Saturday, October 19, 2013

Talk to the hand!

Luke 18:1-8

Today, the Gospel text is about prayer, persistent prayer. What are some ways God answers prayers? Yes, no, wait, I’ve got something better in mind, I’ll help you do it

When Jesus tells a parable, he doesn’t often tell us what it means. In this case, he tells us what it means right up front. He says, Pray continuously (or persistently) and don’t be discouraged.

In the parable, there is a widow who has a legal concern, and judge who refuses to grant her a hearing, much less give her justice. Probably, the widow had an issue about some land, or at least some place to live. For example, it’s possible that a relative had allowed her to live in a house he owned, and now was evicting her. She was about to be homeless.

The judge is so wrapped up in himself and his own importance that he pays no attention to God or to the people of his town. He doesn’t care that justice is denied to a lot of people as long as he maintains his own status.

I chose the image for this week’s worship booklet cover. It’s such a simple drawing, of a woman and the judge who refuses to pay any attention to her. The way he holds his hand up to her says a lot. Don’t bother me! Go away! In the language of young people, it says, Talk to the hand!

The widow pesters and pesters him, everywhere she sees him, until he finally agrees to her demand just to get rid of her.

As I read this parable, I see two strong contrasts. The judge is an obvious contrast to God, who is always willing to hear our concerns and grant us justice.

The other contrast is the widow. We forget, when we read about this widow, that women are third class citizens in ancient society. They are never to speak directly to men outside their families. They have few rights, despite frequent reminders in scripture that they should be taken care of. The usual image of them is of silent, at-risk women. Naomi, who calls herself bitter, quietly arranges a second marriage for Ruth. The widow at the offering box puts in her last two coins. The widow loses a coin and searches for it with lamp and broom.

This widow, however, steps out of the usual mold. She speaks up, to this man who is not a family member, because he is the only one who can give her what she needs. She never stops asking for what she needs. She is persistent. In the same way, Jesus says, we, too, are to be persistent in asking God for what we need.

Of course, God would never raise a hand to us and say, Go away, don’t bother me! In contrast, all over Israel, and in some parts of the Muslim world, is the image of a hand. This hand symbol was everywhere in Israel. It was printed on T-shirts, sold as jewelry and wall decorations, sun-catchers, bookmarks and stickers.

You have a bulletin insert with two pictures of the hand, called hamsa or hamesh. There are many symbols on the hand, often some Hebrew letters and an eye.

The Hebrew letters are pronounced heh [hay], which means five, as in five fingers. Heh is also one way of referring to God, as part of God’s holy name.

The eye is a talisman against the evil eye, but I like to think of it as God watching over us. We receive good things from God’s hands. The hamsa hand symbolizes all that is good about God.

So, instead of God putting up a hand to get rid of us, God holds out a hand of invitation and welcome. Jesus tells us to pray continuously, asking for what we need, and to not get discouraged. God welcomes our prayers, and encourages us to pray persistently.

Praying may change God. More often it changes us. Perhaps it was prayer that turned a widow from an invisible woman into a persistent beggar for justice.

When we pray for a long time for something, and it seems like God is not answering us, is anything happening? Perhaps God is simply telling us to wait until the time is right. Perhaps God is telling us to ask for something else, or to ask for it in another way.  Perhaps God is telling us we can do something to help ourselves.

My father had glaucoma, and lost his eyesight because of it. He prayed and prayed for God to restore his eyesight, but that never happened. I think he should have prayed also for God to help him accept his new circumstances and learn to enjoy life anyway. If time and circumstances were different, I’d have taken him to Blind Americans and let Bob put him to work building something with his hands.

This week, I invite you to pray persistently, with your whole heart. If you are already praying for something persistently with no response, I suggest you look for a different way to pray about it. Perhaps God is trying to change you through your prayers. Perhaps God is challenging you to do something instead of hoping God will give it to you with no effort on your part.

Please pray with me. Lord, you hold out your hand in welcome, inviting us to pray, and to pray persistently. We pray, asking for justice, knowing you will grant it, even if human justice isn’t always just. We pray, hoping for miracles, and yet we know not all prayers are answered with miracles. Keep us from feeling discouraged. We pray, and pray, and pray, and discover that we have been changed, and our prayers are answered through the changes inside of us. Give us the wisdom to know how our prayers have already been answered. Amen 

The word “hamsa” or “hamesh” means five. There are five digits on the hamsa hand, but the number five has additional symbolic meaning in the Jewish and Islamic traditions. Five (hamesh in Hebrew) represents the five books of the Torah for Jews. It also symbolizes the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, "Heh", which represents one of God’s holy names. It symbolizes the Five Pillars of Islam for Sunnis, and the Five People of the Cloak for Shi'ites.
In the Jewish religion, the Jewish hamsa hand also symbolizes the Hand of God. Many Jews believe the hamsa pendant symbolizes the Hand of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron. In the Islamic faith, the hamsa hand symbolizes The Hand of Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Mohammed.

Many Jews believe that the five fingers of the hamsa hand remind its wearer to use their five senses to praise God. Hamsa hands often contain an eye symbol, which is a powerful talisman against the evil eye. It is most often worn as a hamsa necklace, but can be found as a decorative element in houses, on key chains, on other jewelry items, and is quickly gaining popularity as an amulet in baby carriages. In addition to averting the gaze of the evil eye, it brings its wearer or owner happiness, luck, health, and good fortune.