Am I My Bother’s Keeper?

Luke 18:1-8 – The 22nd Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, October 16, 2016

“ . . . I don’t fear God or respect people, but I will give this widow justice because she keeps bothering me . . .” (Luke 18:4-5)

checkWhen reading Jesus’ parables from two millennia ago, I’m thankful for how they challenge me to live here and now.

I want to be like that woman who loses that coin, finds it, and rejoices. Help me rejoice with others, O God!

I want to be like that father racing, barelegged and knock-kneed, down the road to greet his younger son. Help me welcome and forgive others, O God!

I want to be like that Samaritan, gazing over the edge of the road and beyond the edge of prejudice, to see a fellow traveler. O God, help me provide support to all!

I want to be like that widow (Luke 18:1-8) who keeps coming back, and back again, to receive justice from a corrupt judge. O God, help me have the strength to bother others!

Help me: rejoice, forgive, support, and bother. Bother! Bother? Including bother with those other faithful verbs seems like those test questions where students must identify the word that didn’t belong. For example, which word below doesn’t fit with the others?

  • Square
  • Orange
  • Circle
  • Triangle

Easy test, eh? Toss out that citrusy fruit!

O God please help me be bothersome . . . really? Is the parable challenging me to be a squeaky wheel?

Once, while driving solo back-and-forth to Sacramento to visit my parents, I listened to Robert Evans’ autobiography, The Kid Stays In The Picture. It chronicled his rise and fall and rise again as a Hollywood playmaker. The book is rude, crude, and always entertaining. Evans produced 1974’s Chinatown, which is always my answer to the question: “What’s your favorite movie?” He also championed the making of Love Story, Rosemary’s Baby, and put together an unlikely team of nobodies and has-beens (including a guy named Brando) to create a gangster flick called The Godfather.

Near the grim ending of “Chinatown.”

Evans wrote that tensions on a set were more likely to produce a better film. He recalled productions where everyone was agreeable and happy . . . and the finished film was lousy. Ironically, disagreements and debates could lead to a better movie. Because I’m a movie buff, I know Chinatown’s screenwriter Robert Towne and director Roman Polanski battled over the film’s ending. Towne desired an upbeat conclusion. Polanski preferred loss and ambiguity. Polanski pestered, persisted, and won the argument. By the way, Towne received an Oscar for his screenplay.

Isn’t Evans wrong? Isn’t it always better to be nice and pleasant? Let’s not argue, but discuss. Let’s not bother others, but let them be.

And yet, there’s that parable. There’s that powerful judge and the powerless widow who keeps returning to demand justice. She’s such a bother! Should we do likewise?

Back in the 90s, my wife led math education workshops for the Washington D.C. school district. Strapped for cash, they had a reputation for delaying, and even “ignoring,” money owed to consultants. Their reputation became our reality. Weeks, and then months, came and went. My wife received zilch. From my west coast home, I called the D.C. district’s office and learned who was responsible for payments.

“Yes, we owe your wife money,” Mr. I-Approve-The-Checks said. “We’ll pay her soon.”

Soon . . . one of the nastiest of all four-letter words.

I told the gentleman, ever so politely, that I’d keep calling him to check on the check’s progress. Usually rising at four in the morning to carve out writing time, I interrupted my work to phone. With the three-hour difference between California and Washington D.C., I’d call Mr. I-Approve-The-Checks when he arrived at his desk.

“How ya doing? This is Larry from California. Is the check in the mail?”

“Sorry, not yet.”

Again and again I called, always pleasant*. Eventually, Mr. I-Approve-The-Checks fulfilled my nickname for him. Did the payment arrive because I became a frequent long-distance squeaky wheel before his first cup of bad office coffee?

In the Realm of Love, in the living out of Christian faith, bothering others is hard, diligent work. Go and do likewise, we imagine Jesus declaring. Rejoice with others. Forgive each one. Support your neighbor. Those seem easy compared to bothering another. “Give me justice in this case against my adversary,” the widow said for the umpteenth time to the judge. In the parable, she didn’t threaten the judge. Didn’t harm him. Didn’t embarrass him on the Internet. Didn’t deceive or trick him. Didn’t humiliate him. Didn’t blindside him.

With a sense of justice, she kept asking for justice.

When, in the best sense of Jesus’ parable, have you bothered someone?


*I chose this “personal” example because I thought it mirrored Jesus’ parable. And yet it does make me appear to be such a gracious and faithful fellow. I have many examples of failure. One of my marriage’s most difficult times was when I kept bothering my wife to hurry and finish her doctoral studies while living in Wisconsin. Bad, selfish Larry! Using Jesus’ persistent widow as the inspiration for how to lovingly bother others is a difficult path. I’ve stumbled often on that path.

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  1. Nice t-shirt Larry. Glad to see you lived the story and got the t-shirt for your troubles. When I next wear my “I got a speeding ticket” t-shirt I’ll think of you!
    Blessings too for a great story. My wife says I don’t bother enough people (apart from her!) and you’ve just qualified that too. Thanks man.

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