class=MsoNormal>According to our Gospel story from Luke today, Jesus told them a parable because they were having trouble with prayerSome might think that only ‘non-church going’ people would have problems with prayer – but Jesus knew differently
And so to his closest students, his disciples he told them a story
We call it ‘the parable of the unjust judge’
In Jesus time, there wasn’t our modern complex judicial system with all its processes and structure, with lawyers, courts, codified law, precedent law and politicians as law makers
And so it might be helpful if our story had a modern day equivalent, and I came across this amusing story from a sermon by the Rev Tom Long
It is about the day that Mother Teresa went to visit Edward Bennett Williams, a legendary Washington criminal lawyer. He was a powerful lawyer.
He at one time owned the Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Orioles
And he was the lawyer for Frank Sinatra and Richard Nixon, among others.
Evan Thomas's biography of Williams tells the story about when Mother Teresa visited Williams because she was raising money for an AIDS hospice.
Williams was in charge of a small charitable foundation that she hoped would help.
Before she arrived for the appointment, Williams said to his partner, Paul Dietrich, “You know, Paul, AIDS is not my favorite disease. I don't really want to make a contribution, but I've got this Catholic saint coming to see me, and I don't know what to do.”
Well, they agreed that they would be polite, hear her out, but then say no.
Well, Mother Teresa arrived. In case you didn’t know she was a little lady, and there she was sitting on the other side of the big mahogany lawyer's desk.
She made her appeal for the hospice, and Williams said, “We're touched by your appeal, but no.”
Mother Teresa said simply, “Let us pray.”
Williams looked at Dietrich; they bowed their heads and after the prayer, Mother Teresa made the same pitch, word for word, for the hospice.
Again Williams politely said no.
Mother Teresa said, “Let us pray.”
Williams, exasperated, looked up at the ceiling, “All right, all right, get me my checkbook!”
Like the unjust judge in Jesus’ parable, Williams may have felt like reciting Luke 18:5
5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming. – or in Williams case, asking me to pray…
In fact, a more vivid and accurate translation of judge's complaint in verse 5 is that she is "giving me a black eye."
Sensitivity to this can be seen with limitless examples in our world
From the Palestinian children that throw rocks at the Israeli tanks and thus garner more sympathy and effect on the Palestinian peace process than countless high profile talks
Or the maybe it’s the citizens of Oakville’s east end that persistently protested against the big bad provincial government that wanted to impose a power generating plant too close to homes
Or the multi-national corporation that declares that share holder returns are the most important factor until they are faced with a small nation that by the media coverage is able to secure fair wages for their workers
Our world understands the value of not being seen with a public ‘black eye’
Our parable speaks to this worldly understanding…
Persistence - If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again
I would imagine that everyone in the church that has made an attempt at sales, from fund raising to a career in sales, would appreciate that the value in ‘try, try again’
The unjust judge and Edward Bennett Williams were faced with the persistence of a little old lady that would simply not take “no” for an answer
One way to understand this parable is when we put our selves in the shoes of the widow seeking justice,
God is, therefore, calling us to persistence in prayer and showing us how the world understands and responds to it.
But wait a moment… if we are to leave it at that alone, we run into problems
Not all our persistence is directed at the world and the world’s way of doing things
Problems arise in our everyday experience with prayers to God
Remember, Jesus told this parable because He knew that people, everyday people, and even His closest disciples have problems with prayer
We have many questions and issues about prayer
The most difficult, possibly reaching to our deepest despair can be that we wonder if prayer is really heard by God.
So many of our prayers seem unanswered:
· We pray for a love one, but the cancer remains
· We pray for peace, but the news tells us of another trip down the highway of heroes
· We pray for our children, but bad things still happen to good kids
And so we might lose heart. We might lose confidence and trust and hope that our prayers will be heard and answered.
We can lose heart.
1Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart
There must be another layer – there must be more to this story than mere stick-to-it-tive-ness, if Jesus told it so that they would not ‘lose heart’
The second lesson on prayer comes in verse seven immediately following the parable
Luke records Jesus’ explanation of the parable
7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?
If the unjust judge, who doesn’t fear God and has no respect for anyone, will by persistence grant justice… how … much… more… would our loving God Do?
Jesus contrasts our worldly limited ability - to the abundance of God’s grace
This is a common approach to declaring the good news of God
Our gospel today mirrors what Luke recorded Jesus saying chapter 11 with earlier instructions about prayer:
"If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:13)
It has been said that God answers all prayers with either – Yes – No – or Wait
Our job, sometimes, is to persist and wait
Most of us, at one time or another in our lives, have hung on the edge of a promise delayed
Wait… and persist, when we can’t understand why God is not answering our prayers
· Maybe it is because the question is not of the Yes/No variety
· Maybe it is because God is still revealing the answer to us and we don’t yet have the eyes to see
· Maybe it is because we are not the ones in whom the answer most needs to be given
· Maybe because the struggle calls us into a deeper trust and reliance and ultimately faith in God
It has been said that ‘there are no atheists in a fox hole’
· Maybe we, on this side of heaven, won’t ever have a full enough understanding of the situation
But we are to persist – trust – and wait
Because if we “who are evil, know how to give good gifts… how much more will the heavenly Father give…to those who ask him”
The Third way in which we might view this parable is that maybe we are not to be in the shoes of the widow at all
Maybe we should not be thinking of God by comparing God to an Israeli tank or the Ontario government or a multinational corporation
Maybe Jesus is telling this story for us to consider our role, as that of the judge
And God is the widow
So, I wonder: if this parable offers a mirror for our lives, then the face many of us will see when we peer into that mirror is the face of the judge who, as Jesus said, "neither feared God nor had respect for people."
And so… God is the widow who persist with us
Even though we don’t respect God fully – we make idols in our lives
The idol of recreation – or of security – or of work – or of all our stuff…
God is the widow who persist with us
Even though we don’t love our neighbours as ourselves
God is the widow who persist with us
If we, for just a moment – take off our self-righteous assumption that we are the justice seeking widow – but are in fact the broken… and fallen… the unjust person in the story
We will then hear a wonderful message of God’s love for us
God’s love is persistent… God’s doesn’t take ‘no’ for answer
God’s love keeps ‘trying, trying, again’ … until justice comes… when we acknowledge the persistence
The good news is that despite ourselves – despite all that we might do – God keeps on loving us
Remember Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart
In conclusion I would like to share with you one last thing about prayer
It comes from an interview with the Chaplain to the Chilean President
The reporter is BBC journalist Peter Allen and what first drew his attention was that Reverend Alfredo Cooper spoke in English
Rev Cooper: Many of the miners went down as atheists, unbelievers or semi-believers and they have come up to a man testifying that they were not 33 but that there were 34 down there - that Jesus was there with them and that they had a constant sense of his guidance and presence.’
Peter Allen: ‘If you truly believe that it was divine intervention that rescued then presumably you believe that it was divine intervention that left them down there in the first place.
Rev Cooper: ‘Well the thing is that in this fallen world this is exactly what does occur. Man is subject to accidents and all sorts of problems thanks often to his wilful negligence as was the case in this mine. There are consequences when you don’t care enough for people. And of course in those situations we might compare Jonah in the whale - you know people tend to cry out to God and this is what’s happened. And God has answered.’
Peter Allen: ‘So you believe God listened to your prayers? God listened to their prayers. You believe they were rescued by divine intervention, really?’
Rev Cooper: ‘Well of course we see the hands of all these magnificent experts all around, the good will of so many people internationally and the brilliant coverage of the press and we would suggest that all this works together for good, that certainly as we prayed God has guided in remarkable ways – even the scientists. I was with the NASA people who came the other day. And to my surprise - to a man they were believing scientists in their case - and they all said “This was a miracle. There is no other word for what happened here”.’ ‘So you know - Scientists, politicians, presidents - we’ve all come together in one happy moment saying, “Goodness! God is there and he answers prayer.”
There were 2000 people at Camp Hope – the camp above the trapped miners
1500 of them were reporters from all over the globe
It has been the most riveting story of this year, capturing the attention of countless millions
And we are told that many of the miners went down as atheists, unbelievers or semi-believers and they have come up to a man testifying that they were not 33 but that there were 34 down there
All ascended to the surface safely
Prayer answered… abundantly beyond all that we can ask or imagine
Thanks be to God
Psalm 40 verses 1-4 declares
I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.
Blessed is the one who makes the LORD his trust.(Psalm 40:1-4) Amen