Nevertheless, She Persists (And God Does, Too)
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 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?”
Our dog, Stella, is the first dog I’ve ever had who has very clear expectations about meal time. She expects breakfast very early in the morning, as shortly as possible after the feet of the first human out of bed, hit the floor. Usually that’s Christa. And Stella expects to eat again at 5 o’clock in the evening, and not a minute later. BUT, she starts to ask for dinner anytime around 4 o’clock every. single. day. Like clockwork.
And this is new to me. Every other dog I’ve ever had was good about eating whenever there was food in the dish. I just had to fill the dish whenever I saw it empty. My other dogs would always just eat when they were hungry. There was never any waiting or begging or scarfing down every kibble of food as soon as it was offered up, as though it may never show up again.
But Stella is relentless. Like I said, as soon as someone’s out of bed in the morning she’s at their feet. And if you don’t rise early enough, she is sitting at your bedside staring and snorting and whining until you get the hint. And she’s as accurate as an atomic clock when 5 p.m. rolls around, too. Starting an hour or so ahead of time, she paces in the kitchen and stares you down and gets very excited whenever you get anywhere near the door to the garage where her food is kept. And, whether it’s morning or evening, she never leaves a crumb or a kibble behind. She gobbles it up, all in one sitting. Usually followed by a satisfied, victorious, ceremonial belch.
So, I thought about Stella and her relentless, persistent, twice-daily ritual begging when I read Jesus’ parable this morning about the widow and the judge.
Jesus uses the example of this poor widow and the Godless judge to say, in effect, “if a guy like this judge – who had no fear of God and zero respect for anyone – would respond to the requests of a nagging widow, shouldn’t we expect at least the same, if not more, from the God of our creation?”
And, many of us have been where the widow’s coming from in this morning’s Gospel, I know. We’ve begged. We’ve pleaded. We’ve stated our case. We’ve come back again and again. And like Stella, the dog, we do our best to wear down our Master with persistent prayers and petitions.
But it’s not usually about meal time for most of us, or another bowl of kibble. Sometimes the stuff we wish for – the proverbial “justice” for which we’re crying day and night – is a very big deal. Friends get sick and we pray for their healing. Relationships struggle and we pray for the words or the will or the way to get them back on track again. We worry about our kids and how to love them and lead them and keep them safe in this world. Loved ones die and we pray for strength or hope and miracles, even. Very much like the widow in the parable – and Stella in my kitchen – we feel powerless over so much in the world and in our lives, we feel like all we can do is pray, and pray, and pray; and beg and beg and beg.
And there are plenty of times – we can’t help but admit – that our prayers don’t get answered; times when justice doesn’t come – at least not in time or to our liking. There are times when 5 o’clock comes and goes, but no one is home yet to fill our bowl ... when none of what we pray about and beg for comes to pass.
And those are hard days and rough seasons and I think Jesus knows this. I don’t believe Jesus means to pretend otherwise or to give us an easy answer here. And I don’t think he’s writing a check he can’t cash, as the saying goes, either. But he’s asking us to have faith in that, in spite of ourselves. “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?,” he asks.
I wonder if Jesus is inviting us to spend as much time comparing ourselves to the widow in the parable, as we do comparing the unjust judge to the God we worship. I mean, I wonder if Jesus is playing on the status of that widow – or lack of her status, I should say – and suggesting that if someone at the bottom of the social, culural pecking order ultimately gets the justice she deserves, won’t we – chosen ones of God, beloved children of God – won’t we get what we need – and more – ultimately, in the end? And, Jesus is inviting us to cast our eyes beyond the troubles of the day. He’s calling us to look at our time and our trouble through the eyes of the Kingdom he brings, and as promised inheritors of that Kingdom.
In other words, God’s love always wins, and we know it. God’s redemption always saves the day, and we know it. God’s salvation has already come, in fact, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, who’s telling the story. And we know this.
And because of it, we are welcome to beg and pray and ask and persist and pester and whine and pace and plead like so many widows and dogs; like husbands and wives; like parents and children; like beloved, chosen, Children of God who hurt and need comfort; who are sick and need healing; who are scared and need faith; who are broken and need to be put back together – in God’s time and by God’s grace.
And we are to do that with all the persistence and patience and hope of the nagging widow; and with all the earnestness and expectation of my dog before dinner because, if an unjust judge, like the one in Jesus’ story, will respond to the needs of a widow … and if I my very annoying, needy dog always gets what she’s after … God, the creator and Master of the Universe, will certainly bring the justice … will surely feed the hunger … heal our souls … bind up what’s broken … find what’s lost … see us through … and redeem the whole of our lives and all of creation, too.
We don’t feed Stella every day because begs and bothers us so incessantly. We feed her because we love her and because we know she needs to eat. And so it is with the God we know in Jesus.
It is always close to 5 o’clock for some of us in this world. There is always someone, somewhere running out of words and ways and time and resources for what they need and wondering when or if it will come. And Jesus reminds us that it will come … that, indeed, it already has. By way of his life, death and resurrection our bowl has already been filled, justice has already been served, our cup overflows.
And our calling – and challenge – is to hope in that – at all costs, at all times and in all places – with faith in the grace of God’s love for us, no matter what.