I was in a conversation last week and the topic shifted to “what was the first concert you ever went to?” I assumed that the question related to popular music – I had been to a couple of symphonic performances – so my answer was Peter Paul and Mary. What I did not realize at the time of the concert, which was probably in 1965 or 66, was that PP&M were introducing me to the work of Bob Dylan. They had two big hits back then that were both Dylan tunes: “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times, They Are a Changin’.”
The first hit had a gentle, mournful tone, the second one more of an edge. They both fit into their time and I think have transcended the boundary of time. When I first heard “The Times, They Are a Changin'” I thought began to think of myself and the coming change and others as the ones standing in the doorways and blocking up the halls. Today I hear, “don’t criticize what you can’t understand, your sons and your daughters are beyond your command” in a very different way.
What I would like to think about myself is that I will get out of the old road and maybe even lend a hand, but sometimes it is a struggle. Doing justice always has been. The parable in Luke’s gospel this week has more than one title. Some call it the parable of the unjust judge and some call it the parable of the persistent woman. Depending on your focus, either one works. The characters need each other for the story to happen.
On the one hand, the judge is described as a man that “neither feared God not respected people.” That isn’t exactly a great endorsement. The woman on the other hand is a widow which might have meant that unless she had family to take her in, she had nothing and no standing of any kind.
When I read this parable, I think about Rosa Parks and my Uncle Carl. Parks of course was a Civil Rights activist who was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat in the whites only section of a public bus in Montgomery Alabama. My Uncle Carl was a telephone lineman in Philadelphia riding the bus home from work. He was tired and the only seat available was in the blacks only section at the back of the bus and he sat there. He was not an activist, just a tired man on a hot day. The driver stopped the bus and demanded that Carl come to the front of the bus. Carl explained that he didn’t care about what part of the bus he was in, he just wanted to sit. He didn’t get arrested, but he refused to give up his seat and eventually the angry driver continued the route.
Unless ordinary people without power or position persistently demand justice, even when there is a cost for doing so, then justice will remain a dream. The woman kept demanding that the judge do justice even though he neither feared God or respected people. He was a man who knew no race, and yet, if only to get rid of her, the judges ruled in her favor.
The prophet Habakkuk proclaimed, “The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it.”
Here is the last verse of Bob Dylan’s still-relevant song:
The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast
The slow one now will later be fast
As the present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last.