When I saw that the Gospel was the persistent widow this morning I confess to inwardly groaning!! I was reminded of a book that I read when I was growing up it was called Rosemary takes to Teaching. In the book a young Christian woman has just finished college and it is all about her struggles to be a teacher and a Christian and I remember being captivated by it as a probably 12-13 year old girl. There was one chapter that stuck with me and that was the chapter when Rosemary, wait for the horror of this, forgets to spend her morning quiet prayer time with God and as a result of this all manner of chaos occurs for both Rosemary but actually for most of the school as well the chapter is clear if only Rosemary had not missed her quiet time none of this would have happened. Eek!! It is an uncomfortable image of God and prayer – at best it turns prayer into some kind of superstition, at worst it really does something dreadful to the essence and nature of God. So let’s explore what the passage is really about!
We often tend to think of people who are very different from us. Heroic people who are better at coping with life, people who seem to find God at the worst of times rather than hanging on by the skin of our teeth, people who have something in them that we do not.
What is really interesting in our gospel reading today is that when Jesus tells a parable, a story, to remind his disciples to pray continually and not lose heart – he chooses the most unlikely people to illustrate his story!
We have a story of two opposing forces – the judge and the widow.
On one side a Judge – who does not fear God and who does not care what anyone thinks about him. In Jesus’ culture in the middle east – all cases of wrong doing would be brought before a judge by the individuals (no police or crown cases) and the judge would decide in favour of one of the other. It would pay to get to know your judge and put your point across in a way they might choose you – the main ways of appealing to someone in authority would be religion, bribery or what others think. A judge who doesn’t care about God or what anyone thinks means the judge will do whatever they like and that’s that. Hmmm sounds familiar!
So we come to the widow. In the Old Testament the widow is a symbol of the most vulnerable adult in society. In Jesus’ middle eastern culture – women do not go to the courts – men go for them.
When in the story the widow is going to see the judge we know that she is alone – not only no husband or sons, but no father, no uncle, no brother or nephew to speak for her. The widow has to plead her case alone and against impossible odds. This isn’t a nice, cosy story.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been really alone and desperate or spent time with those who are? If you’ve ever been there or spent time with those who are there – then you will know that those who are desperate will do anything to get what they need or want. All the normal rules and things that hold us back go out the window – we just want what we want and will do anything to get it. But desperate people -as we will know if we’ve been there – do not give up easily and will keep on and on and coming back until they get what they need and want. Either that or utterly give up defeated.
Now in this story Jesus told – the widow is in the right, but the judge is dragging his feet. So what does our desperate widow want? Most translations have the widow wanting justice – but the greek word is actually ek-dikeo –avenged. “The widow is demanding to be avenged – to have things set right.” The widow has been wronged and the judge is not sorting this out as he should. This story doesn’t have details of what this might be – money from an enemy, access to property – or maybe she wants someone thrown into jail, to suffer or be executed. The greek word avenged – resonates with the vengeance on the first born of Egypt, Samson against the Philistines. This widow wants someone punished for what has been done against her. I did say this wasn’t a nice, cosy story!
And what does our desperate widow do? She absolutely refuses to be quiet or go away for a LONG TIME until the judge gives her what she wants. “Judge my case! Vindicate me against my enemy!” “Judge my case! Vindicate me against my enemy!” “Judge my case! Vindicate me against my enemy!” This is a widow with grit, determination and persistence. She will not give up until things are set right in her favour.
The judge admits defeat not because of God or what people might think – but simply because the widow is causing trouble for him – she has worn him down – given him a headache and he wants rid of her! In our translation of this the judge is “worn out” but the greek word this is translated from is actually a boxing term – the judge is concerned the woman will give him a black eye. So Ninja Widow! Unsurprisingly the Judge gives her what she want to get her out of his life – before she gets him!
So what are we to make of this story that Jesus told? The deeper you go – the more disturbing and unsettling it becomes. On another level it’s funny and ridiculous – you can imagine Jesus with a twinkle in his eye enjoying the reaction to this one!
Jesus tells us this story is about how the disciples should always pray and not lose heart. In the story the persistence of the widow going on and on to the judge who cares about nothing pays off – she gets what she wants
“Well said Jesus – did you hear what this unjust judge says? And don’t you think that God will see justice done for his chosen ones, who shout out to him day and night? Do you suppose he is deliberately delaying? Let me tell you, he will vindicate them very quickly. But – when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’ God has already answered our prayer in what is about to unfold, in Jesus on the cross and in the resurrection.
– so HOW MUCH MORE will persistence in prayer be heard when we kneel before not an unjust God but a compassionate God?
Jesus makes it really clear that we are not in the presence of some awful judge of a God who is out to get us.
Jesus makes it clear that in prayer we are in the presence of a loving God like a good parent who cares for their children.
For those of us who feel that we aren’t very persistent. For those of us who feel overwhelmed persistently asking God for justice for those who feel that they would like to give up we are given at the end of the passage solidarity with Jesus. I was reminded as we are encouraged to think of ,what will happen when the Son of Man comes, of Jesus flat on the ground in the Garden of Gethsemane begging God for a different way. I don’t think God didn’t hear that prayer but even Jesus didn’t get the answer he sought.
Jesus is very realistic about the failings and frailty of those whom he has chosen. Those first disciples hearing this story were going to desert Jesus when he needed them most on the Cross – when the Son of Man – when Jesus comes, will he find faith on the earth?
People like to make out Christians to be people who think they are better than everyone else – like some weird kind of morally superior group who are rewarded by God for our good behaviour. Now you and I who follow Jesus – as with all of those who gone before us know this is absolute rubbish.
We did not chose Jesus – Jesus chose us and God knows exactly what we are like and loves us – God loves us with all our failings – like a good parent or the best kind of friend who loves us completely and loves us enough to walk the hard journeys with us and have those difficult conversations when they are needed. However tightly or loosely we have hold of Jesus – the truth is that Jesus has hold of us. You did not choose me – I chose you – I have told of you – so keep praying and do not lose heart.
One day we will be free of all that harms, pollutes and destroys, until then we are called to persist in prayer to our loving, compassionate God. As Timothy reminds us whether the time is favourable or unfavourable we come together and persist in prayer to bring us closer in relationship to our ever loving God and to each other, in solidarity with Jesus and like the persistent widow we long and pray for God’s love, mercy and justice knowing that God never ever leaves us unheard but sustains us in the prayerful relationship that Jesus reminds us this morning we are called to. Amen.