By The Rev. Sherry Deets
22 Pentecost, Proper 24 – October 20, 2013
Today’s parable of the widow’s persistence is introduced as a parable about prayer and not losing heart, then moves into a story about justice, and ends with a question about faith.
It begins with the introduction of the judge who neither fears God nor respects people. The un-respected people are represented here by a widow whose relentlessness is so bothersome to the judge that she ends up receiving the justice she demands.
The judge and widow represent opposite ends of the social spectrum. The judge is the epitome of power–bound by neither jury decisions nor courts of appeal–and the widow is the epitome of powerlessness.
This widow, like the man who demanded bread from his neighbor in the middle of the night (11:5-8), persists in asking. Her feisty character is unusual for a woman in that patriarchal society, but she has the weight of scripture and justice on her side. She dwells on high moral ground, and everyone knows it. This judge would not tolerate this nagging behavior by a man, but even a judge who knows no shame must exercise forbearance in the presence of a woman who enjoys the protection of scripture and the sympathy of the community.
Let’s take another look at that judge. What do we know about him? We know that he is unscrupulous, without decency or conscience. He doesn’t respect people; there is no fear of God in him. He is essentially a closed universe. This judge always has it figured out; he leaves no room for the possibility that God may have a more creative answer to the questions his life presses upon him.
And, do we know anyone who matches that description? Sure we do! Each of us fits that description sometimes, and some of us may make a career of doing so. There are those times, all too often, when each of us lives entirely unto ourselves. We refuse to allow that God may have a creative solution to the problems that beset us, that God may offer us better things than we can ask for or imagine. Our decisions about life then leave no room for God, and no room for other people who have needs and wishes different from our own. The universe as we understand it becomes very small; we are its sole inhabitant.
So, then…if the judge represents us, who does the loud-mouthed widow represent? Could it be that this poor and powerless woman, who demonstrates unlimited chutzpah, is there as a reminder of God?
Certainly this fits. God is ever attempting to break into our closed universe, to draw us into relationship, make us recognize what our relationships with God and neighbor demand of us.
God is not the unjust judge, but the widow who wears him down. Where then is the unjust judge to be found? Listen carefully: that judge is inside each of us, and the purpose of our prayer is to wear him down, to wear him out, to force him to do justice. Prayer is the widow’s voice, strident yet sane, insisting that things be different.
Many people have trouble with prayer, or even give up the practice, because they think that praying is an exercise in telling God what he already knows, or persuading God to do what he wouldn’t do otherwise, or somehow changing God in one way or another. Prayer, is quite the opposite. The primary effect of prayer is not on God, but on us. God’s love is already unconditional, his justice perfect, his compassion without limit. He recognizes our needs even before we do. It’s not God who needs to change, it is up to us to get in line with God’s program, and prayer is a large part of how that comes about.
Prayer is our declaration that we don’t want to be a closed universe, dependent only on ourselves and our own solutions. Prayer is our desire to be open to God.
In our prayer, the Holy Spirit speaks in the voice of the poor widow who demands justice from the unscrupulous judge. The miracle of prayer is that the judge’s resistance breaks down and for once he does what is right, and may even do so again in the future.
That loud-mouthed widow would not have succeeded had she not been persistent, confident, and unconcerned with what others thought of her. She had what is known in Yiddish as chutzpah. Our prayer needs to have chutzpah, not because God is deaf, but because opening our hearts to God is no easy matter.
There are many things in each of us that can keep God out. Sin is not the only obstacle. Attitudes of mind may keep the door shut and bolted. We may doubt that God hears us; we may consider ourselves unworthy; we may think God has better things to do than intervene in our lives. These attitudes can be driven out by persistent prayer, the voice of the widow who refuses to take no for an answer. (Based on a sermon by the Rev. Charles Hoffacker)
Prayer will change us. As we pray and keep on praying we come closer to God. We realize that we are not alone with our problems, but God is there to help us and strengthen us and encourage us and console us. Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, wrote in his journals,
“One kind of person thinks and imagines
that when he prays, the important thing—
the thing he must concentrate upon
is that God should hear what he is praying for.
And yet in the true, eternal sense
it is just the reverse.
The true relationship in prayer
is not when God hears what is prayed for,
but when the person praying
continues to pray until he is the one who hears,
who knows, what God wills.”
I’d like to finish with a quote from Philip Yancey, ‘Persistent prayer keeps on bringing God and me together … As I pour out my soul to God, I get it off my chest, so to speak, unloading some of my burden to One who can handle it better. Little by little, as I get to know God I learn that God has nothing in common with an unjust judge, though at times it may seem so. Persistent prayer changes me by helping me see the world and my life, through God’s eyes. As the relationship progresses I realize that God has a clearer picture of what I need than I do.”
So, talk to God as you would to your best friend, who knows you better than you know yourself. God loves you with an everlasting love. Amen.
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I really like this interpretation of the parable of the judge and the widow. Thank you.