The theme at our Diocesan Convention yesterday and Friday was Giving Voice to the Voiceless: Advocating for All God’s Children. Retired Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon was our visiting chaplain for convention who put our theme and the convention in line with scripture. She reminded us that Jesus called us to follow him not worship him. Too often she said we take the easy route of worshiping him so we don’t have to do the real work of following him, of getting our hands dirty doing the ministry Jesus has called us to do in our world today.
That ministry includes giving voice to the voiceless, of being the stubborn ones who continually raise our voices for those in our society who have no voice, like the children. In many ways, today’s Gospel is about such stubbornness. Jesus tells a parable, An unjust judge in a certain city refuses to give a widow the justice she seeks.
The widow kept going to the judge, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” He refused. But she would not go to her home and give up. Over, and over again this scene would happen... The judge, as we are told, who does not fear God or respect anyone else, decides to give her justice, not for her sake as a widow or because she is right, it is not for the sake of justice, but so that she stops being a nuisance to him, very practical!
The unjust judge in the parable has all the power for he can grant justice to the widow or not. The widow of course, in the time of Jesus, is vulnerable, who can be exploited, whose very survival could be at stake because she has no husband, and maybe no kin to take care of her. She is on the margins of that society and would seem to have no power in this situation. And yet, she does not give in to his refusals. She uses what she has available to her, her persistence, & her voice, “Grant me justice.” The widow refuses to be marginalized, and uses her voice to be heard.
From the days of the OT on, widows were not the only ones who were among the most vulnerable of the society, so too were the children, esp. the orphans. Today is the annual National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths. A time when people of faith throughout our country pray for and think about all children. Creating a Harbor of Hope and Health Care for All Children is this year’s theme, reminding us how many children do not have health insurance.
Children, both in Jesus day and now are vulnerable, they can be exploited or forgotten for they do not have power of themselves to get what they need. They need others. They need us. Could the parable about the unjust judge, have a child instead of a widow crying out for justice? You bet. The parable would be an apt description of children today and the stubbornness some have to have to help their children.
This is one true story…
Since 2004, Sarah Guerrero's three children, had been enrolled in SCHIP, the state Children's Health Insurance Program for low- and moderate-income families. SCHIP coverage allowed Sarah to take the children to the doctor for regular checkups, prescriptions, exams and routine follow-ups especially for 7 year old Damian's frequent ear problems. One Friday afternoon in November 2006, that all changed. When Sarah took her kids to the doctor for high temperatures, she was told the doctor couldn't treat her kids because their SCHIP coverage had ended. She asked how much the cost of the consultation would be and was told $75 per child. As a widow who receives survivor's benefits and works several shifts to make ends meet for her family, Sarah knew that these fees were beyond her reach.
Sarah later learned that SCHIP coverage had ended because she failed to pay an enrollment fee—a fee she had never been notified was due. She tried to resolve the problem with the call center. She called again and again, but customer service representatives would hang up on her, tell her that nothing could be done, or tell her that she would have to wait. She didn't give up. For months Sarah unsuccessfully fought to have her children's coverage reinstated. During that time, her children's health began to suffer—particularly Damian's. Damian has a history of chronic ear infections, but while uninsured, the problem began to worsen. He began performing poorly in school and his grades dropped. Sarah had also noticed that at home he did not respond to her when she called for him and that he turned up the volume on the TV more and more each day.
It turned out that Damian wasn't suffering from an ear infection, but severe hearing loss. Sarah was told that Damian needed surgery in his left ear as soon as possible to correct his ear problem and prevent further hearing loss. Yet Sarah was forced to delay Damian’s ear surgery until his coverage could be reinstated. She enlisted the help of others and finally hoped her problems were resolved or so she was told. When Sarah took Damian in for a pre-op doctor's visit before the surgery, she was told again that her child's coverage had not been reinstated. The health plan would not approve the surgery since the six-month coverage period noted on the letter had already expired.
Still, she didn't give up. Next, she turned to child advocates to join her in pleading her case. It wasn't until the advocates appealed to the highest levels of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission that Damian was successfully re-enrolled in SCHIP. Damian finally had surgery in mid December 2006 to alleviate his ear problem. While he still needs follow-up care and treatment to correct his hearing loss, Sarah is hopeful that his ear problem will no longer delay his progress in school and that in time he will be able to catch up with his classmates. (from the Children's Defense Fund)
It is so hard to imagine children having no health insurance, and yet Damian’s story is not uncommon, children who do not get the immunizations they need, nor the medicines they need when they are sick. I think of what we have gone through with my own kids. Ear infections, tubes, asthma, flu shots…all children should have access to our health care system. That is an injustice for 9 million children to have no health insurance in the richest country in the world.
“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children,” the great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said. Our response is clear, we are to follow what Jesus would do, responding to those in need by being their advocates. By giving all children what they need, justice, hope, love and access to health care. But we should not despair at the way things are. Jesus finished his parable by reminding us how God will respond.
As Jesus said, God will quickly grant justice to them, when we call. So we start, quite simply, with prayer. For the parable reminds us about the need to pray always and not to lose heart. That God will answer our prayers. Our prayers are meant to connect us with the source of who we are, that is God our creator. It is not to change God; our prayers don’t make God act. The prayers make us act, prayer changes “us.” You and me. God acts through us in this world.
Remember the words of Theresa of Avila I spoke last week: “Christ has no body now, but yours. No hands, no feet on earth, but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks compassion into the world. Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world.”
We who follow Jesus are the ones who act in God’s name, to help children. To be the advocates they need. With our hands, our heart and voices. If we hear Jesus’ parable for us today…
-would we be the unjust judge refusing to grant justice?
-are we bystanders who watch from the side, with our hands in our pockets, saddened, dismayed, angry and yet doing nothing about it?
-or do we dare stand with the vulnerable, the poor, the widow, the children, letting our voice be heard for them, in our Government, in the market place, on the streets, in our schools, in our churches, in our homes.
A voice that says again and again, Grant them justice! Amen.