In today’s parable, Jesus paints the picture of two people. A judge, a man with authority who does not fear God nor respect people. He won’t be ashamed. Perhaps accepting a bribe, but otherwise immoveable. A widow comes repeatedly to this judge. As we see often in scripture, widows are most vulnerable and to be cared for. In Middle Eastern culture, men represented women in court. That she is here means she has no male relative to assist her.[i] On one hand, she is weak and vulnerable. Yet she is present and persistent, not accusing, asking for justice.
In Middle Eastern culture, there is also a social code of respect such that women sometime have unusual access that men do not. Kenneth Bailey, who taught seminary for many years in Lebanon, tells of seeing a violent militia take up residence in a neighborhood. An elderly woman came regularly telling the guards to go away. They responded by politely telling her to not be upset. If a man had done so, he would have been shot.[ii]
The widow keeps coming asking for justice. The judge relents, giving her what she asks so that he is no longer bothered.
Do you resonate with the people in this parable? Have you agreed to something for the reasons the judge did? Given in just to stop someone from bothering you. Have you received something for acting like the widow? Persistent, continually asking.
Do you feel or have you ever felt that God is like the unjust judge? Distant, uncaring, unhearing, without respect or shame, refusing. Has prayer felt like repetitive knocking or finger pointing to one who doesn’t seem to care?
Sometimes life is so hard that we conclude God is unjust, uncaring or not powerful. Jesus told this parable about the “need to pray always and not to lose heart.” Jesus knows the troubles of the world and of life, of the injustice that hinders, and fear. Then and now, this parable is for people like us, when life makes us troubled and afraid. Jesus is merciful to give us this image, acknowledging our fear while pointing to good news about God.
“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.”
We Brothers say in our Rule of Life: “We offer thanks with joy whenever prayer results in the transformation for which we had hoped. However, we must often suffer the pain of seeing no visible result to our prayer. But we should let no frustration wear down the trust that sustains our waiting on God. Every offering of love will bear fruit.”[iii]
Prayer is offering love. Being faithful is continuing to offer love by praying when frustrated waiting. God knows the injustice and need as well as our pain and frustration. God invites our cooperation.
As we also say in our Rule of Life: “Our intercession does not call down the divine presence to come to the place where we have seen a need, for the Christ who fills all things is already in that place. It is his Spirit who calls us to join him there by offering our love in intercessory prayer and action, to be used by God for healing and transformation.”[iv]
Prayer is not to inform God of what is needed but rather to join God in it. Today’s parable is an encouragement to keep praying when it’s hard, when we are tempted to lose heart.
Sometimes the subject or content of prayer traps us. We may think prayer should be mostly be about soldiering on to be good, yet God invites honest about the full range of our lives. Pray your “suffering and poverty, fears and resistances, desires and dreams, losses and grief.”[v] We may think prayer should mostly be about certain others, yet God invites it for all: “the world and its peoples, friends and family, enemies and those from whom we are estranged.”[vi]
We may think prayer is mostly to get, and yet gratitude is key. Amid the trouble and heartache of your life, for what are you thankful? Give thanks in all seasons. Nothing is too small. What in your perspective or practice may be unduly limiting your prayer? Pray as you already do, and try something new. Lean into praying always.
When the troubles of the world and your life overwhelm, when you are tempted to lose heart, when prayer feels frustrating and dry, when you don’t see results, remember God is merciful and trustworthy. God is gracious and compassionate. If an unjust judge will relent, God will do so much more. Your voice is not just respected but warmly invited, for you truly are God’s beloved. By faith offer up love in prayer. God will keep coming to meet you.
[i] Kenneth E. Bailey (2008) Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, p264.
[ii] Ibid, p265.
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