Nevertheless, She Persisted…and We Should, Too
{Read Luke 18:1-8}

It’s not hard to imagine this parable of Jesus acted out. I can see a dramatic
version. The widow on her knees, tears streaming down her face, begging the judge for
justice, the judge stone faced in his refusal. I can see a version in which the widow
comes to the judge with great determination and strength. She is standing tall, sure of
herself and her words. She is persistent in seeking justice. The judge looks at her in
disbelief with his mouth open and his eyes questioning. Who is this widow to be making
such a fervent plea? In each, the judge relents either with reluctance or in submission or
perhaps with weariness. The widow is granted her justice because the judge is tired of
hearing her voice. He’d like for her to leave him alone and go away. It seems the
easiest way to make that happen is to give her the justice she’s seeking. Sometimes the
right thing can be done by accident and for the wrong reasons.

I don’t think this parable is too far out of reach for us. Some of Jesus’ parables
are quite confusing but this one seems to be fairly straightforward. We know this
woman. We’ve seen her before. We’ve seen her on the news behind a bank of
microphones seeking justice for the death of her child. We’ve seen her in the crowd with
a protest sign seeking action from a legislative body that will not budge. We’ve seen her
at the community meeting and the school board. We’ve seen her on her knees in the
church or prostrate on the floor. We’ve heard her voice as she won’t take ‘no’ for an
answer. We’ve heard the volume rise and the tone get more desperate or maybe more
determined. And our reactions to her vary. Some want her to shut her mouth and go
away. Others marvel at her courage and determination. Some wish she’d use a different
tactic. Others wish she’d keep her problems to herself. Some join her in the crowd or on
the floor or at the meeting. Others hope she’ll stop making such a fuss. The judge in our
story certainly hopes she’ll just quiet down and go away. In the Greek, he finally relents
because he doesn’t want her to give him a black eye. In the Greek, she is painted as a
trouble-maker. The powerless taking a swing at the powerful. The one with no position
making her case before the seat of power and privilege.

But hold on a minute, didn’t Jesus say this would be a parable about prayer? In
my reading it seems to be more about justice. The story is brief as all parables are and
it isn’t very specific. We don’t know what kind of justice the widow is seeking only that
she is persistent in her pleas. The judge is open about his indifference. He plainly states
that he has no respect for people and has no regard for God. In the cultural system of
the day, the judge holds all the power. The widow has none. She is firmly on the
margins with no standing of any kind. What right has she to plead her case? This is a
topsy-turvy tale in which the powerless is triumphant against the powerful. The judge,
though unethical, does hold a position of power. He grants her justice, in the end, but
only because she has pestered him to the point of giving in not because he has any
compassion for her or any interest in doing what is right. Those familiar with the Old
Testament know that there are clear instructions to help the widow, to care for them.
This judge doesn’t care and it is appalling. His right action, in the end, is for the wrong
reason and yet, justice prevails.

Listen to the unjust judge, Jesus says, will God not do better than this? Will God
not grant justice to those who cry out? There it is: the part that has to do with prayer. I
fear that sometimes our image of God is the image of this unjust judge, and we may feel
as though God is indifferent to our cries, our pleadings, our prayers. Perhaps we feel
like we’re asking too much of God. Perhaps we feel like there are situations God can’t
handle. Perhaps we feel like if we actually go to God with all of who we are, we’ll be
rejected, turned down, or turned away. What Jesus has done here, though, is to show
us exactly who God is not. God is not the unjust judge. God is not indifferent to our
cries. God welcomes all of who we are even the parts of ourselves we’d rather no one
else see. What God desires from us is every part, the nitty gritty, the dignified and the
undignified, the selfless and the selfish, our nice prayers and our not-so-nice prayers.
God wants all of it. When we go to God in prayer, we are to bring everything we’ve got,
lay it all out and trust that God will do with it what God will. We may not get what we’ve
asked for but prayer isn’t really about getting things anyway. Prayer is about being
honest before God. Prayer is about sharing ourselves with the One who created us in
love. Prayer is about trusting God to do God’s will. We persist in the belief that we are
worth hearing, that we are worth loving, that we are worthy of God’s attention and God’s

Whether the woman in the parable was on her knees and in tears or confident
and well prepared, I think she persisted in the belief that she was worthy. She persisted
in the belief that her voice and her concerns mattered. She persisted in her pursuit of
justice even though her social standing and the judge himself didn’t give her the right.
The truth that we find so hard to believe is that we, too, are worthy, that our voices and
our concerns matter, and that we have value before God. We are worth hearing, worth
loving and worthy of God’s attention and care.

What would it be like to live as though that were true? What would it be like to
persist in the belief that you and your concerns matter to God? What would it be like to
trust God with all of who you are: the good, the bad, and everything in between? Would
it make a difference in your life? I think that it could transform your life. We are all
weighed down by heavy things: worries over the state of our own lives and the state of
the world. There are injustices all around us and God is not indifferent. God hears the
cries of God’s children. And God calls upon us to act.

Prayer is not a passive thing. Prayer leads us to action. When we pray and listen
for God’s voice in return, we hear God calling us to the places of this world that are in
desperate need of God’s transforming love. When we are in constant conversation with
God, our hearts, our minds, our eyes, and our ears become attuned to the places where
God’s children are crying out day and night for justice. And we are no longer able to
stand idly by. We are no longer able to ignore the cries of those who have been pushed
out, knocked down, and held back by the powers of this world. That’s when living this
life of faith gets hard: when we know that all is not right, when we know that this world is
broken and we can see that brokenness within our own hearts and all around us. When
black and brown bodies are not valued as much as white ones, when our former allies
are fighting for their lives, when our consumerism is causing irreparable damage to the
create world, when families are broken by addiction, when young people are hurting so
badly they feel the only way out is a handful of pills, when our hearts are broken and our
souls are grieving. It can be easy to lose heart in the face of all that is wrong. It can be
easy to get discouraged when it feels as though God is far away and uninterested in the
goings on of this world. But Jesus reminds us to pray always and not lose heart. Don’t
give in and don’t give up.

Whether you are on your knees with tears streaming down your face, whether
you are confident and well-prepared or whether you are struggling to put words
together, God hears you. This is why we persist in prayer. This is why we persist in our
pursuits of justice. Because God is paying attention. Each week, I read the prayers that
have been gathered from our community prayer stations. Since they were installed, I’ve
read every tag and I’ve come to recognize the handwriting of those who offer their
prayers frequently. There is one person, in particular, who offers many prayers each
week. I remember reading ten prayers from this individual in one week. Ten. That is
persistence in prayer. I see it as a tangible look at what it must be to know that God
hears, God sees, and God cares.

At the end of our text, Jesus wonders if upon his return he will find faith anywhere
on earth. It may seem a peculiar question to follow this particular story. If we look at
Luke’s gospel, though, we can see the places where Jesus has found faith: in the lepers
who sought healing, in a paralyzed man and the friends who lowered him through a
roof, in a centurion, and in a woman who bathed his feet with costly oil. These are not
the places we might expect. The faith that Jesus found was not with the religious elite,
the keepers of the law, or those certain of their own righteousness. Jesus found faith in
the outcasts, those in need of healing, those seen as worthless, and those certain of
their own sinfulness. Jesus found faith in those who were vulnerable before God.
Faith, it would seem, has something to do with being persistent in the belief that
we are seen, heard, loved, and cared for by God. Faith, it would seem, has something
to do with being persistent in prayer and trusting that our voices and our concerns
matter God. Faith, it would seem, has something to do with being vulnerable and
bringing all that we are to the God who created us in love. The widow in the parable
persisted and we should, too.

Rev. Alexandra Rodgers
Assoc. Pastor for Faith Formation and Congregational Care