The Persistent Widow

Luke 18:1-8 

Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" 

When I was a child about age twelve, I wanted a new bicycle. I had outgrown my first bike with training wheels, though it left me with a few scars, and had grown tired of my ten-speed, and its skinny tires. I wanted a new bike with wider tires that I could ride through the neighborhood and do some riding in the dirt with my friends. I asked for a new bike and was told no; we didn’t have the money. I asked for the bike as a gift and was told no, it was too expensive. Finally, I asked if I could buy the bicycle myself, and because of my persistence was allowed to earn the money and pay myself for a new bicycle, which I proudly rode home and enjoyed for many years. 

We are taught from an early age that persistence is an admirable quality and one to be rewarded. If you are persistent in your studies, you can enter into any profession that you want, if you just work hard enough. If you are persistent with offering friendship to another, even if they resistant at first, you are usually rewarded with a new friend. If you are persistent in your application and follow up for a job, you might be rewarded with new employment. But what about our faith? Do we carry this same persistence with us when we approach the throne of grace? 

Today we encounter the parable of the persistent widow. So determined was she to obtain justice that she figuratively beat the unjust judge into submission and received the justice she was seeking. But this parable is not an allegory. The judge deciding in the widow’s favor because of her persistence is not the way that God works. We all know, or have personally experienced praying with persistence and not receiving the desired outcome. We are not going to win divine favor and get what we want from God because we are obnoxious. At the same time, persistence in our prayers to God is the parable’s theme, and it brings to our thoughts what God desires of us in our own prayers. 

We cannot separate who God is and what God does from who we are and what we are called to do. The parable speaks about God’s persistent, unshakable, everlasting love for us, for all of God’s creation. And in that knowledge of God’s persistent love, we are called to persistent prayer. And as Fred Craddock puts it, “All we know in the life of prayer is asking, seeing, knocking and waiting, trust sometimes fainting, sometimes growing angry.” Praying is and has always been hard work in the interim – between God’s promise and the fulfillment of God’s promise. The widow kept coming to the judge, hoping against all odds, persistent, determined, and relentless. True believers keep praying, hoping against all odds, persistent, determined, and relentless. 

The Gospel assures us that God is listening. We know that God knows our needs before we pray. In fact, prayer itself is a response to God’s calling us to pray. 

Luke even tells us what the purpose of the parable is: the disciples’ need “to pray always and not to lose heart.” From the start, Jesus sets out, not to resolve the mystery of answered and unanswered prayer, but to teach his disciples persistence. 

We are reminded, once again, that the life of faith is not only about telling God what is on our wish list but constantly lifting up every joy and concern, every fear and doubt, every plea and lament to the One who hears and answers. The answers may not come when we think they should or even be the answers we are hoping for. The parable teaches that continuing to pray, regardless of what happens, builds faith. Faith in turn instills in us the assurance that God’s plan is underway. 

You Always Marry the Wrong Person

An attendee at my wedding said, “You always marry the wrong person.”

I wonder if this is something like what Jesus communicates through Luke in chapter 14 (verses 25-35). I don’t think the speaker was trying to say that marrying the wrong person is grounds for divorce, but that the cost of the commitment a married person makes at the altar is always higher than you’d bargained for.

Surely an army commander, no matter how wise in warfare, can never know for sure whether his forces are equal to the opposition, and though I haven’t done much remodeling, I do know that building budgets are notoriously unreliable. The price is always higher than you’d bargained for.

A worthy vow is always tested; those which are not a commitment that takes fortitude are hardly commitments at all. It is when we are stretched, perhaps even to the breaking point, of a promise that we’ve made, that God works his transformation in us. More than our hobbies or passions, our work or our desires, people are formed by the relationships that we undertake and carry throughout our lives -- the relationship into which we’re invited with Jesus Christ being the greatest.

The other half of the pronouncement from our wedding guest, which my husband is always quick to add, is, “you also always marry the right person.”

My husband and I have moved five times in our seven years of marriage. We’ve always lived at least 9 hours’ drive from any immediate family. Neither of us has lived in our home state since leaving for college half a lifetime ago. He was raised among many cousins, aunts and uncles, and even more fringe-relatives. I was raised an airplane ride from any relations (outside my parents and brothers) at all.

Not only is one’s relationship with Jesus Christ the defining characteristic of a life, of an identity, and the foundation of transformation, but this relationship orders all others. Rather than the biological or family of origin being one’s primary bedrock, the church and its members takes pride of place in the heart, life, and work of a Christian disciple.

Our parents often tell us they wish we’d “move back home” and that we’d “settle down close by.” Of course, it is difficult to live away from the people and places we grew up with, the beloved relationships that nurtured us into existence and then into adulthood, but my mother understands -- she and my stepfather raised us to follow the call of God in our lives, regardless of where that might send her children. It has scattered us to the wind, across time zones, but we are living the lives to which we’ve been called, and they visit often.

Jesus calls his disciples to a life and mission which they could never fully account before they begin. We don’t know what lies ahead for us in the way of the cross, or the full repercussions of the commitments we make in following the God made known in Jesus Christ, but we do know that whatever valley we traverse, we do not walk alone. Whatever wilderness we wander, we are not without nourishment or support. The price is astronomical, it costs all that we have and more, but it is the way of life.

Following God’s call halfway across the country and back -- and then back again -- has shown my husband and me the great glory of God’s Kingdom throughout our home country, the United States. I trace my spiritual family from the county where my biological parents were both brought up, to the font in St. Paul, Minnesota, where I was baptized, to the little wooden church in Durham, North Carolina, where I was confirmed; the grand old (decrepit) stone cathedral where I was deaconed, the sparse Franciscan-style parish where we were married; back and forth across the country, now vicars at a red-carpeted church in the southern part of Dallas. More than the buildings, of course, the people and our relationships with them have transformed our lives. The spiritual family which we’ve had the honor of growing with has revealed God’s glory and grace in our lives as we’ve traversed the highway system, the encouragement, and even more, the wounds, we’ve suffered, have maintained our “salt” as we’ve wandered the wilderness and sat by the well.

The eyes of our faith may always be bigger than our stomachs -- our commitments are much more wild than we even imagine, but our heavenly Father provides the family to surround, support, and sustain us in the midst of it.

Stanley Hauerwas;

Posted by The Rev. Emily Hylden with

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