By The Rev. Sherry Crompton

October 17, 2010

Read: Luke 18:1-8

Jesus tells us, in Luke’s gospel for today, about a woman who stands knocking at someone’s door: knocking and waiting, knocking and waiting, wondering whether anyone will ever answer. The door in question belongs to a judge. Luke doesn’t tell us the woman is literally knocking on his door – but he does tell us she “kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.'”

This woman is a widow – very likely (in that society) living in poverty. Widows in the ancient world were incredibly vulnerable, regularly listed with orphans and aliens as those persons deserving special protection. The law of Israel says judges are to take special pains to hear the complaints of people like this widow – the scriptures are compassionate when it comes to the likes of her. The first chapter of Isaiah upholds this high ideal of justice: “… learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

The fact that this particular widow must beseech a judge unattended by any family highlights her extreme vulnerability. Yet she not only beseeches the judge, but is also persistent in her pleas for justice to the point of creating enough pressure to influence his actions.

Notice the judge’s description of his own motivation for settling the widow’s claim. He asserts (as the narrator already had) that he neither fears God nor respects people, thereby testifying that his unsavory character has not changed during the course of the parable. And when he explains why he relents, he speaks of the effect of the widow’s ceaseless complaints on him. A more literal translation of the judge’s grievance (18:5) is that the woman “is giving me a black eye.”

The judge complains that the widow’s relentless badgering risks publically embarrassing him. For this reason, he says– that he relents not because he has changed his mind but simply to shut up this dangerous widow. In this case, insolent, obnoxious, even intolerable behavior results in justice.

This parable, at it’s first read, seems to say that if we pray enough, we’ll get what we want and our experience tells us that doesn’t always happen. When we pray for justice, we know that we don’t always see a quick response. Our perception is that God can be slow. God’s timing is often not our timing. This is a parable about persistence and justice.

If we want a good example of persistence all we have to do is look to the miners in Chile. The drillers persisted in searching for the minors right after the collapse in spite of the fact that everyone was sure they had perished, then in spite of the cost they went to work drilling a 28-inch hole over 2000 feet through solid rock to rescue the men two months ahead of schedule. The miners themselves remained faithful in prayer and faithful that they would be rescued and because of that they came out amazingly healthy and sane. An added side effect from all this is that workers everywhere in Chile will receive justice as the president of Chile has vowed to crack down on employers who put their employees in danger, in the last two months they have shut down 18 mines for safety violations and the San Jose mine will be closed permanently. This flawless rescue and story of endurance is nothing short of a miracle.

Jesus told a parable about the need of his followers to pray. This is how today’s Gospel starts. We need prayer. We might not be aware of it. We might belittle it. We might neglect it. But prayer is one of the spheres where God touches us; where we experience God -Immanuel, God with us and for us. Prayer is an expression of hope for the kingdom of God.

A friend shares this story: A new Christian, whom I had accompanied through a long phase of searching for God, and who in the end got baptized, told me about the turning point in his spiritual life. “One night,” he said, “I finally got myself to pray. I had never prayed before. And it was not just in my mind, but I was talking to God. I just told God everything, about the burdens that I carry, about the hurt I’ve felt for most of my life. I said it out loud, and the weirdest thing happened – I felt a presence. The more I talked, the more the burden was lifted from my shoulders. I don’t know if I had any specific expectations when I started to open up to God; but in the end, I knew I was not expecting any quick fixes for my problems. I did not need them. I found comfort in the knowledge that I could leave the past with God; that God is present to carry the burden with me; and that God will be there to listen to me. I have found my peace with the past – and can look more confidently toward the future now.”

German scholar Gerhard Ebeling said: “Prayer is the turn to the future”. Prayer is not just about griping to God about what we need or what we wish for; prayer, opening up to God, helps us to leave the past behind us and look toward what is to come.

There’s a famous story about a young boy named Frank who was walking along the bank of the Mississippi River and he noticed in the river another boy about his age wrestling with a homemade raft. He said to him, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m going to take this raft out to that island in the middle of the river. I dare you to go with me!” Well, Frank couldn’t resist the dare so he scrambled down the bank and got on the raft. The two boys headed out to the middle of the river but the current was swift and strong. As they approached the island, the raft broke up and sank and they had to swim to the island. And there they were, abandoned on an island, late in the afternoon. Nobody knew where they were. What would they do?

Right at that moment, one of those paddle-wheel steamers started coming down the river and Frank ran to the edge of the island and began screaming and waving his hands, “Help! Help!” The other boy said, “Don’t waste your breath. They can’t hear you and even if they could they wouldn’t pay any attention to boys like us.” But just at that moment the paddle-wheel steamer turned toward the island. The boy said to Frank, “How did you do that?” And Frank said, “Well, there’s something you don’t know. The captain of that boat is my father!”

Well, the captain of the universe is our Father and how much more will one who has formed us in the womb respond to our every cry. So pray always and do not lose heart. Count on God to come down on the side of justice. Count on God to hear the ones who have no power, no influence, no voice. Count on God to hear those who have nowhere else to turn. Count on God not always to grant your requests, but to hear, with loving, parental patience, the persistent prayers of your heart. Amen.

Copyright 2008-2012 Episcopal Church of the Trinity.

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