and regulations, and expectations. The weak goodness or love is akin to the fragility and vulnerability of the beauty of nature. What’s more, she will “give me a black eye unto the end (telos).”  The word telos is a special word in the scriptures.  It means the goal, the consummation, the gathering of all into all.  If the widow keeps battering him with her appeals, her desire for justice just may make the judge look bad through all eternity.  To avoid this fate, the judge rules in the widow’s favour.

Their vindication will be soon–en taxei–but not, however, by making the poor widow come out a winner through the judicial process.  Quite the contrary.  The vindication that is approaching “soon” is the death of Jesus.  The woman’s “justice,” and all true justice, will come when the beauty of the flower consumes everything. Amen. 


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