Persistent Prayer

18 Then Jesus[a] told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”[b] 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”  (Luke 18:1-8 NRSV)

She awakens every morning with single-minded resolve.  She dresses quickly in her best, although threadbare, dress.  As the sun rises her neighbors watch her marching with steadfast determination to the home of the judge who thinks she’s not worth the effort.  She pounds on the door until her fingers bleed.  When he finally answers, she demands, “Give me justice against my opponent!”

The uncaring, unscrupulous judge slams the door in her face.  She treads back home, tired but not finished.  She’ll return tomorrow and the the next day and the next until she achieves justice.

Finally, the judge gives in.  Not because he sees her point of view; not because he even cares.  He gives in to get her off his back.  His wife is tired of the embarrassment of this “creature” pounding on her door and disturbing the neighbors.  So, the sidelined widow achieves her purpose and can resume her former life.  Eventually her bruised hand will heal along with her heart.

Jesus asks at the end of this parable, “…when the Son of Man comes,will he find faith on earth?” (v. 8)  He will find it in those who behave like the widow; uncaring of what others think, unflinching in their devotion to their cause.

I have developed a new respect and admiration for the writer’s of the Psalms.  They address God with courage: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1)  Are they accusing God of being silent; of walking away; of forsaking them in their hour of need?   No.  They are clearly and honestly telling God that they’re feeling alone and Godforsaken.  They’re recognizing the pain of losing that sense of being in God’s presence.

I admire that.  Since the time of Jacob who wrestled with God at the Jabok River, the Jews have been known as God-wrestlers.  And so they continue to do so today.  They’re not afraid to talk to God with utter honestly.  They pray with perseverance.  They acknowledge not only that they feel as if God is silent, they complain loudly.  “But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.  All who see me mock at me, they shake their heads:”  (Psalm 22:6-7 NRSV)

They shout out, they call God out.  And they do it because they know that God really is present and listening.  They easily confess their trust in God and state their petitions knowing and trusting that God is listening.  “From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.” (Psalm 22:25 NRSV)

What begins as words of complaint and sorrow quickly turn to words that assure the pray-er that God is indeed near and listening.  That God will respond and will not go away.

In fact it was the words of Psalm 22 that Jesus cried out from the cross:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:34 NRSV)

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

I believe he will.  He’ll find people like the widow who remain in prayer, seeking out God and asking, “Why are you delayed in answering my prayer?  Only to discover that God has it well in hand and is often at work, not with what we want but with what we need.  He’ll find people who persevere in prayer because they haven’t an answer; only a need that they can’t fill with God’s help.

The widow persevered until her knuckles were bruised.  Prayer is like that.  It’s asking and listening and arguing and fighting back.  It’s seeking and complaining and trusting and confessing.  Prayer is filled with words and silence.  Prayer is messy at its best and poignant in it’s power to achieve justice.

Will the Son of Man find faith on earth?

Yes, he will.  Because as much as we want to congratulate ourselves when we behave like a widow, we honestly have to give credit to God, who also perseveres with us. God is also the widow who sticks with us; who never gives up; who won’t let go.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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