“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”
That’s what this parable is supposed to be about. The need to pray, and to not lose heart, but the parable itself is enough to make one wonder! It’s a difficult story to follow.
A widow who is persistent.
A judge who has no respect for anyone, and no fear of God either.
Rough and tumble action and language throughout, some of it borrowed from the boxing ring.
The widow is “sparring” here, continually coming at the judge with verbal and physical jabs.
The Judge complains that this widow will literally (in the Greek) “give me a black eye” – “wear me out” with her continually (sparring,) coming at me!”
This is what Jesus commends to us? An existence of coming at God until God finally relents, not because God cares or because it’s the right thing to do, but rather simply because all this persistence wears God down until justice is given?
That’s how this parable is often interpreted.
That’s a problem.
It’s a problem because we don’t much care for the image of God when it is interpreted in that fashion.
A God who doesn’t care?
A God who is aloof, and unconcerned? Detached from God’s duty to protect and advocate on behalf of the helpless?
A God who has to be cajoled into action like some absentee landlord. “Oh fine, I’ll fix your furnace, just quit showing up on my doorstep and calling the television stations!”
I don’t like that image of God much, do you? It doesn’t do much for making me want to pray!
But what if we’ve gotten the interpretation of this parable all backwards?
Jesus does not identify “God” as any of the players in the parable. The parable is instead told to remind us of the need to pray and not lose heart.
What if we played with where we see God in this parable? Where might God be? Who might that judge be if not God?
When you begin to play with the location of God in the parable the possibilities suddenly begin to open up.
We make God to be the judge here, that’s the “role” we assign God, historically, and theologically.
I suppose we do that because the Creed we recite weekly reinforces that viewpoint. “He will come to judge the living and the dead.”
So, when we hear about a judge referred to in the parable, we are the ones who put God (or Jesus) in the role of judge in it, and that is what causes our confusion.
But, what if WE are the judge.
This makes a whole lot more sense if you think about it.
We are the ones who quite often have no respect for people.
We label people all the time, assign them their identity, belittle them if they are different from us, in skin color, economic status, orientation or outward appearance.
We judge people all the time, do we not? Often unjustly because of where they live, who they are seen hanging out with, or what they get caught up in at the moment.
We cannot help ourselves really. Our background, the household, culture and environment from whence we originated, conscious and unconscious bias, all enter into the way we look at others.
Now judging (the ability to compare and size things up) is a useful tool for survival. You want to be able to pay attention to when the hair stands up on the back of your neck in some instances.
It’s not a bad thing to be aware of one’s surroundings, of potential threats and dangers. You live longer if you do!
You might even argue that judging is implicit in how God has created us, going back to the creation stories. Humanity “names” the animals. Humanity discerns the light from dark, can tell day from night, what is good to eat and what is to be avoided. (Although we turn out to be not so good at that.)
But those same skill sets of judging circumstances, events, and differences can also lead you astray, and can cause suffering. Unjust decisions can be made, harsh and unkind words spoken, and actions taken.
We are the ones who quite often have no regard for God. We live as if God is no longer around or concerned with our actions.
We live as if the words of Jesus were just a polite suggestion made, instead of a mandate.
“Love your neighbor as yourself?” Yeah right, Jesus, maybe you could, maybe in your world, but we live in the “real world” here and it’s dog-eat-dog and “get what is yours while the getting is good, and more if you can.”
We read the scriptures and hear those calls by God throughout history to work toward justice. God gives means of easing income inequality, establishing the year of Jubilee, erasing debts for the sake of a just community. We hear God command that there should be a returning of the land to those who once inhabited it in every generation, and we read all those scriptural prescribed ways to reset economic justice. In Acts the community is instructed to hold all things in common, to provide for one another, and to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves while encouraging all to work and have value.
What do we do with those prescriptions found in scripture?
We scoff at them.
“That’s not the way OUR world works,” we say, “never has and never will.”
That’s having “no fear of God,” isn’t it?
That’s saying that we don’t believe that God will someday act decisively on behalf of those who are denied justice.
That’s saying “we don’t believe that there will ever be an accounting, a reckoning.” Or at very least it is saying that such a reckoning won’t come in our lifetime or won’t be held against us in the life to come
Scripture records time and again stories of God letting the forces of our own stubbornness play out.
Scripture talks about how God withdrew God’s favor time and again when God’s people ignored the plight of the widow, the orphan, neglected hospitality or pursued greed.
The words of the prophets are filled with warnings about how God will use the neighboring nations as a rod to discipline those who have forgotten the commands and ordinances of God, the commandments and the rules of hospitality.
We are the ones who live quite often as if God is no longer capable of action, with no fear of God.
Look at the parable with these eyes, that the judge is not God, the judge is us. We’re the ones who disregard, and who quite often only act when we’ve been sufficiently bothered, worn down, or put in our place!
And then, pay attention to the actions of the widow! What is it that she is doing? She’s relentless in her pursuit not only of justice, but of this judge!
She will get this judge’s attention!
She will keep at it until justice is obtained, and the world for her is changed!
You want to see where God is in this parable, what should make you want to pray and not lose heart? God is found in such persistence!
Isn’t that what God in Christ Jesus shows us, a God who is persistent at coming to find us? A God whose words are not always appreciated, whose call and command to us to live a new life is often met with resistance, and yet still God comes!
Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God arriving in our midst, and we chafe at what he says.
Jesus calls us to love unconditionally, unreservedly, and we cringe and point to all the reasons (usually good ones) why we “judge” not to do that.
Still, Jesus comes at us with God’s word and meets us in the sacraments and offers himself to us until at last we are simply worn out and can no longer refuse.
“Oh, o.k. Jesus, I’ll TRY loving my neighbor….”
“Oh, o.k. Jesus, if you say I’m forgiven, I’ll just have to trust you and live like that’s the case.”
“Oh, o.k. Jesus, if you say the Kingdom starts now, I’ll just have to start behaving like it indeed has.”
And, in the midst of relenting finally to God’s insistence and persistence, justice happens, and the world is changed for us all!
This is the reason to pray always and not to lose heart, God is unwilling to give up on us!
This is the reason to pray always and not to lose heart, God is indeed a “sparring partner” with whom we must continually contend, and God spars with us such because God has created us and knows us to be capable of doing what it is that God has commanded, urged, loved us into.
The Word of God comes at us, continually, unrelentingly until that Word of God finds a place where our defenses are weakened, the blow can be landed, and we are knocked out by the power of God’s love and grace!
We are left quite often with spinning heads and a glimpse of a world that could be changed, if only we would relent!
If only we would grant God that place that we try so hard to hold on to and preserve for our own judgment.
If only we would do that which we know would be in the best interest of all, that which we are capable, because it would make for justice and life!
This unrelenting God, whose Word packs a punch, will not stop short of anything but a knock-out punch in the end to our senses, bringing us to them.
Faith will be found.
The Word will find its way in.
Justice will prevail!
And we, all people, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, will find faith.
So pray always and do not lose heart on this world or give up on one another, judging that the world cannot be changed by love.
God has not. Amen.