Then after the government shutdown, which ended with a compromise that will likely see another shutdown in January, Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not lose heart.
Somehow this Gospel lesson seems tailor made for this week. It has been a tough and contentious past couple of weeks, where fervent and persistent prayers have been uttered on all sides of the debate, and where resolution is not forthcoming in any way, so we feel a connection to the plight of this widow of which Jesus speaks.
We don’t know her circumstances, but we know that widows are always on the fringes, in that society and ours really. Who speaks for them? Who pays attention to them? Who cares for them?
We don’t know a thing about this judge. Sometimes he’s called “unjust”, but in the parable it just seems to say he is truly and really very uncomfortably impartial. He neither fears God, nor respects people. He doesn’t operate out of moral or religious convictions, and isn’t inclined to be swayed by status or position. How do you get a ruling out of such a person? What argument do you make to appeal to someone who doesn’t appear to be “moved” by anything?
Persistence! That’s what we’re told to employ.
The same forces that wind and water use to wear down stone can be employed to wear down other resistances.
Persistence can be used to wear down resistance to justice.
Persistence can be used to wear down resistance to change.
Persistence can be employed to wear down resistance to oppression.
Found in the actions of this widow of the parable is the key to understanding how it is that change comes about in this world.
It is persistence that makes it happen.
This parable is a common biblical argument found throughout the scriptures, which is an argument from lesser than, to greater than.
It’s not that God is like this judge at all, and that is sometimes confusing for us because we are so used to trying to figure out who God is in the parable. We’re not supposed to equate God with anyone in this parable, rather the parable is descriptive of “how much more” you can expect out of God than you might expect out of others. If you can get what you need from them, you will surely get it from God. If you can move a judge like this with your persistence, how much more can you expect God to respond to your own prayers on other matters?
That ends up being pretty good news for us, because quite frankly, at this point in time we don’t expect a lot.
We don’t expect a lot from government and maybe, we don’t expect a lot from God.
That’s precisely the kind of situation in Luke’s Gospel into which this parable is spoken. At the end of chapter 17, although we skip over it, Jesus gives a “little apocalypse” where he talks about how bad things will get before the Kingdom of God is revealed in full. The disciples are discouraged by his words.
Jesus answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is! ‘ or ‘There it is! ‘ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” The kingdom is already here, Jesus says. You are a part of it, oh disciples! That ends up being a little more than a little disheartening, because we often times can’t see it in ourselves. We sometimes don’t want to hear that the Kingdom resides within us.
We’d like a final resolution, thank you! Take this uncertainty off the table for us God. Fix it! You do it God! Or “You do it we say to someone else.
But that’s a little more complicated than we might expect, and we’ve seen that in our own debate this past few weeks.
Everyone wants people to be cared for, but how to do that without breaking the bank and breaking our political, social, and economic systems? That is a matter of debate! We have different philosophies on how to accomplish things, different starting places from which we think things should naturally flow and follow.
It’s not fair that people are here in the U.S. illegally, but even those who advocate fences and walls and sending people back to wait their turn are loathe to want to do that when they realize what “going back” might mean. You can have a cold and rational approach toward the issues of immigration or economics, until you are the one who begins to see parallels in our own practices to things that we promised we would never let happen again, and then you are caught short in what seems a simple, or final solution.
Do I really want that? Is that really the only option?
This is the world that Jesus addresses with this parable. If you were expecting the Kingdom to be simple, I’m sorry, it’s not. It is within you! And, because it is within you; it is inherently complicated! The matters of relationship and justice and care for the neighbor are inherently complicated in this world of finite resources and competing interests and seemingly unmovable personalities.
But it is within you to find your way through it.
That’s what Jesus wants us to see in the parable of this Widow, learns as she goes and persists at her request.
That is what Jesus wants us to see in the judge that acknowledges her petition at last, what moves him. “This woman will wear me out!”
It is that well-worn path of persistence in prayer and dialog with one another that reveals the Kingdom of God at work in us, what that Kingdom is to look like, and who it is to include. It is a path you have to tread on your own, back and forth, with that other, until the way is clear, the direction determined and the agreement is made.
And if truth be told, what frustrated us all in those days of the shut-down was the fact that there was no persistence in dialog.
There is a big difference between a well-worn path of dialog, and a trench.
The Gospel lesson for this week gives us both hope and a challenge.
The hope comes from this assurance by God that persistence in prayer and dialog pays off. The Kingdom is within you! You can do this!
The challenge comes in whether you will or not.
“When the son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” That is the haunting question at that concludes the parable.
It is Jesus saying “your persistence will pay off, but I wonder if you’ll do it?” He wonders if his disciples are ready, if they will be persistent after the events of trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. Will they persist in the pathway I have shown them?
That is ever the challenge of faith.
How awesome is this God of ours who has done so much for us, who has led us by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. A God who has created, sustained, rescued, and saved, and given great and gracious promises, and who after all of that sends his Son to live among us.
How awesome is this God who lives as we live, walks as we walk, breathes our air and feels out pains and frustrations and needs, and who then heals and forgives and leads us so that we would know of his Kingdom and power in our lives.
How incredible, that after all of this, after placing the seed of the Kingdom of God deep within our own selves, this God of power and majesty and might would then step back and with baited breath wonder….. “Will they actually use what they’ve been given?”
Will they be persistent in prayer and in voice and in dialog with me and with each other in such a way that this world will be transformed and that seed of the Kingdom that is sown deep inside each one of them would come now to fullness of harvest, and the world be changed?
That is the question on Jesus’ mind as he tells the parable, and looks at his disciples, at us in love.
That is the question we entertain every day, in every action we undertake.
We have God’s confidence, so we have confidence in God to persist in what God knows we can do, bring in the Kingdom? Be the change we want to see in the world, be the change the world groans to see and experience?