Often, when we hear the word “prayer,” we imagine scenes of people kneeling down beside their beds, praying, or standing in church with their heads bowed, praying. That is a wonderful image of prayer. Jesus gives us another image here. An image of a widow who will not shut up.
There is an unjust judge, who has no awe or reverence for God nor any respect for any human being. Someone who will not listen to you, unless maybe you give him money. Widows generally had no money, so he’s not going to change. And yet this widow constantly pesters and pesters and bothers and bothers him.
We need to remember that this is unsafe behavior for this widow. The unjust judge could make life even more difficult for her than it already is. He can ruin her reputation. He may even be able to have her run out of her home. But she persists. She is obnoxious, she is obstreperous. She does not give up. We are supposed to be like her.
Then, at the end of the Gospel lesson, Jesus says this strange thing: “yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Faith like this widow’s that does not give up.
When we hear the word “faith,” we often think of the ability to believe or trust that certain facts are true. Do you believe that God exists? “Yes, I believe that God exists.” Do you believe that Jesus is risen from the dead? “Yes, I believe that Jesus is risen.” Do you believe that the Holy Spirit is present and active in the world through you? “Through me?”
Faith in the Gospel of Luke goes like this: There was a centurion, a commanding officer of the Roman army, who had a slave whom he loved. The centurion sent messengers to Jesus, asking him to heal this slave. Jesus begins to make his way to the centurion’s house. The centurion sends another messenger, who says ”Sir.” Notice, this is the commanding officer of an occupying army, speaking to one of the indigenous population, a wandering holy man. He says “sir.” This is disruptive behavior. This is behavior that is not in accordance with the expectations of an occupying force. Yet the centurion says, “Sir, do not trouble yourself, for I am unworthy to have you come under my roof, but say the word and my slave will be healed.” Disruptive of the system by which Rome dominated Palestine. Disruptive for the sake of healing. Jesus is amazed, and says “Not even in Israel have I seen such faith.”
Little bit later on, Jesus attends a dinner party hosted by Simon the
Pharisee. Suddenly a sinful woman of the village crashes the party. How dare she show up! She cheated my brother out of his rightful land. She ruined my daughter’s reputation by her gossiping. How dare she be here! But this woman comes forward and pours out a very expensive alabaster jar of scented oil on Jesus’ feet, and wipes it with her hair. Even by first century standards, in which people from the village would gather around a dinner party to watch from the windows or from the edges of the courtyard, this was too close, too intimate. It was disruptive of the system of good people verses bad people, the right people verses the wrong people. What does Jesus say to her? “Your faith has saved you.”
Little bit later, a woman who has had a flow of blood for twelve years, her regular cycle going on for way too long, sneaks up behind Jesus while he is in a crowd, and touches the bottom of Jesus’ robe. This is inconsiderate in the extreme. It is rude. Because people did not understand about things like this in those days. Instead of knowing it was natural and good part of life, they thought a flow of blood made you ritually unclean. If somebody touched you with any kind of flow of blood, you had to go wash outside the village. So here is this woman who has had this flow of blood for twelve years, jostles her way through the crowd making all these people ritually unclean, and touches Jesus robe, making him ritually unclean too. Jesus turns around and what does he say? “Your faith has saved you.
Last week we heard about how Jesus cures ten lepers. Only one of them comes back to give thanks to God, and that’s a Samaritan, somebody who is not supposed to be the hero. Samaritan is supposed to be the shady one, the one who ends up being a traitor, the sleezy one. And this one comes out the hero. What does Jesus say to him? “Your faith has saved you.”
A little later on in Luke, a blind beggar is sitting by the side of the road. Jesus is walking by, so he cries, “Son of David, have mercy on me. Son of David, have mercy on me. Jesus’ disciples tell him to shut up. He won’t shut up. Jesus comes to him, gives him his sight. What does Jesus say? “Your faith has saved you.”
See what we have here: rich and poor, women and men, powerful and weak, one ethnic group and another. All have faith which trusts in the love and hope and power and life of God. All have faith that persists, discomforts, and disrupts.
So, a few weeks ago we had God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday. Women of the ELCA worked with the Evangelism committee to gather cake mix and oil and other ingredients for birthday cakes. We gathered enough ingredients for seventy birthday cakes. Then the youth and kids from Sunday School made “God loves you” birthday cards to put in the kits, and you all put them together. They are at St. Matthews Area Ministries food bank for families who come for food and have a kid with a birthday, so they can have a birthday cake.
I wasn’t there to help put together the kits because a gentleman had appeared at our door, who needed socks and food. So I drove him over to Target and gave him our last target card. Now, Women of the ELCA has given us this stack of Kroger cards for people who have particular needs.
See, hunger and poverty are complicated issues. They involve jobs and education and mental health and addiction and racial and class assumptions and the simple difficulty of anyone, rich or poor, changing. It would be easy to say, “That is too big a problem. We can’t solve it anyway, so why bother to try?” It would be easy to give up. But we do not give up. We are like this persistent widow. We keep struggling.
Next Saturday Women of the ELCA will have a retreat examining the problem of human trafficking. Again, it’s easy to say that problem is too big. It’s international, a lot of money involved. It’ is an unjust judge. It won’t change. Does that mean we give up? No. We are like this persistent widow. God doesn’t give up. We don’t we don’t either.
It’s easy to say that our families have problems too deep and entrenched and complicated to ever change. It would be easy to just shut up and quiet down and pretend nothing is wrong. Does that mean we give up? No. We are like this persistent widow. God doesn’t give up. We don’t either.
When we are addicted, it seems like our addictions are too strong, too deep. It’s an unjust judge. Do we give up? No. God doesn’t give up. We don’t either.
It seems like the divisions in our country are goo big, too deeply entrenched, to inflamed by rhetoric and hate to change. It seems like our divisions are an unjust judge. Does that mean we give up? No. We believe there is a power and hope and life in this world that is bigger than we are. We believe that God is deeper than our divisions. God doesn’t give up. We don’t either.
See, words can be prayer, silence can be prayer, singing can be prayer, and action can be prayer. When we struggle and wrestle with the unjust judges of our lives, that struggle and that action is a prayer. It can be persistent. It can be disruptive. It can be obnoxious. It is always hopeful that God can bring a way when there seems to be no way, that God can save.
So keep praying. Don’t give up. Keep praying. Be persistent. Keep acting on your faith, by how you live, and what you do.