How many of you have seen the show “Big Bang Theory?” Or perhaps watched the movie Finding Nemo? This particular passage reminds me of Sheldon Cooper and Dory. Sheldon is the beyond socially challenged nerd, and dory is the lovable forgetful fish. This passage of Scripture I think could easily be their favorite, if Sheldon believed in God, which is a whole different discussion.
I can see Sheldon, when he finally decides to pray going: knock knock knock, God. Knock knock knock, God. Knock knock knock, God. Or hear Dory singing out the refrain, “Just keep praying, just keep praying, just keep praying.” Too often this is all we glean from this passage of scripture. Keep asking for something and eventually you will get it, even if for no other reason that God will get tired of you.
But my friends, that simplistic view of this passage is completely messed up. That view equates God with the judge in this parable, and as the Judge neither feared God, nor respected people, I don’t think God would take too kindly to such a comparison.
So, where does that leave us? Let’s look again at this passage a bit more closely.
Jesus has been teaching about the kingdom of God in these passages. He has answered questions about faith and is giving his followers glimpses of the present, not yet kingdom of God all around them.
He tells this story about a widow. Our ears should perk up a bit at this point. There are certain things that we should know about widows in biblical times. They were without the protection of a husband, so they would rely on the next closest male relative to help them. This could be a son, a brother, or a brother in law. Far too often however, the closest male relative did not want to take care of a widow. There are many stories in the old testament that tell us about widows and their brother-in-law’s, take Tamar for instance, in which the brother-in-law is of no help whatsoever.
This attitude was so prevalent that early on thin the history of the chosen people they are admonished to care for widows and orphans, these marginalized people who were the most susceptible to abuse or neglect because they had no one to stand up for them, legally or otherwise.
We hear of this widow and all of the historical cultural background should come to our minds. She is begging for justice. Chances are she is not able to do this in an actual court, as she has no actual legal rights. More than likely she is following the judge out and about to the market place, to the town center, even to his home. She is crying out day in and day out for justice, possibly justice against those who were to be her protectors.
This is also the book of Luke, and widows in Luke take on an additional role. Early on in Luke we have the widow Anna. You remember her, the woman who sat day in and day out in the temple for 80 years waiting to see the Messiah. She rejoiced to see Jesus as a baby brought to the temple by Mary and Joseph. Luke calls her a prophetess. Luke also mentioned the widow of zaraphath, the one who helped Elijah during the famine. The one whose son was brought back from the dead. And speaking of that, there is the widow of Nain, to whom Jesus returns her only son after her has died.
In Luke widows bear not only the image of poverty and need, but also the prophetic voice that reminds others of their calling to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
It is not a stretch to see her calling out for justice, not only for herself, but for others who likewise need justice. She cries out to the judge who refuses to listen.
This judge is not like God at all my friends. I honestly think he’s much more like most of us. He has a job to do and it is important. This widow woman is just getting in the way. She won’t leave him alone. She shows up protesting at his office. She post’s memes about him on Facebook. She even blows up his twitter feed with demands to be seen and heard. He’s ignored her for years, but she refuses to go away.
Eventually he is battered and bruised enough to give in, if for no other reason than he is tired of her. He gives her the justice she has been begging for all of this time.
Too often we think of justice as revenge. That is not the case. Justice according to the words and actions of Christ is very different.
Justice is following the greatest commandments, Loving God and loving neighbor. One way we show our love of God is by respecting and loving others. We do this by recognizing the child of God within all of humanity. God asks, and expects us to do this very thing. By treating people with respect, with human dignity we are also reminded that we have a responsibility to ask others to do the same. This isn’t being overly sensitive or “politically correct” it is really living out the greatest two commandments, it is living out justice for our neighbor.
The judge in this story not only has no respect for neighbor, he’s not a respecter of persons or of God. This person could not be farther from the character of God. Yet even he eventually manages to do what is right and offer justice.
When we recognize the humanity of others we can really begin to offer justice, not revenge, not reparations, but justice, the viewing of others as children of God. But how do we do that in a world that seems so vastly separated? How do we do that when vilifying one another is business as usual? Perhaps we take a small que from the people of the middle ages.
About this time of year, well actually on All Hallows eve, people would go souling. We do a much more self-serving version of this in our own country called trick-or-treating. Souling was not about begging strangers for candy. It wasn’t even really about poor people hassling the rich for food. The poor of a town would go from door to door and offer to pray for the souls of departed family members and in exchange they were given food to eat. It had to do with over turning the social order that persistently kept people hungry/powerless and others well-fed/powerful- even if that over turning lasted only one evening.
It reminded both rich and poor of their relatedness to one another and of the fact that everyone had the potential to be a conduit of God’s grace- whether the gift of grace came in the form of food or in the form of prayers. In a very real sense, the annual practice reminded everyone of their call and ability to be conduits and stewards of God’s gifts of life.[i]
Friends, each of us has the opportunity to be the judge, to hear the complaints of the other and respond with justice, if for no other reason than we want them to be quiet. But we also have the opportunity to go with the widow to seek justice from others. I wonder how long it would have taken if she had not have been by herself? What happens when others rally around and speak out against injustice? What happens when we together tell the world that all of God’s children matter? Might we find the good things God offers; the kingdom, justice and love, even faster?
An African American preacher once summed this passage up in one sentence “Unless you have knocked at a locked door until your knuckles bled you don’t know what prayer is.”
Friends, are we seeking justice with that intensity? Are we seeking God’s intervention in this world so passionately, with such intensity that our knuckles bleed? Are we standing with our brothers and sisters, fellow children of God and demanding they be seen; that they be heard, that they be loved?
This passage as Luke says is about persistent prayer. And Jesus asks “When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on this earth?”
As long as there are those crying out for justice alongside those saying “How long O Lord”, as long as we are willing to add our voices to help those without voices, as long as we are willing to love those we are called to love there is hope. There is hope that faith, even the faith of a mustard seed will be found. There is hope that one day those words we pray “Thy will be done, Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven” will come true.