Preached at St. Mark's Church of the Anglican Communion in Silvis, IL on October 21st, 2007...
Always pray. Don’t lose heart. God is faithful. Our Gospel this morning opens by saying that “Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” Always pray and not give up. But why does Jesus need to tell his disciples to always pray and not give up here?
In order to understand this we need to look at the passage preceding it in Luke 17:20-37. The Pharisees ask when the Kingdom of God will come and Jesus responds by telling them they’ve got it wrong because it is “within you”. He then tells his disciples “The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it”. He then goes on to explain that it will be dreadful and catch people unaware. And afterward his disciples respond in a way that shows they will indeed long to see His day… “Where, Lord?”
So Jesus tells them they’ll long to see one of His days, but won’t therefore pray always and don’t give up. Some other versions of the Bible translate it…“never quit”, “not become weary”, “not lose heart” and “not faint”. And I believe what Jesus is giving them in one sense is some preventative medicine. Because longing that goes unrealized has the potential to lead to despair or anger or apathy. Think of a situation where you’ve longed for something that hasn’t come to pass. What might we do? We doubt God, we lose hope, we become angry at God, or we just stop caring. All of these are attitudes that have the potential to become faith destroyers. And into this Jesus presents us with the example of how to overcome these potential faith destroyers. And what does he prescribe to overcome these? Hopeful, prayerful perseverance. And He shows us what it looks like to persevere, to be one who always prays and doesn’t lose heart. And who in Jesus’ opinion models it for us? A widow.
To understand how powerful Jesus’ example of hopeful, prayerful perseverance is we have to understand what it meant to be a widow. To be a widow in Jesus’ day typically meant, that in addition to the trauma of losing her husband, she was poverty-stricken, helpless, oppressed, exploited and unable to get justice. Widows were a symbol of utter helplessness. Now contrast this with judges. They held great power and authority and therefore were called to be absolutely impartial, to shun bribes, to not favor the rich or the poor. Judges had to be absolutely blameless. So when Jesus describes this judge as unjust he describing this person as a scoundrel among scoundrels. So here we have one of the most helpless members of society seeking justice from one of the most corrupt people in society. If ever there were an utterly hopeless situation this is it. The most helpless seeking justice from the most corrupt. It certainly would be easy to lose heart, to give up, to throw your hands in the air and say “It’s hopeless”. Or to get angry and say “Not fair!” But does the widow do this? No, what does Jesus say? “She kept coming to Him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.” She kept coming to him. The original languages imply that, she kept coming to him again and again and again. It reminds me of the scene in the Passion of the Christ where Our Lord is being flogged and it’s absolutely brutal. He’s knocked down, suffering and the Roman soldiers are standing over Him as He’s lies on the ground, helpless…and then He gets up! And their expressions of mocking and jeering turn to astonishment. And this is what the widow models for us. A completely hopeless situation. But rather than give in to despair she perseveres. She refuses to lose heart, she refuses to give up. She keeps coming to the judge. And we likewise need to keep praying. Because prayer is our anchor in those times when we’re longing and waiting and hoping. Not simply because we’re continuing to ask for our need to be met. But because by praying we’re maintaining our relationship with the Lord during our time of need. We’re returning to our source of strength and peace. And more than any other time in our life, it is when we feel desperate that we absolutely have to cling to God. This is when we have to always pray, don’t lose heart, don’t give up.
And one of those reasons we should not lose heart is because God is faithful. Jesus concludes His parable by saying, “Listen to what the unjust judge says…” Now in the language of His day this was how you said, “Pay attention, I’m about to give you the moral of the story here”. “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly.”
Pay attention, this is really important…The lesson here is this: God will come through for those who persevere. When we’re longing, when we’re waiting we have to remember God is faithful. He will come through.
Now in the Gospel here it says, “He will see that they get justice, and quickly”. And it’s important to spend a little time on what ‘quickly’ means. I think what we might hear is that God is going to do what I pray for fast. If I pray today, He’ll answer tomorrow. But this isn’t what this means here in Jesus’ language. He’s not saying God will grant justice ‘after a short waiting period’ but He will grant justice ‘suddenly’. Bam! And this is consistent with Jesus parable, the widow doesn’t get her request the next day does she? What Jesus is saying is, God is faithful and He will answer suddenly, sort of “when you least expect it God will show that He’s faithful”.
And this is an important thing to remember when we’re in a place of longing, of desiring justice or what’s fair. God isn’t necessarily going to work according to our schedule. He’s not going to do things the way we want Him to or according to our plan. But He is going to come through. And when He does it’s going to be perfect. And if we are mindful that God will come through, and that when He does it will be exactly what we need how could we give up? When our longing is placed upon one who has a perfect plan for us and loves how could we lose heart?
Therefore, how we wait is what will make the difference. Will we be like the widow? Prayerful, hopeful, persevering? Always pray. Don’t lose heart. God is faithful.
And this is how Jesus ends this lesson. “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” At first it sounds a bit disconnected from the rest of what He's saying. Almost an out of the blue. But I believe what He’s saying is, “Will I find this prayerful, hopeful perseverance? Will I find the faith of these widows? Or will I find those who’ve given up? Who’ve stopped praying? Who’ve given up on God, their source and their strength?” What He’s saying is, “God will prove Himself to be faithful, will you?” God will prove Himself to be faithful, but will Jesus find those who always pray, who don’t lose heart, who are characterized by prayerful, hopeful perseverance? Not even, but especially when it hopeless. When we want to throw in the towel. When we’re just exhausted, spent. When we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel… That’s when we need to always pray, to not give up, to not lose heart and to remember that God is faithful. In those times will Jesus find that kind of faith in us? Jesus tells us in this passage that God will prove Himself faithful. Will we? Always pray. Don’t lose heart. God is faithful.
And for those of us who have given our lives to Jesus this is what we’re called to. And there might be some of us here today who haven’t even given much thought to God, or maybe you struggle with believing that He’s really there or that He cares; maybe you don’t believe that God is real at all, maybe your running from Him. Wherever you are, if you’ve never said yes to God, then I challenge you to take a risk. To take Jesus at His word. To allow God to prove that’s He’s faithful, that He cares for you, that He’ll come through and that He’s real. If that’s a decision you’d like make today, then say Yes to Jesus.