“The Parable of Andrew Johnson”
Highlands Presbyterian Church
October 16, 2016
Luke 18:1-8 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Did you know that 1 of every 4 people behind prison bars everywhere in the world…one of four are in US prisons? Since 1972, America’s prison population has gone from a couple of hundred thousand to more than a couple of million? That’s why an ancient scriptural story about an unjust justice system matters to us today.
The 18th chapter of Luke is a story about un-respected, vulnerable, marginalized people who can’t get justice. They are represented here by a widow who is ignored by the system but one whose relentlessness becomes so bothersome to an unjust judge that she finally gets the justice she demands. Injustice meets bothersome and bothersome triumphs.
Let me tell you why this story matters here and now. It begins this way. In Cheyenne there was a man who was convicted of raping a woman he didn’t rape. But she said he did. Then the police said he did. Then the prosecutor said he did, and alas, the jury said he did.
With a DNA test proving his innocence, it was still another five long years that Andrew sat in a prison cell before a judge ordered him released.
TWENTY-FOUR years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. From 1989 until 2013. What were you doing during those 24 years? Coincidentally, last week my grandson Finn pulled his aunt Meghan’s baptism Bible from the bookshelf. I opened it and found she had been baptized the same year Andrew went to prison. It gave me some context for the injustice. While Meghan was growing up, playing with friends, attending church camps and finishing school, going to college, learning about computers and technology, getting married and having children, Andrew sat alone in that small prison cell.
Andrew’s parable has no unjust judges. His judges rendered justice under the laws of the time and it was a just judge who looked at the DNA evidence and, over the objections of a prosecutor, ordered Andrew set free. The just judge titled his order “Order of Absolute Innocence.”
But there were unjust officials in Andrew’s story and let me tell you, the injustice got even worse after he was released. Imagine reentering the workforce after the changes wrought by a quarter of a century spent confined. You come back because you’ve been found innocent in the eyes of the law but not in the eyes of the community. A LA Times reporter told Andrew’s story this way.
Johnson had planned to move in with his mother when he got out of prison, but she died a few days before he was freed. Johnson joined his younger sister, who is disabled by multiple sclerosis and living in state-subsidized housing. The siblings split $250 a month in food stamps.
Donors moved by Johnson's plight gave him a white 1997 Camry. But one morning he discovered his tires slashed and words scrawled on the windshield in black marker: "Walk rapist." New tires cost Johnson $272.34, draining his savings. He had $1.36 in change rattling in the pocket of his donated winter coat. So that fall, Johnson trudged to the local unemployment office, broke and desperate. "You just put your work history in right here," an employee explained, pointing to a computer screen. "I just got out after 24 years," he told the employee. "I got exonerated, and I don't get any money."
There are people in our unjust system standing in the way of justice. Because of the injustice among some of our legislators, Wyoming is among a minority of states refusing to compensate the wrongfully convicted for the loss of the years of their lives.
But we aren’t going to allow that injustice stand. The people of Highlands are going to proclaim the Sage Brush Gospel version of the parable of the unjust judge so that it reads like this:
Then Jesus told them this parable about their need to pray always, speak the truth to those with the power, and not to lose heart. He said, “In Wyoming there were legislators who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a man, wrongfully convicted, who kept coming to those legislators and saying, ‘Grant me justice.’
The unjust legislators refused; but later after the Jesus followers cried out for justice, they said to themselves, ‘Though we have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this man and those who advocate for justice keep bothering us, we must grant justice, so that they may not wear us out by continually coming.”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust say. And will not
God grant justice to his chosen ones and their advocates who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.
And when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Jesus will find faith enough among the people of Highlands that God will move the unjust to do justice. In the coming session of the legislature, a bill will be introduced to compensate those like Andrew who are wrongfully convicted, to make right the unjust interruption of their lives.
The emphasis in the parable from Luke and our version is the same. It is on justice and how God figures into the confrontation between the vulnerable justice-seeker and the unjust power-holder. The powerful and just God takes the place of the unjust in the end, granting justice to our vulnerable brothers and sisters and those who care about them who cry out for justice day and night.
During the coming days, candidates for the legislature will knock on your doors asking for your vote. On October 25th Highlands will host a candidate forum on social justice. Take the opportunity to demand they give justice to Andrew Johnson and others like him. Call your legislator, write letters, start petitions. Become as bothersome as the widow Jesus told us about.
Frederick Douglas knew something about injustice and how to overcome it. “Power,” he said, “concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Jesus said much the same. “Will not God grant justice to those who cry to him day and night? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And when the Son of Man comes, he will find faith on earth.”
Let us make certain he will find faith on that little part of the earth that we walked during our time here. AMEN