Keep At It
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?”
How Not What…
Earlier in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus teaches his disciples what to pray. [“On that occasion, he gave them specific words to use in prayer. With this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us how to pray, rather than what to pray.”] Think of the Lord’s prayer as a conversation with God. [“This Sunday’s Gospel is not so much about the proper technique for our conversations with God but rather about our attitude. We are to keep at it. We are not to lose heart. We are to be as persistent in seeking a relationship with God as God has been persistent in seeking a relationship with us. Through thick and thin, we are to persevere.” Willimon.]
Practice Makes Permanent.
A world renowned labor mediator once said, “The main thing is to keep talking. Everything’s on the table. The only truly wrong thing you can do is to stop talking.”
[As a pastor, sometimes when a couple is having problems in their marriage, the couple says, “Our marriage is in trouble because we just seem to argue all the time.”
Pastors sometimes say, “Arguing can be good. At least you are busy talking, listening, negotiating, understanding. The worst thing is for either of you to just go silent. Don’t shut down. Keep talking!” Willimon]
In church, we just keep talking. We have to go over the same things every week. Just like a baseball player in the world series practices the fundamentals of baseball every day, as Christians we practice the basics of our faith every week. No one is born into faith. It does not come naturally to anyone. We have to repeat. We have to practice.
My gymnastics coach in high school, Stephen Gale, would say that practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. If you practice the wrong thing, you just make your mistake permanent. We come to church, we come to worship to practice right things, good things. We come to church to repeat those good things to make them permanent in our lives.
When we come to church we confess our sins to God. Do we do it once? No, sin, like sludge that accumulates in our kitchen sink, it needs a good regular cleaning.
We come to experience music together to kindle our hearts on fire for God. Do you tell your loved one once that you love them and if you change your mind you will inform them of the change? You do this if you want the relationship to end quickly. No, you enjoy telling them often and in many creative ways that your love is faithful.
We keep at it.
So what about this story. Jesus was not using a Jewish judge as the example in this parable. He was using a Roman judge. Jewish Judges were called Elders. In a Jewish legal case, three judges heard the case. The plaintiff chose a judge; the defendant chose a judge; and, one judge would be independently appointed.
This judge was one of the paid magistrates appointed either by Herod or by the Romans. Such judges were notorious. Unless a plaintiff had influence and money to bribe her way to a verdict she had no hope of ever getting her case settled. These judges were said to pervert justice for a dish of meat. People even called them robber judges.
The widow is a symbol of all who were poor and defenseless. Having no resources, she had no hope of ever extracting justice from such a judge. She had only one weapon – persistence. It is possible that what the judge in the end feared was physical exhaustion. The woman would “close his eyes in sleep”.
Jesus does not liken God to an unjust judge, Jesus contrasts God to an unjust judge. If, in the end, an unjust judge can be wearied into giving a widow woman justice, how much more will God, who is a loving Father, give to you what you need.
We may [“read the parable as a parable of an exemplary, determined woman who claims the power that she has and in the process wrings a modicum of justice out of an unjust judge in an unjust world.” Willimon]
We are called to keep at it in prayer.
We just opened up the question that drives people to doubt and drives people to faith. Jesus opened up the question of answered and of unanswered prayer.
It is true that God is a Loving Father who wants to give good things to his children.
Luke 11:13 teaches us that [“God is eager to grant our petitions for the gift of the Holy Spirit so that we might be more faithful disciples. Before we launch into a sermon on God’s eagerness to answer all of our prayers, we might note that the parable specifically says that God is eager to grant our request for the Holy Spirit, not necessarily all our requests.” Willimon.]
However, [“If you have suffered an injustice, say something! Step up and complain. You beat on the door of justice until it’s opened to you! If this lousy judge, who cares not for God or for suffering humanity, finally gives in, how much more so will God respond to your persistence.” Willimon.]
So, we keep at it in prayer.
There is a broader context for this parable. The point of this parable is not so much in the receiving, the point of the parable is in the persistent asking. Jesus has just finished a lengthy discourse on the coming of the Kingdom. The religious leaders have asked him point blank when the Kingdom of God will come. Jesus’ answer is so Jesus. Jesus answers with two seemingly contradictory claims.
The first claim is that the Kingdom of God is already here, “in the midst of you.”
The second claim seems to contradict the first claim. Jesus tells of his suffering and rejection. He tells of people going about their daily business like in the days of the flood, like in the days of Sodom, and like in the days of his own suffering. He then speaks of a radical and unforeseen event that requires immediate response as the Son of Man is revealed. More and more curious, the religious leaders change their question from “when” to “where”. “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” Jesus answers.
Bam. Then, Jesus tells this story of the widow. The wrap up to this teaching comes with these words, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Rethinking the question, will the Son of Man find people who like the widow continue to pray for justice against all odds? Will Jesus find people who will pray without ceasing? Will Jesus find people who will pray for justice wearing down the corruption of this world?
Jesus calls us to keep at it in prayer.
So, lets pray…
Lord Jesus, you warned us that the way you walk is a narrow way. Even as you called us to be your disciples, you also told us to take heed and be sure that we wanted to follow you. And in spite of your warnings, we came forward, we said yes, and we walked with you.
But Lord, walking with you is not always easy. Sometimes you say things that are hard for us to understand. More frequently, you say things that would be very difficult for us to put into practice in our daily lives. Sometimes we come to church with great expectations, but we are bored by the sermon, are unmoved by the music. We set out to read our way through the Bible, but our eyes glaze over, and we lose interest. We long for the way to be easier and for the rewards of discipleship to come more quickly.
Therefore this morning, we pray, Lord, for persistence. Give us that deep, dogged determination to keep on. Strengthen us so that we might keep going even during times of doubt, disillusion, disinterest, boredom, and fatigue.
Give us half as much persistence in talking with you, in walking with you, and in living for you as you have persisted in loving and calling us. Amen.