October 20, 2019

“Do Not Lose Heart!”

Luke 18:1-8

 

The parable of the Persistent Widow is often misinterpreted as an illustration of how to get our own way with God - by wearing God down with requests. Since Luke often puts God in his parables as one of the main characters, if we’re not careful we will try to force God into the role of a reluctant, grumbling unjust judge. So let us take a closer look at the parable of the unjust judge to see what it tells us about God and our faith.

 

In this illustration by Jesus, we hear of a judge in some unnamed city who has no interest in pursuing justice. A widow in that city keeps after him, telling him repeatedly that her rights are being violated.

 

Widows in Jesus’ day were often exposed to harsh treatment and exploitation. Widows had no inheritance rights and lost all property and possessions once a husband died. This woman, who was among the weakest and least influential in first-century society, takes on one of the most powerful of that time- a judge. She keeps going back persistently to the judge, telling him that her rights are being violated. She keeps asking for justice. Initially, this judge, who according to the parable does not respect people nor God, who Jesus calls “unjust” pays no attention to her. In time, however, due to what this unjust judge perceives as her incessant whining, he gives in. “If I finally give in to this woman and give her justice, she’ll stop pestering me and pounding me mentally!” This poor widow, like other widows in scripture such as Tamar in Genesis 38 and Ruth and Naomi, refuses to be ignored. She is persistent and aggressive. Theologian Brittany E. Wilson, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School says, In the original Greek, the judge says: “because this widow causes trouble for me, I will give her justice, so that she may not, in the end, give me a black eye by her coming” (verse 5). By using the verb hypopiazo, which means “to give a black eye,” Luke situates the judge’s language within the arena of boxing metaphors.” This widow used her strength and persistence to change the judge’s mind and challenge the corrupt judicial system of the day.

 

This parable speaks of 3 things for us today. First, it speaks of God’s nature, yet not in the way you might at first perceive. In this instance, with the grumpy unjust judge, we may think this is how God is with us when we pray. Nothing could be further from the truth! Jesus is setting up a contrast here. If an unjust judge will finally begrudgingly grant a widow’s request for justice, how much more will a just loving God grant our requests in prayer? God is never begrudging with us. We are encouraged to ask, seek and knock, and do so enthusiastically! God LOVES us. God shows us mercy! This is a God of whom scripture says, - “Before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” (Isaiah 65:24)

 

The second thing we learn from today’s passage is in regards to prayer- be persistent. God wants us to cry out and pray, and pray often. As we pray, continuously, persistently, we are shaped and moved by God’s spirit. St. Teresa said, “Prayer is putting yourself into the hands of God.” Continuous prayer connects us with our loving Creator in a very close and caring way.

 

We can look to Jesus himself as an example of persistence in his own prayer life. In Luke 6:12, Luke states that Jesus prayed all night upon a mountain. Jesus prayed consistently and persistently. And even the Messiah did not always get the answer he wanted- Consider his request at Gethsemane, for the cup of suffering and the cross to be taken from him. (Luke 22:42)

 

In times when answers to prayer seem confusing or frustrating; when God seems silent; When answers take years to manifest; when an answer is not what we wanted to hear - It is in times such as these that through our persistence in prayer we are being molded and shaped into a vessel that will be able to hold and understand the answer when it comes. The key is to trust that God is much more than a grumpy, unrelenting judge. God loves us, has our best interest at heart, always. An anonymous Christian once said, “When we pray God hears more than we say, answers more than we ask, gives more than we imagine, in God’s own time and in God’s own way.”

 

The third focus for us in today’s parable is upon the widow. She is our example of persistence, and models that we must not lose heart. It is easy to lose heart these days. How do we keep approaching that unjust, corrupt, heartless judge of today, when he does not seem to hear when he refuses to heed our cries when he exploits the powerless in society? Consider the brothers and sisters who were with us in worship last Sunday from the Yakama nation- Mending Wings, who live on a reservation on subpar land, surrounded by rich farmland that was theirs until it was unjustly taken. They and other Native Americans are forced to make do with less, because of corrupt policies against them that began in the 1700s. Do not lose heart. How do we support our newfound friends as they struggle to make ends meet on the rez?

 

How do we stand up and fight against corrupt and immoral policies against immigrants at our border and in our land? Families still separated, children still in cages, asylum seekers denied access, ICE raids at courthouses. We know God’s position on the immigrant- Leviticus 19:33-34 New International Version (NIV) 33 “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” I experienced an illustration of my own “Foreign-born status” at an Immigration Reform Forum in Medford last week. A keynote speaker from Guatemala asked for people who were born in another country to stand in the room. About 15 or so did just that. Then he asked people to stand if their heritage was from another country. Since we had no Native Americans in the room, of course, all of us were standing. Most of us who walk upon this American soil are foreign-born, and God gives us a sacred duty to the foreigner. Do not lose heart. Yet how do we not lose heart when it seems that no one in the current administration is listening?

 

Consider a parallel parable on prayer, also found in Luke’s gospel, is the parable of the persistent neighbor, who knocks on his neighbor’s door late at night for some bread, (Luke 115-8). In this parable, God can be mistaken for a tired neighbor who just wants to go back to sleep, but who finally relents and provides a loaf of bread when his neighbor keeps knocking. In a large gathering of people of color concerned over unjust treatment in America, an elderly black minister read this parable and gave a one-sentence interpretation: “Until you have stood for years knocking at a locked door, your knuckles bleeding, you do not really know what persistence in prayer is.”

 

The persistent widow is our example for more than just prayer. She does not lose heart, does not give up or give in until justice is given. We too need to be in a persistent fight for justice. Nevertheless, how do we do so and not lose heart? We need to train ourselves in righteousness; we need to grow our faith. You can’t run a decent 5k or a marathon without consistent, persistent training. I run a 5k 3 times a week and begin my run with a ½ mile hill run up Crowson Road. The first few times I ran it, it was difficult not to give up and just walk- It was easy for me to lose heart. Yet now I run it without giving it a second thought. When you are persistently training at something, you can improve at it.

 

So first, PRAY. Pray for those people, those situations in this world that are unjust. Ask God for strength, wisdom on how to make a difference, and do so persistently. Catholic Theologian Allen E. Vartlett said, “Seven days without prayer makes one weak.” The more we communicate with God, the stronger our faith, the more our prayers become God’s prayers for us, the more our desires become God’s desires for us, the more our will becomes God’s will for our lives.

 

Second, study scripture to make you tenacious like the widow. Learn those passages about justice and write them in your heart. Consider Proverbs 31:8, which says, “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Or there’s the passage that sits on top of our bulletin every Sunday, Micah 6:8, “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” Scripture is FULL of such passages that can spur us on to action, and give us hope. Have a hope that is stubborn, a hope in a just God who desires a just creation. Hope is the enemy of injustice!

 

In the book we will be studying for November, The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne, he quotes Indian activist and author Arundhati Roy, who proclaimed at a World Social Forum in Brazil, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” Therefore, we do not lose heart. Strengthened by prayer, spurred on by scripture, we work and pray for that world, a world on earth as it is in heaven. We work and pray for children at the border who are still in cages, and for their parents to be reunited with them. We work and we pray for justice- working for a nation where people don’t have to worry about being shot just because of the color of their skin. We work and we pray for equal rights for the LGTBQ community, and we march in their parades to let them know we are with them, and that God loves them, after decades of their being rejected by the church and facing oppression. We work and we pray for our Native American sisters and brothers, financially supporting Mending Wings to bring hope to the hopeless upon the reservation, and admitting our own role in the genocide of the native people, working to bring about reconciliation. For all of these unjust situations and the hundreds of others in the world not named here, we pray and we work and we hope. Rev Jill Duffield, of Presbyterian Outlook, says, “The patient, persistent-those who are trained in righteousness, keep practicing that which they know by heart, confident that eventually, even the most corrupt, unjust judges will relent to the unwavering, unstoppable, just will of God.” Do not give up! Do not lose heart! Train yourselves for the battle against injustice! Keep praying. Keep reading the scriptures. Keep working, so that the unwavering, unstoppable just will of God is known. Alleluia! Amen.

Contents © 2019 First Presbyterian Church of Ashland, Oregon | Church Website Provided by mychurchwebsite.net | Privacy Policy