Zion is personified in the book of Lamentations as a grieving, wounded woman. Likely written while the people of Israel lived in exile in Babylon, this passage portrays a city who openly mourns for her people “like a widow”. Daughter Zion is brought so low as to “become a vassal”, a humiliating reversal of power.
Feminist theologian Gina Hens-Piazza examines the way that images of a desolate Jerusalem and an abused woman become interchangeable here. This fusing of images offers not only a “glance at the ruinous remains of Jerusalem” through the lens of a violated woman, but “the grim portrait of the punished city encourages the stereotype of woman as violated victim who invites the abuse that comes her way”.
The author tries to theologically make sense of the exile as a punishment from God. Like so many women, daughter Zion searches for a narrative in which to contain her suffering and finds it all too easy to blame herself. May we lament this, too.
This passage also wrestles with the Babylonian exile, though with a very different tone. Rather than being weighed down by lament, God – through the prophet Jeremiah – encourages Their people to make the best of a dire situation. Instead of living in limbo, waiting with bated breath to reclaim their homeland, Jeremiah asks the people of Israel to settle down and makes homes for themselves.
Jeremiah offers images of growth in the context of exile, encouraging God’s people to put down roots both figuratively and literally. This means accepting that they are in Babylon to stay and that the exile will last for generations. Taking it even further, the Israelites are tasked with caring for the place they find themselves in, through both action and prayer. The challenge is to remain present and hopeful even when disconnecting from a situation might numb despair.
The parable opens on a judge without respect for God or people, both important tenets of a life of discipleship, and God’s character is conveyed by contrast to this unjust judge. The active player in this story is a widow who has been accused of an unknown wrongdoing. She does not ask politely that the judge consider her plight but demands justice – again and again. The scales the judge uses to weigh this issue are not those of justice, and yet justice is granted – because the widow does not relent, a persistence characteristic of many justice movements.
If even an unjust judge will grant justice based on persistence alone, how swiftly will God, often portrayed as a judge, grant justice to those who cry out? And yet, despite God’s justice, Jesus observes a lack of faith among the people of God. In the widow’s footsteps, may we engage in prayer as a persistent practice of resistance and approach injustice with posture of hope.
In this Psalm, God brings order amid chaos in a pattern that echoes the first Genesis creation narrative. When the people of God are overwhelmed by our own faults, God grants respite through forgiveness. When waves roar and people tumult, God silences the storm. In its place, God brings forth abundance, watering the soil as a gardener does until richness overflows, “for so you have prepared it.”
Each time we fail to care for our planet, God forgives our transgressions and new life emerges from charred ground. But our chances of achieving the abundant vision of verses 9-13 are fast disappearing; God has laid the groundwork of creation, and we must bring order to climate chaos in God’s image. Even as the imagery of this Psalm feels unattainable, fresh green shoots dare us to hope.
While many of us remember Zacchaeus for his short stature in Sunday school colouring-ins, his reputation in this passage is of wealth and corruption. Jesus knows that being a “rich man” is often an obstacle to encountering the kingdom and immediately invites himself to partake of Zacchaeus’ hospitality.
Onlookers are perplexed that this revered teacher would seemingly endorse the actions of a tax collector, and in so doing they misunderstand the purpose of Jesus’ ministry. We have witnessed in other gospel stories the way that powerful figures in the communities Jesus travelled through often sought to provide him hospitality to solidify their status.
Zacchaeus is instead humbled by Jesus’ presence. He commits to active repentance and reparations for the harm his corruption has caused and is inspired to generosity. Jesus recognises Zacchaeus’ shared humanity and heritage, naming him a “son of Abraham”, and re-affirming that the true purpose of Jesus’ ministry is “to seek out and to save the lost”.
Gabi Cadenhead is a mission worker for Christian Students Uniting at the University of Sydney.