21st Sunday after Pentecost / Oct. 17, 2010 / Text: Luke 18:1-8 / Message by: Rev. Carol Kniseley
We could begin this sermon by pointing out that telling parables was Jesus favorite way of teaching, especially when he was trying to explain something rather complex. Often times, the meaning of the parable went sailing right over the Disciples’ heads. But, that isn’t where we are going to begin.
We could also state that the judiciary system in Jesus’ day wasn’t all that different from the one we have today with one noted exception: there was no jury of one’s peers, leaving the judge to decide the verdict as well as one’s fate. We could then go on to explain why the woman in today’s parable was being so rabid about having her case heard…seeing how she had nothing to lose and everything to gain…if she could just get the judge to hear her case.
But where we really want to focus our attention…comes not at the beginning of our text, but at the very end as we read the last sentence in verse 8:
(We read) ‘And yet, when the Son of Man comes…
will he find faith on earth?’
To end on such a sad little note tells me that Jesus is being serious. Perhaps he understands better than anyone else just how revealing this question really is. When the Son of Man comes…and he will come again to judge the living and the dead…don’t we hope to be among ‘his chosen ones’ who have been found to have faith? Surely that was the hope of Jesus’ disciples as they followed Jesus around like little chicks chasing after Mother Hen throughout his entire ministry.
But…all good things must come to an end. And so on the day Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples found themselves dealing with their new reality. What mattered now was that they were all together…day and night…praying and sharing all things just as they had when Jesus was alive. It’s what held them together…just knowing that Jesus would soon be returning and put an end to all of the injustices in their lives.
But…Jesus…didn’t…return. And as anyone who has been sorely disappointed can attest…they began to lose heart. Their patience began to wane and time for prayer was becoming an afterthought at best. It wasn’t long before their hearts began to grow stone cold when it came to dispensing compassion and care toward one another. If Jesus wasn’t coming back, what difference would it make anyway?
Whether it was by the grace of God, or the whispering of the Holy Spirit into Luke’s ear, it was Luke who recalled a parable once told by Jesus having something to do with granting justice to those who cry out to God. And it fit the bill…perfectly!
To those disciples feeling that God had somehow turned a deaf ear, the unjust judge (as Jesus so labeled him) became an easy target. He deserved “every punch in the eye” that the widow threw at him which is the literal translation of the Greek text, by the way.
The widow, on the other hand, was determined to have her day in court…if not her say. Those who would quickly form an alliance with her would be none other than Jesus himself…followed closely by every person deemed to be an outcast including: those on the fringes of society…the poor…the homeless…the helpless…and often the widows left to fend for themselves. If anyone knew firsthand what it meant being cut off from this world…it would be them. But…that doesn’t mean that they were cut off from experiencing the presence of God.
Needless to say, what we have all witnessed this past week on television surely speaks to that very fact. It was nothing short of a miracle that every single one of those miners was pulled from out of death’s grip…and brought to the surface…and into the light. With dark sunglasses protecting their sensitive eyes, and wearing jumpsuits scrawled with handmade crosses, it was apparent that every person knew full well what it meant to be cut off from everything that one had ever known.
As the individual stories begin to leak out…with details as to how they survived, I am sure that we are going to hear that prayers were being said around the clock and with such fervor that there was no way that God could not hear their cries.
Could God have answered their prayers sooner? Who’s to say that God didn’t? Based on the reactions of the men as they first stepped foot on the soil they call home, there were not only tears of joy but of thanksgiving. As rosaries were being lifted into the air…and men were seen falling on their knees to offer prayer…it became pretty evident that every single one had wrestled with God…and the devil (to quote one of the miners)…and that it was God who prevailed. Now that will be an interesting story to hear, for sure.
What isn’t a story is the underlying lesson that Jesus would have us take with us from today’s parable. First of all, let us be clear about who the unjust judge is not. He is not God…nor is he meant to portray God in any way. Secondly, what the persistent widow learned over time…perhaps even years…was that the most important time to pray is when our prayers seem meaningless. As if we were so far away from God…that there was no way for God to even hear. The truth is…God is always listening. And there is no place where one can go that God isn’t already there. The miners in Chile can certainly attest to that.
As for the woman in today’s parable, the real point comes in knowing that day in and day out she is going to do what she has been doing every single day. She will get up, wash her face, dress, and then go ask for what she wanted. Regardless as to whether her prayers were ever answered in the way that she wanted them to be answered, she was going to have to trust the process itself.
Because it was the process of praying…day in and day out…that gave her life and kept her engaged with the author of life.
So that in the end…she did not lose heart.
And that dear friends in Christ…is what, according to Jesus, prayer is really all about. It’s how God finds us...even if we were in the bowels of the earth…and how God draws near to us…day by day by day. How cool is that?