Sermon October 16th, 2022: "The parable of the widow and the unjust judge"
May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you O God.
Our parable today of the widow and the unjust judge is unique to Luke - I feel like I have said that a number of times over the past few months!
Luke places the parable in the middle of Jesus teaching his disciples about prayer. The parable is about persistence - but as Jesus says it is about the importance of prayer. The importance of perseverance in prayer - of praying unceasingly. The parable is about praying always and not losing hope.
We need to remember that this is a parable and not an allegory. Jesus is not telling us that God is like the unjust judge and will eventually give into our “asks” if we just keep on asking and asking and asking.
It is not about giving in - it is about making things right.
In Luke, perseverance in prayer and not losing heart are elements of faith. The disciples in the Gospel of Luke are taught again and again and again to persevere in prayer.
But what if we are tired of praying? If we are not praying as individuals or as a community is it because our faith has lost its trust? We are worn down from praying for comfort and relief from natural disasters and violent acts and war and hunger and health scares.
I dread the question, does prayer really work? I dread the question, why was my prayer not answered? I dread the questions about unanswered prayer. I dread these because I do not have a good answer.
We are taught that God hears our prayers, that we are loved and that we are heard. But sometimes it is hard to believe that if we feel that our persistent, heartfelt prayers are not heard.
What about the question - are prayers not always answered? When we ask this are we really saying that by answered we mean the fulfillment of specific requests of the one praying?
People seem to want to believe that God will intercede at our urging and do what we want God to do.
Jesus told this parable to his disciples not to resolve the mystery of unanswered prayer but to teach about persistence. The issue is justice, not using God to get what we want or need.
Unless we understand that what God knows we need and what we think we want might not be the same thing. God gets the credit for alot of things - alot of answers to prayer - including sports wins! The prosperity Gospel being promoted in many places is theologically wrong and misleading. These are selfish prayers, thinking that increasing our wealth is what God wants. That if only we pray hard enough or well enough our stock portfolios will increase.
But often it might feel that our prayers really are not being answered or even heard. And that is when Jesus’ urging to pray always and not lose hope needs to be heard again and again and kept in our hearts and minds.
We may be tired of praying - or maybe we have already given up on prayer. If this is the case how can we find any meaning in this parable?
How can we find meaning in this Gospel passage when God does not fix things for all who ask persistently?
The life of faith is not only about telling God what is on our wish list but constantly lifting up our joys and concerns, our fears and doubts, our laments and our pleas. It is also being thankful and praising God. Our prayer may be help or thank you.
If we continue to pray, to believe that prayer is important, that we are heard and that prayers are answered and to continue to hope then we are working for the kingdom.
I really struggle to try to answer the questions about unanswered prayer because there is not a good answer. There is not even a sufficient answer. Jesus did not even have one. He taught the disciples about the importance of prayer - continuously praying and not losing hope. Jesus did not address the question of why prayers do not seem to be answered. I have wished that he had! We might reflect and look back and say yes -that was answered - just not the way I wanted it or when I wanted it! It’s hard for us to take the long view. We are reminded time and again in scripture that God’s time is not like ours. But that falls flat in the face of heartfelt, persistent prayer that does not feel that it is heard or answered.
I believe that God hears our prayers, I believe that prayer is a vital part of my personal and corporate life of faith. I believe that prayers are answered. But I do not believe that God is some magical, changeable being choosing to intercede for one human and not another. I also do not believe that it is right to think I can make God do what I want God to do! It just does not work that way - as much as we might want it to.
I am still going to struggle with the questions around unanswered prayer. I am still going to lack answers about why prayers seem to go unheard. And I will feel uncomfortable and powerless when the persistent prayers, fervent prayers of faithful people do not change things.
But I read something this week that changed my perspective a little bit. I had never thought about it like this - and for what it is worth I will share it with you. It might not make any difference in how you feel your prayers are responded to - or maybe it will! But it made me pause and think.
“We need to understand that our prayers are not unanswered pleas but our participation in the coming reign of God.”
So I will try to do as Jesus taught - to be persistent in prayer. To pray always and not lose hope.