Gospel: Luke 18:1-8
Jesus tells a parable of an unjust judge who is worn down by a widow’s pleas. Jesus is calling God’s people to cry out for justice and deliverance. For if an unethical judge will ultimately grant the plea of a persistent widow, how much more will God respond to those who call.
1Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Now that my little girl is nearly six, I remember at that age, the wrestling matches I had with my dad. I was convinced I had the skill and the strength. So I would take on my father in these wrestling matches – climbing onto his shoulders, trying to put him in a head-lock, grabbing him around the knees trying with all my might, to maneuver some sort of wrestling move seen on TV at a friend’s house. But my dad, who had coached wrestling, football, and regularly lifted weights and worked out, had about 150 lbs on me. He let me wrestle. Until I was breathless. But, I don’t ever remember him letting me win.
What I do remember vividly – is him pinning me to the ground – and me crying uncle. And yet there was great comfort in that… I believed in my own strength, and I trusted my father. There was great comfort in his strength when my own had run out. I think he probably had more patience than I do – because I always let Vivian win, and I’m usually the breathless one.
When Jesus returns, will he find a faith that wrestles? A faith that contends? A faith born out of struggle and strife. A faith that can take on the weariness of an unjust world and carry it? A faith that recognizes our heavenly parent’s power in the midst of that struggle and finds comfort in it?
But consider the persistence of the widow. A persistence that goes toe to toe with the powers that be and demands justice, however small our voice. Not wrestling with a heavenly parent, but an earthly tyrant. Our struggles are real – both spiritual and material. But where has faith been found according to Luke?
Where is faith commended? It is found in the centurion who believes Jesus will heal his slave, even from a distance; the sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet and loves much; friends of the paralytic who are willing to dig through a roof; the bleeding, unclean woman who touches Jesus’ clothes in the crowd and is healed; the Samaritan leper, whose gratitude turns him back to Jesus where he falls at his feet in thanksgiving; and the blind beggar later in this chapter who sees Jesus for who he is and calls to him.
It appears that faith and persistence may be found in unexpected places, as it has been in the Gospel — not among the religious professionals or the ones certain of their own righteousness and practices, but among the outsiders, the unlovely, the unclean, the ones certain of their sinfulness. The ones who are unsure of their own abilities, status, strength, and power – and fully rely on God’s mercy, abilities, and power to heal and make whole. Those who see suffering and injustice and tear the roof off of a house to get a chance at healing and wholeness.
Luke recommends to pray always and not lose heart. This is my plug for the class on prayer we’re having here for the next 5 Wednesdays. Prayer is a multifaceted endeavor. It is not limited to getting on your knees beside your bed each night or saying a quick grace at the dinner table, but that’s not a bad start to it. Prayer involves listening, discernment, wrestling – actions and words. And knowing that the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words, when our words run out.
But I believe these scriptures say at least as much or more about the God we pray to, then prescriptions for our action. The word of God communicates God’s character and promises just as surely as it commands our persistence. So what do these texts say about God?
God shows up with us, face to face, in the struggle.
God is the maker of heaven and earth.
God keeps, watches, and shades us.
God preserves us.
God both inspires scriptures and inspires us.
God grants justice and will not delay – God is not like the unjust judge.
God judges with righteousness and mercy.
It is only by God’s mercy, God’s faithfulness, and God’s persistence in loving us – that we can be persistent. And when you are not sure you can persist any longer, when your own reserves are failing, turn back again to the abundant reserves of God’s love.
When we line this up with the story of Jacob wrestling – declaring he has seen the face of God in his worthy opponent demonstrates the paradox of the life of faith. Persistent faith relies on God. We’re here to struggle and be faithful. Sometimes it seems we are struggling with the Creator – other times we struggle with the powers that be – the struggle is valid.
We not only wrestle with our own self desires for glory and honor – we wrestle with God and his claim on our lives. And that’s ok. God’s big enough. He can take it. He can take it with us, grabbing and grappling and hanging onto his neck all night long.
God could pin us in a nanosecond, but God lets us wrestle. You may come away with elbow burns or with a limp. But God stays on the mat with you for as long as you need to in order for me to understand the love that flows from God. And we won’t just come away from this wrestling match called life with bumps and bruises, scars and wounds – we’ll come away with a blessing, and as Jacob was given a new name – in the waters of baptism we are given a new identity as the people of God. We are the church, the people who wrestle, the people who engage in this struggle together. We are those who wrestle with injustice and suffering and with our Creator, seeking a blessing.