Prayer and Perseverance

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

This Sunday, life is made easy for the preacher, because there is a clear theme to all of today’s readings. And that theme is made explicit in the Collect of the Day: we are to “persevere with steadfast faith.” We find perseverance in the story of Jacob struggling all night with his mysterious opponent. We find the author of 2 Timothy urging his readers to “be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.” And we find perseverance in the parable that Jesus tells about a widow and an unjust judge, which will be the main focus of this sermon.

Now, Luke tells us that the parable of the widow and the unjust judge is about “the need to pray always and not to lose heart.” And I won’t gainsay him. But I think that there is more to be learned from this parable than just that. In this story, a widow repeatedly comes before a judge who has no respect for God or man. Again and again, she appears in court demanding justice. Now, in Jesus’ day, a woman would not ordinarily plead a case in court. That was the job of her nearest male relative. So we may assume that she had no male relatives and was forced by her need to violate custom and plead her own case before the unjust judge. She fails again and again, but rather than give in to despair, she bravely, and obstinately, keeps on demanding the justice that is due her.

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We are told that the unjust judge eventually gives in. Most English translations have the judge saying that he decides to give in because otherwise the widow will “wear him out.” But what the judge literally says is that he is giving in because he fears that the widow will “punch him in the eye”! Modern translators literally take the punch out of Jesus’ punch line!

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After telling this parable, Jesus comments: “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.” Of course, life experience tells us that we don’t always get what we pray for in this life—including justice. And Jesus knew that as well as anyone. So what does he mean when he says that God will quickly grant justice?

To answer this question, it is helpful to consider the larger context of this parable. Jesus is having a conversation with some Pharisees about the coming of the Kingdom of God. They ask him when the Kingdom of God will come. And Jesus concludes the conversation with the parable of the widow and the unjust judge, followed by some commentary and a concluding question about the Second Coming of the Son of Man: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Given both the earlier conversation with the Pharisees about the coming of the Kingdom of God and his rhetorical question about the Second Coming of the Son of Man, it becomes clear that the part in the middle, Jesus’ parable about the widow and the judge, also deals with the Second Coming and the need to persevere to the very End of All Things.

In return for our perseverance, we are promised blessing and justice, either in this world or in the next. In the Old Testament reading, Jacob wrestles with a mystery man, who may, in fact, be God himself, and he keeps on wrestling even after his hip has been dislocated. In return for his persistence, he receives a great blessing. In the parable of the widow, we have a situation in which a socially disempowered widow finally gets her day in court despite the long delays of an unjust judge. And the reason she finally gets justice is that the judge is convinced that the widow will stop at nothing—up to and including giving him a punch in the eye! Jesus promises us that at the Second Coming, we will all be granted justice from a just and merciful judge, provided we persevere and do not lose heart.

But in the meantime, like Jacob our forefather and like the widow in the parable, we can expect to have to struggle. Our struggle may take many forms. In our personal lives, we may have to struggle with grief and loneliness, with illness and pain, with poverty and injustice. In our communal life as a parish, we have our struggles, as well. We struggle to gain new members. We struggle to raise money to pay the bills. We struggle to reach out to the surrounding community. We are told by Luke to pray always and not to lose heart. But we are encouraged to do more than pray. Both the story of Jacob wrestling all night long and the parable of the widow and the unjust judge teach us that we are called not only to pray, but to fight—and to keep on fighting.

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And so that’s what we do. We continue to hold bazaars and book sales to support this church. We continue to host concerts for the benefit our neighbors. We continue to support the Interfaith Winter Shelter for the sake of the homeless. We continue to support one another in times of need. And yes, we continue to pledge money to this parish, both for our own spiritual health and for the financial health of this church. And even as we struggle, we continue to come together week by week to pray! For we know that, in the end, we cannot save ourselves, but must turn for help to the Maker of Heaven and Earth, who will not delay long in helping us. Amen.

© 2019 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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