Scripture: Luke 18:1-8
Luke tells us that this is a parable about the necessity of prayer. In fact, given Lukes introduction and Jesus’s conclusion, this is perhaps the clearest cut parable explanations that we’ve heard this fall! …right?
If the judge with no respect for anyone will eventually listen to this woman, this nobody, Jesus says, then what of God who loves you and cares about justice and pain and peace?
She knew this judge was an apathetic, selfish boor, and yet she kept asking.
You know how deeply God cherishes you, why have you stopped praying?
Thats it, done, end of sermon. Or not…I mean, is Jesus implying that if we pray hard enough, if we ‘pester’ god enough, that we’ll get what we’re asking for? Or conversely, that if we haven’t gotten what we are asking for, it means we simply aren’t praying hard enough? I don’t think so.
Jesus says that God hears all our cries in the night, and that we shouldn’t lose heart. It can be easy to lose heart, however, when it feels like for all our prayers nothing is getting better, justice isn’t being served. But then again, if justice is about fulfilling the obligations of right relationship, where in the bible does it say that our relationship with God guarantees a pain-free life?
To quote a rabbi from Grey’s Anatomy, “No, no, where is it written exactly that if you do this or that, that everything in your life's gonna be good, hmm? Nowhere, in any faith, is there a guarantee.”
So what ARE the guarantees? What ARE the obligations that God has to our relationship?
God promises to always be in right relationship with us, to uphold God’s end of the covenant- that means loving us unconditionally, offering us forgiveness and welcoming us into community, no matter who we are or what we’ve done- we are God’s children and nothing and no one can take that away. God promises to be present to us, to offer us love, to set a table before us in the presence of our enemies.
That doesn’t mean that God eliminates our enemies. God walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death, God doesn’t pluck us out of the valley and drop us safely back in our homes. That presence, that love, that God promises us, though, man it can make all the difference.
A couple years ago, I was sick. I had a stomach bug. It was brutal. From the lovely cold bathroom floor where I’d made my bed, I called my mom. I was 27. She stayed with me on the phone until I knew it was safe, stomach-wise, to fall asleep.
And then, at 7am, she drove up to Somerville to take care of me. She brought Gatorade and Saltines, and cooked me rice when I was ready to try eating. She sat with me on the couch and watched a British rom-com with me, and went home in the early afternoon. She had no power to make me better, nor did I expect her to, but in my hours of need, she showed me love. She met my pain with love, nurture, and presence.
And I’m aware that not all of us have had that kind of experience with a parent. But perhaps there are times when we’ve felt cared for by a friend, or a partner, or even a nurse or teacher. Or, perhaps, we’ve been that person who has offered care, love, and presence for someone we hold dearly in their hour of need. How lucky those people are to have you in their life.
When we pray to God we are met with nothing but love, nurture, and presence. God’s love can be invigorating and rile us up, God can nurture our sense of humility or our thirst for justice by reminding us who we are and who we are meant to be, God’s presence is there with us as creator, christ, and spirit whenever we need her (which, spoiler alert, is always). God does this through prayer.
Prayer is how God nurtures us, prayer is how God brings us saltines and gatorade, prayer is how God is present with us when we are vulnerable and in pain, prayer is how God loves on us.
When my body is sick, I want my mom. When my soul is sick, when our souls are sick, we want our heavenly parent, and there God is, waiting for us, as promised.
So that’s how God stays in right relationship with us; how do we stay in right relationship with God?
Everyone knows that communication is crucial to the health of any relationship, be it romantic, familial, friendship, or…divine. When I was maybe 3 or 4, and my mom was feeling particularly exasperated with me, she would sigh and say “God, give me patience”. She later told me that one day, after she sighed, she heard me pipe up and say, “Talk to God, mommy!”. Prayer that every-day, routine maintenance of our relationship with God. It’s how we talk to God, and it’s also how we listen to God.
Jesus assures us that God will not delay in helping us, in granting us justice. When talk to God, and when we listen to God, we hear that still, small voice reminding us that we are God’s hands and feet in the world, that we are equipped to bring about the peace, justice, and love we so yearn for. God has given us the tools, and the more we pray, the more we hone those tools.
In order for us to be in right relationship with God, we must seek justice. We must ache at its miscarriage. We must be as persistent in demanding it as was the widow. Have you ever asked for something you knew you likely wouldn’t receive? That you knew the powers that be wouldn’t budge- perhaps their hands were tied or they had other priorities or you weren’t in their jurisdiction, but you knew it was the right thing to ask for and so you asked anyway?
Because in asking, you were staying true to, and reinforcing your values? That’s what the widow does. She has no legal standing and she demands it anyway. Barbara Brown Taylor says, “she is willing to say what she wanted out loud- day and night, over and over- whether she got it or not, because saying it was how she remembered who she was. It was how she remembered the shape of her heart. “
When we pray, whether we are crying out in the deepest night of our soul, or praising God in gratitude, we are answering. We are keeping the lines of communication open, and we are showing God the shape of our hearts.
Fundamentally, Love is at the heart of Justice. Love of God and love of neighbor. Justice is about being in right relationship with God, and God being in right relationship with us. When that happens, its much easier to be in right relationship with each other, to begin to embody God’s love for us, and thats when earthly justice begins to take hold- that’s when we’re able to start building the kingdom.