By Deacon Jerry Franzen – St. Henry Parish - October 17, 2004
Exodus 17:8-13 - 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2 - Luke 18:1-8
Jesus was a master story-teller.
Sometimes the parables he used were easy to understand.
Their truth was apparent, the treasure of insight obvious,
like coins lying out in plain view on the sidewalk.
At other times Jesus left not only his enemies scratching their heads,
but also his friends and disciples.
There are parables that leave us confused and bewildered,
wondering if we heard Jesus correctly.
There have been a string of parables on recent Sundays.
On the surface, today’s parable seems to be easy to understand.
Jesus said that it was about prayer.
At first glance, the story could be about our prayers of petition
about what we ask for,
about how we should be like the widow,
persistent in our prayer to God.
AND then, we ask the standard questions:
“Where is God in this parable?
Where are we in this parable?”
The easy answers are that God is the Judge and we are the widow.
But is it really that easy? I don’t think so.
The treasure of insight in this Gospel passage requires
that we dig below the surface.
There are no coins out on the sidewalk today;
We must get out the shovel and the metal detector.
I suggest that we enter into the Gospel story,
and take a good look at the characters
of whom Jesus is speaking.
If we were Israelites of those days, we’d have certain expectations.
And neither the judge nor the widow,
as Jesus describes them, would fit these expectations very well.
The judge is a far cry from what was expected of a judge
as chronicled in the Hebrew Scriptures.
In those times, judges acted on behalf of God.
Standing in God’s stead,
they were to seek justice, show no partiality, take no bribes.
This judge has no fear of God, let alone human beings.
Initially, he is unmoved by the widow’s pleas.
It appears that this seemingly powerful, stern judge is then afraid
that the poor defenseless widow will come
and give him a black eye.
No less startling is the portrayal of the widow.
Widows were grouped with orphans and aliens
—that is, those most vulnerable,
those most likely to be outcasts.
Widows were without finances and without social status
and were at the mercy of their closest male relative.
Jesus’ widow is far from this description.
She boldly faces the judge,
demanding justice on her own behalf.
There is no male relative doing her bidding.
She is relentless in her pursuit.
The judge has no change of heart;
he gives the widow what she wants,
only because he wants to be rid of her.
The final comment that the judge is afraid she will strike him
turns the story inside out, upside down.
This is what Jesus intends.
God is consistently at work to shake us out of our complacencies.
Jesus intends to jolt us into a new way of seeing.
Let’s begin with considering
who best comes closest to imaging God in this parable.
Certainly not the judge!
This judge neither fears God nor respects people.
He does not hear and respond to the cries of the poor.
He acts totally contrary
to what the psalms and the prophets say of God.
In Sirach Chapter 35, God is not deaf to the cry of the poor;
God judges justly and affirms what is right without delay.
If the judge were the God figure,
then the story would suggest that,
if one were to badger God enough,
one could eventually wear God down and get what one wants,
that God would be fearful that we would harm him.
God is not like that at all.
We do not need to wear down God.
God is ever aware of our worries and our needs AND
sympathetic toward them.
Let’s consider that Jesus has cast the widow as the God figure.
God is the one who is in relentless pursuit of justice,
who desires only the right and the good for his people.
Seen in this light, the message of the parable is
that when a person doggedly resists injustice,
faces it, names it, and denounces it until right is achieved,
then one is acting as God does.
The persistence of one apparently weak widow
achieves the victory for justice.
God is persistent, and
for us to be more like God, we too must be persistent.
And where do we find a lack of the fear of God,
a lack of respect for human beings,
those who are slow to act against injustice?
In the world around us – there’s the image of the corrupt judge.
So the images are not God and us, but us and the world around us.
And where does prayer come in?
Recall that Jesus did say that the parable was about prayer.
The word pray is from the French word
meaning to entreat, to implore.
These words have a sense urgency about them.
Urgency means no time wasted—time is short.
Yes Jesus is saying that our prayer, like God, like the widow,
must carry this urgency to act,
to press forward, to endure, to be persistent.
And about what are we to be persistent?
Persistent in bringing about the reign of God,
persistent in naming injustice,
persistent in confronting injustice.
And we are to persist no matter the enormity of the challenge.
The powerful systems of injustice in the world,
like discrimination in all its forms,
like militarism that serves only the powerful
and economic injustice can be dismantled.
Not all at once.
The judge, remember,
was not converted from his egotistical hard heartedness.
However, the widow won a small victory.
Powerful systems of injustice are dismantled step by little step.
God asks for our faithfulness.
Our job is persistence and trusting in God.
The parable represents God asking us to persevere in God’s ways.
That is how the world will be transformed,
that is how we have made the progress we have made
in the area of racial discrimination,
that is how we will make progress in the pro-life movement.
That is how we will make progress toward world peace,
That is how we will make progress in the war on drugs,
poverty and abuse in its various forms.
It’s not about prayer alone, but about praying and acting.
It’s not just our perseverance in asking God to change the world.
Our perseverance in prayer does not change God;
our perseverance in prayer must change us,
cause us to act differently.
It will not come easily;
there is danger that we will grow weary.
Prayer must lead to action on behalf of God
for the good of our sisters and brothers,
actions that seek to make the reign of God visible.
Jesus demonstrated what the reign of God looked like by
defending poor people,
raising the status of women,
raising the status of aliens,
performing healings and exorcisms,
preaching the reign of God.
His mission was to make the reign of God present
in the world, in his person and in his teaching,
and to invite people to experience the liberation it presented.
Such is our mission as well, our prayer in action.
We are to persistently make the reign of God visible
by all that we do and say in our daily activities,
whether that be making a business deal,
answering the telephone,eating dinner with our families,
taking an evening of recreation.
We must evaluate everything we do by asking,
“How does this preach the Word of salvation,
the word of freedom and justice?
When our prayer truly brings us around to this view,
rather than the one of acting only out of fear or discomfort,
then the world’s answer to God’s call for justice
will not be slow.
The justice of the kingdom will come speedily.
Must we persevere in prayer? Yes, for sure.
Perseverance because God has not given us the justice
we think we deserve. NO!
Perseverance because we have yet to give to God
the justice he deserves.
Perseverence because we have not yet been transformed
by our prayer into the agents
that will help to bring about the kingdom of justice.