Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: There are no hopeless situations. Jesus asks us to trust and to keep praying. If we don't give up, miracles can happen in our lives.

Last week I went to visit an elderly nun in her retirement residence. She was very happy to meet me and we spent some time chatting. While looking around in her room, I noticed a small table in a corner of the room and three small statues facing the corner. One looked like the statue of our Lady, and I have no idea what the others were. I wondered what this meant. She saw my confusion and smiled and told me that she had asked their intercession for some intention of hers; but since it is not yet granted she has placed them facing the corner till she gets it done. I couldn’t help laughing, but on my way back I kept reflecting on her bold way of expressing her faith. If you can quarrel with God and punish the saints of not hearing your prayer, I think your faith is pretty strong.

This incident also helped me to look at my own prayer and compare it with hers. Obviously I am not so bold enough to punish the saints for not listening to my prayer, and I realized that I give up too easily. When I pray for something I have no confidence that it will be granted. Kind of shows how shallow my faith is. I easily give up on prayer, and I can’t really put my whole trust in prayer. I am reminded of a small story about a sinking ship. The ship was sinking that the passengers had no clue what was happening and they had no courage to ask the captain of the ship. But there was a priest among them. So the rest of the passengers asked the priest to go and ask the captain what was happening. Well, the captain told him, “Father, God is our only hope”. When the priest came back, the others asked him what the captain told him. And he said, “The captain says, there is no hope”. Well, surely the captain had more hope in God than the priest had. He could still trust in God, but not the priest.

The woman in today’s gospel is a paradigm of faith. I don’t just say this because she kept asking for what she needed. To appreciate her faith, we should have an idea of the status of women in the Jewish society of the time of Jesus. Women were the most insignificant people, equal in status with children. They had to depend on a man for sustenance and status: either a father or a husband or a son. This was a widow who probably had no grown up son; which means she was in the most hopeless situation anybody could be. The greatness of the widow in the parable lies in her refusal to accept the oppressive and abusive situation in which she found herself in the pretext that "That's the way things are." Some other less courageous, pious woman would have told her to submit to the oppression as being God's will. But she doesn’t. She kept her hope in justice and did everything in her power to right the wrongs inflicted on her by her oppressive neighbors. And finally her dogged determination pays off and she is vindicated. Her story is enough inspiration for anyone who finds themselves in a hopeless situation.

When Luke narrates this story, he has in mind the persecuted Christians of his time. The early Christians found themselves in such an apparently hopeless predicament. Soon after Jesus left them they found themselves persecuted and oppressed by the Jewish religious authorities. What encouraged them to endure the persecution was their belief that the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus was soon to take place. They believed it would coincide with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. But when in AD 70 Jerusalem fell and the Temple was destroyed and yet Jesus was nowhere to be seen, the Christians found themselves in a big crisis of faith. Have they hoped in vain? Will the Lord ever come back to reestablish justice, to vindicate the innocent and put their enemies to shame? Should they continue hoping and resisting the injustice of their oppressors or should they just join them since they can't beat them? They found themselves in a hopeless situation, just like the widow of the gospel story. That is why Luke finishes this story with these words: And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?

What hopeless situations do we find ourselves in? Do we lose hope and give up on our faith and on our prayer? Today’s gospel invites us to put our trust in the faithfulness of God. There are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about their situations. And with our faith we can turn any hopeless situation into a hope-filled situation.

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