Persistence

Then Jesus told them 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?” Luke 18: 1-8

A parable from the Berenstain Bears:

“Look! Look!” shouted the bear cubs. “Little rubber cats that stick out their tongues when you squeeze them!” [Hold up and squeeze a squeaky toy, if you have one].

“Cubs,” said Mama, “that will be quite enough! I don’t want to hear another
word ….”

“Oh please!” they shouted. “May we have them? Please! Please! Please!”

Papa decided it was time to put a stop to all the fussing …. “Of all the outrageous, disgraceful, EMBARRASSING behavior I have ever seen,” he roared …. “Brother and Sister have the worst case of the galloping greedy gimmies I’ve ever seen!” [1]

We have today a parable of persistence.  But whose persistence? 

Jesus was speaking to the disciples, telling the a parable “about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

It is through persistence, God hears our prayers.  And it is through persistence, that we hear God.  Yet we could all share many reasons for a barren prayer life.  As we see throughout our story, sometimes we become distracted in our success.  It is a funny thing that in the peaks we can get lost in the clouds.  And other times, it is through our persistence that we reach a point as echoed often by the Psalmist, that we cry “Why have you abandoned me.” 

And even another reason for a non-existing prayer life…often—faith has lost trust. 

And it is in our peaks and in our valleys, Jesus shares about our need to pray always and to not lose heart. 

But whose persistence?  The parable is encouraging ours, but as we look closer at the parable that our persistence is in response to God’s persistence. 

About God and about us.

In the city, there was an unjust judge.  A judge that neither feared God nor respected people.  And there was a widow who would not stop knocking on his door.  (Quite a familiar setting the last couple of weeks if we were to consider our public representatives and our marginalized calling out).  She would cry out, grant me justice over my adversaries. 

Our two characters are a judge—one with power.  And consider the widow.  In ancient Near Eastern power structures—a widow was to be provided for through the husbands immediate family, or through their local community of faith.  The lack of family or community to advocate for this woman would have spoken volumes to the original audience hearing this parable.  Why is their no family or community?  Either she had none, or she had been cast out.  The contrast is great, a powerless but persistent widow crying out for justice to an unjust power authority. 

And the reply would have turned heads, likely followed by a chuckle accompanied with a laugh track through the unlikeliness that  her persistence pays off.  Unlike the Berenstain Bears, the judge gives in saying—okay, but please quit bothering me. 

Throughout Old and New Testament-God is unshakeable.  …we can be persistent in trusting that God brings justice. 

Be like this widow, who keeps coming to the judge.  Be like this widow who exemplifies what it means to pray without ceasing.  Through persistence, pay attention.  Paul shares, Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.(Romans 8:26)  Pray always and not lose heart.  In our prayer, the Spirit strengthens us, encourages us, feeds us, and helps lead us—for God is persistent—and just. And when we find ourselves doubting, may we look again at the justice that culminates in a just love on a cross.

Hearing this story—this ancient story of the persistence of the powerless that gains attention of power brings us to full attention—for we have been there.  We have been there doing our best, praying, knocking at the door…and no one answers?  I have been there in the living room in a prayer circle praying for the healing for the young mother, one who died weeks later.  Did I not try hard enough?  I have been there, and the Parkinson’s progresses.  We have been there—and the child we love keeps on making bad choices.

This story doesn’t resolve the mystery of unanswered prayers. 

Yet, in our struggles, our times we cry out where are you O lord, it seems that Jesus understands.  It appears questionable at first when he responds to our dilemma wondering  aloud, that on the day that I return, will anyone remain who has faith?  But he turns this upside down saying—stop waiting and start praying.  Living in between the already and not yet—I am hear with you.  It is in our ceaseless prayers that we hear.  It is in our persistence that we see.  And it is in our persistence that we find God is just.  We recognize every joy, the little things, the child, the need of a neighbor, the wonder as the leaves begin to change.  In praying without ceasing, we are participating to the witness that God is with us. 

I was blessed to be raised by two loving parents.  I am not able to recall all that I asked for, but I remember some of my lofty wishes included a horse, an Atari game system, a moped…  The year I was sure I wanted to be a firefighter I had asked for a real firefighter helmet only to be disappointed to receive a plastic one in its place.  Now, as a parent myself, I understand in retrospect that the gift I received, not what was most wanted at the time, but what was most needed.  And the greatest gift was not the gift of the request, but the love of the giver—a generous and just giver. 

This, in a small sense, helps capture a glimpse of where Jesus is going with this parable.  But may we take it beyond our prayers of supplication—to the heavy stuff.  May we consider whom Jesus is speaking to. 

The early church prayed for many things—safety, protection, and deliverance.   In response to praying without ceasing, we find that while our prayers may not be answered in the way we asked, we receive a sense of God’s loving presence, strength, courage, and a life that is so much more.

Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor of New York City during the worst of the Great Depression and WWII.  One bitterly cold night in January 1935, the mayor appeared at a night court in the poorest ward of the city to relieve the judge for the evening and preside over the court.  Within minutes, a threadbare old woman was called before him with charges of stealing a loaf of bread.  She plead before the mayor that her daughter’s husband had deserted the family, her daughter was ill, and her two grandchildren were starving.  Yet the shopkeeper stood firm refusing to drop the charges.  “It’s a bad neighborhood, your Honor.  She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.”

LaGuardia audibly sighed and faced the woman explaining, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions—ten dollars or ten days in jail.”  Simultaneously, he was reaching into his wallet and tossed a bill into his trademark sombrero saying “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat.”[2]

The judge paid it for her.  The just judge takes her place.   We have hope in our prayers because God is persistent, because God is sovereign, and God is just.  If an unjust judge grants justice through persistence, how much more does God grant justice?  Like this widow, we have an advocate—the judge.  Pray always and don’t lose heart. 



[1] Stan and Jan Berenstain, The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies (New York: Random House, 1988)

[2] Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel,(Sisters, OR, Multnomah Publishers, 2000), pp. 92-93.

1 reply
  1. Josh
    Josh says:

    In response to praying without ceasing, we find that while our prayers may not be answered in the way we asked. I often think of the Three Boats joke as they maybe answered and you don’t even realize it.

    Three Boats

    Reply

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