The Faith of the Widow
I mentioned to Mary after the Festival yesterday that it was time for me to go write my sermon. She told me to just wing it, so here we go…actually I did prepare a sermon, mostly because this parable comes practically wrapped with a bow as the first verse of Luke 18 is “then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” There you go, always pray and do not give up. But a good question is what is on the forefront of our Savior’s mind when he tells the disciples a parable to show them that they should pray and not give up. Sure Paul says in his first letter to the Thessalonians to pray continuously, but I think it can be helpful to understand what Jesus has in mind.
There was a man who had great plans for his future. He worked a typical 9-5, made enough to pay the bills, had a wife and two kids. He enjoyed his job well enough, but he knew, he just knew that he was going to win the lottery someday. Every week he played the lottery. He knew exactly what he was going to do with that money, he wasn’t going to spend a dime on himself, but instead was going to use it for all of his various vocations. As a husband, he was going to use a good portion of it to pamper his wife each week. He would give her weekly massages, she could have starbucks everyday. He would have enough to afford cleaners to come in multiple times a week to keep the house spotless, and a personal chef to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner. As a Father, he would take the family on a big Disney vacation. A 7 day cruise followed by a day at each of the 4 parks in Orlando. His kids would be able to eat whatever they want and get whichever souvenirs their hearts desired. As a son he would make certain that his parents could live in any retirement community they want, with all the bells and whistles. We’re talking resort style living, with golf and tennis for his dad and a spa for his mom. Then, as a follower of God, he would give 20%, double the standard tithe to show his full appreciation of how God blessed him with winning the lottery. He would still faithfully work at his job, probably even better, knowing that God was surely providing for him. So every week he played. And every week he prayed. He prayed Lord, guide me to the right kiosk to purchase the winning lottery ticket. Then he prayed Lord give me the ticket with the correct numbers to win the Jackpot. Then after he bought the ticket, he prayed, Lord let these numbers be the winning numbers. Then just before the numbers were drawn, he would pray, Lord, let these numbers be the ones that come up. Week after week he prayed earnestly, believing that he was to always pray, and not give up. Surely God would bless him this way eventually.
Then there is my experience. I have always been a person who felt that if a person was not willing to be all in with a significant relationship, then there is no point in having a boyfriend or a girlfriend. So there was the girl that I dated for two years, and after we broke up, I earnestly prayed, for longer than I would like to admit, that she and I would get back together. Then the next significant relationship that I had lasted 3 months, and again when it was over oh how I prayed fervently. Then the next relationship lasted 6 weeks. It was a lot longer than 6 weeks that I prayed God, please let us get back together. Thankfully in all those relationships that ended, I did finally give up praying for another chance, for I have been happily married for almost 4 years now to a woman who is not one of the first three that I mentioned. My point is not that things will always work out in the end when it comes to that kind of heart ache, nor am I suggesting that when you experience heartache you shouldn’t pray to God earnestly how you feel. My point is that I am grateful that I did not apply Jesus’s words to always pray and never give up to this particular issue I was experiencing, and I don’t think that this scenario was what Jesus was referring to either.
There are things that we want in this life, that are not necessarily bad things to desire and not bad things to ask God for in prayer. However, some of those things that we want but don’t receive should not be treated as a time of “if I just keep bothering God with the same prayer, He will eventually give it to me just like the unrighteous judge eventually gave into the widow because she kept bothering him.” Listen again to the parable meant to teach the disciples to always pray and never give up. “Jesus said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” The problem is that in this world, God’s people will face times of injustice. We should not take from the parable that God is like the unjust judge, bother him the right number of times and he will relent. God is contrasted with the judge. It is like in Luke 11, when Jesus says “if your son asks for a fish will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who asks him. Jesus is saying, if this uncaring judge will give justice to the oppressed when they are unrelenting in the belief that it will come, how much more will your Father in heaven give justice to his children, whom He loves. The widow in the parable had faith that eventually the judge would give her justice. She could have given up, and she really should have given up trying to demand justice from that judge. But her faith was rewarded. How much more will the faithful of God be rewarded for continuing to turn to him in prayer and not give up when they face injustice.
But this is perhaps easier said than done. Jesus knew that the time would come when he would no longer walk with his disciples, and they would be treated unjustly for their faith in Jesus. He wanted them to not give up, even when they were beaten, and imprisoned, and their brothers were killed for the faith, he wanted them to always pray and not give up. There are places in the world today where the reality of this calling is more real than others. Places where to become a Christian is to abandon your family, places where to be baptized means you are likely coming home to a burned house, places where you meet in secret to worship the true God, and the temptation is there to give up on justice being given to you, to stop praying and just give up. Places where you can imagine that because of what happens there, the voices of the martyrs cry out to God, how long. And Jesus desires that his disciples pray always, and never give up, because God is a just judge. Even here in America, the way that Christians are treated is different today than it was even 20 years ago. And only God knows what it will be like in another two decades. Amidst experienced injustice, Jesus is saying have faith, do not give up, pray continuously to a God who cares about your well-being.
No matter what trials and temptations you face, pray and do not give up. For your God is with you and hears your earnest pleas. He will give you justice in His time, according to His good pleasure.