Just Keep Praying! October 20, 2013 (Pentecost 22), MCC Windsor, Rev. Martha Daniels
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 Jesus said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to God’s chosen ones who cry out day and night? Will the Holy One delay long in helping them? I tell you, God will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Human One comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Will you pray with and for me? Loving God, open our hearts to your wisdom; may all we speak and hear be a reflection of your love for us.
I think this is one of the most interesting of Jesus' parables. Now, parables, of course, are stories with a point--not necessarily a moral, as a fable has, and not necessarily a direct comparison, like an allegory, although parables resemble both fables and allegory. A parable is a story with a point to make, but it makes that point indirectly--the listener draws their own conclusion from what she hears. They may be based in fact or in generally true situations, or they may be fantasy settings. The woman who lost one of her ten coins, for example, is a could-be-true sort of story. We have all lost something small but important--keys, a ring--and searched and searched until we found it. The parable of the vineyard workers who killed all the messengers, on the other hand, is fantasy--that could not have happened. A gang of people could not take over a vineyard and kill people without any consequence except more people being sent to the vineyard.
This parable, however, is in the first category--I am sure there were many widows in first century Palestine who longed for justice and kept after the judges until their cases were heard. Windows were in a bad situation in that place and time. Unless they has sons who were grown, or daughters with husbands who were willing to take them in, widows were on their own. They did not inherit anything when their husbands died--everything went to the oldest son, in general--the farm or the fishing boat, the pottery business, the weaving or woodcarving business. Sons grew up learning their father's trade, and followed him in the business. Girls, of course, grew up in their mother's trade--housekeeping. They were expected to marry someone who brought land or more trade or was in the same line of work. Marriage was a business proposition, not a love match. So when the husband died, if the widow didn't have a son who was running the business, and her late husband's brother or nephew or whoever was running the business didn't take her in or help pay her support, she was in serious trouble and literally faced begging on the street. Legally, women were under the control of some man--father, husband, son, brother, son-in-law, uncle--some male of her family. She couldn't own property or work--there were no jobs as we understand it now.
So the story Jesus tells of a widow who is seeking justice--probably understood by those listening to Jesus as trying to induce the brother or uncle or whatever to support her--would ring very true. Probably the sympathies of the crowd would be with her because all of them had a mother or sister or cousin who had been or might have been, in those circumstances.
The judge, even though he is portrayed as unjust, realizes he has to listen to her. She has worn him down and like a parent exhausted by a nagging child, gives in and gives her what she is asking for.
Now, Jesus compares this to any of us, praying to God for help or deliverance. We pray and pray, and pray some more, and eventually God is so tired of hearing us that God grants us justice.
So what is God saying here? That if we nag God enough, we will get what we want? No. That is exactly what he is not saying, Jesus is talking about prayer, which is not one-sided. Prayer is not, or shouldn't be, just us talking to God--this terrible thing happened, God, please fix it now, because I can't stand it, she is in pain, he is lost--whatever it might be. Prayer is a conversation. We tell God our fears and hopes and dreams and worries, and if we listen, if we can be still and just listen, God will speak to us. Not in words, necessarily, but to our hearts and spirits. In the words of friends and teachers and therapists, in the actions of those we love, we can hear God speaking to us.
The widow sought justice from the unjust judge and got it because she refused to give up. We seek many things from God--justice, but also healing, comfort, guidance, understanding--and God, who is just, freely gives us what we need. Remember, God is not a vending machine, where you drop in a prayer and get a new job in the slot at the bottom. God gives us what we need, not what we want. The widow needed justice and got it. We ask for guidance and God gives us people in our lives who offer advice and suggestions. We want comfort, and we have friends and family who are there to support us. We seek a cure--for ourselves or another--and God sends us healing as we find we are stronger than we thought.
So, my friends, keep praying--keep that line of communication between you and God open. That doesn't mean you will get exactly what you are praying for, but a response will come, if you can but see and hear it.
Keep praying, keep faith, and be open to God moving in your life. In all God's names, amen.