And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:7-8
I grew up in a culture where it was considered poor form and impolite to be a bother or to pester someone. Children were “seen, not heard.” Adults were civil, or worse yet, nice (a word laden with baggage in the South). Folks who either “made a stink” or “raised a ruckus” were highly suspect and sometimes even the objects of outright ridicule. If you follow the rules, keep your composure, and do what’s right, the hope is that everything will turn out okay. If it doesn’t, well, you still aren’t supposed to do too much grousing because after all, no one ever said life was fair.
Yet here in this week’s gospel lesson, we find Jesus lifting up another kind of behavior–that of persistent pestering and incessant bothering. In the story of the Unjust Judge and Persistent Widow, Jesus seems to be saying to avoid the route of asking nicely and then waiting to see whether get results. Advocating for justice and is messy work, Jesus seems to say, and a process that can be long, wearysome, and frustrating. Yet we are not to lose heart but rather keep on praying, pestering, and persevering.
One way to unpack this parable is to understand God as the judge and Christians in the role of persistent widow. That makes for a nice example, but there is one major issue with that approach: God is NOT like the judge at all. God’s nature is to love and to give lavishly. God doesn’t give just to get rid of us; the Creator of the universe desires to be in relationship with the created. Perhaps, then, this approach is not the most fitting application of the story.
One could liken the judge (who neither fears God nor respects anyone) to the forces in this broken world that run counter to God’s way of being, and to the powerful who abuse their power, exploit the marginalized, and ignore the injustices and suffering around them (sometimes a result of their own doing). We, then, are urged to be persistent in opposing these forces and calling for justice. Perhaps our persistent pestering will indeed wear down the will and the walls are barriers to justice. Plus, in the midst of all this pestering, God is with us. God is active in the world, and God hears and answers prayers. Jesus makes this reality quite clear in verses 7and 8.
He ends with a rather odd question: “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Of course our immediate response is “Well, duh, yes. Hello! What about us? Aren’t we the good guys?” Perhaps we’d better think this one through a little more.
How often do we fail to persevere and advocate for justice and equity? Are we like the widow in Jesus’ example, or are we sleepy disciples who fail to follow through on the simplest of requests? Are we determined to wear down all that opposes the inbreaking of the reign of God, or are we more willing to go with the flow–being seen not heard as we meekly and passively watch the world go by outside our safe little fortresses?
The question is not whether the Son of Man will find faith when he comes. It is rather where he will find faith; it may not be in the most obvious places or ways. Whether he finds such faith in action with us is our choice. Are we willing to “make a stink in solidarity” and “raise a holy ruckus” knowing that God is with us? I pray that we will, my faithful friends. We have nothing to lose because we have already gained everything, so pester, pester, and pester some more.
Promise in Your Pocket
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore. Psalm 121:8
On pocket-size pieces of card stock (I use business card sheets), print the above verse, and on the reverse print these words: “Pray always and do not lose heart.” —Jesus
This final verse of Psalm 121 reminds us that God is in control no matter what calamities (human-induced or natural disaster) may befall us. It is important to note that the verse implies security as we go out from the beloved community into the world. We are sent by God to live in the world, and that can be tough; however, we do not do this alone. Jesus calls us to pray always and tells us not to lose heart. When we are connected with God in prayer and our community of faith in time and commitment, we will find strength for the journey, along with meaning and purpose.
How might you work these words into your message today? How can you encourage people to keep this small card somewhere close (a wallet, glove box, refrigerator, mirror) where they may see it and be reminded of God’s care and keeping?
Youth are well acquainted with the concept of “struggling.” Some in your youth group may even participate in high school or middle school wrestling. But do we understand what it means to “contend” with God, to be named and claimed and blessed? Sure, we are told the story of our baptism and how in that event and Sacrament we received the promise and were named and claimed. We see the pictures, perhaps light our baptismal candle, and occasionally dust off our certificate and have a look. But what does it mean to contend with God in our daily living? What does it mean to be named “Child of God” and to receive God’s blessing–even when the world may tell us we are “not good enough” or “less than” or any number of derogatory identifiers? Is it possible that we can walk away blessed but limping from our encounters with the Holy One?
This is another excellent opportunity to have your youth bless and affirm one another. The more we can help our youth experience vulnerability and grace, the better equipped they will be to navigate the shark-infested waters of life. How can you be transparent as a leader? Were you called a name or known for some unfortunate trait as a youth? Can you share that story? Can you tell how your faith has helped you to live into your giftedness and the grace of God?
Want a song to use? Consider Gungor’s “Call Me Out.” Listen to it on YouTube by clicking here.
Use Psalm 121 to help children understand that God is with them 24/7–in the middle of the dark night and in the midst of the sunniest day. Consider using the Easy-to-Read Version found here.
When I was a child, I was desperately afraid of the dark. I always had to have a light on. I piled every stuffed animal I owned around me in the bed, and I kept my softball bat under the bed in case monsters or marauders should come to call. Yet this Psalm reminds me that even when the rest of the world is asleep, God is on the job–loving, protecting, and caring for us. Do you have a story to share about knowing God is with you even when you are afraid or lost or alone?
Close with a simple prayer like this one: Dear God, I know you are with me when I sleep, when I play, when I am scared and happy, sick or sad, and even when I forget you are with me, you are still there. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for taking every step with me. Thank you for being God and Creator of everything. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
*This reflection was first published in 2013.
Photos: Caelie Frampton, Creative Commons