Summary: God appears obscure and enigmatic to us all at times, but as we persevere in our relationship with God we realize that God perseveres toward us also.
“Don’t Give Up on God” / Luke 18:1-8
Proper 24, Year C; Downsville Baptist Church; 21 October 2001
If Jesus is trying to teach us about the importance of persevering in our prayer lives, we wish he would have done it in a less confusing and puzzling manner. Perhaps his parable should have gone like this: Verily, verily I tell you that once upon a time there was a good lady who lived next door to an atheist. Everyday, when the lady prayed, the atheist guy could hear her. He thought to himself, "She sure is crazy, praying all the time like that. Doesn’t she know there is no GOD!" Many times while she was praying, he would go to her house and harass her, saying, "Lady, why do you pray all the time? Don’t you know there is no GOD!" But she kept on praying. One day, she ran out of groceries. As usual, she was praying to the Lord explaining her situation and thanking Him for what He was going to do. As usual, the atheist heard her praying and thought to himself, "Humph...I’ll fix her." He went to the grocery store, bought a whole bunch of groceries, took them to her house, dropped them off on the front porch, rang the door bell and then hid in the bushes to see what she would do. When she opened the door and saw the groceries, she begin to praise the Lord with all her heart, jumping, singing, and shouting everywhere! The atheist then jumped out of the bushes and told her, "You crazy old lady. God didn’t buy you those groceries, I bought those groceries!’ Well, she broke out and started running down the street, shouting and praising the Lord. When he finally caught her, he asked what her problem was... She said "I knew the Lord would provide me with some groceries, but I didn’t know he was going to make the devil pay for them!"
If Jesus’ has one parable that every preacher wishes wasn’t in the Bible it is this one. What should we call it? The parable of the annoying widow and the judge who acted like a jerk? On the surface the parable appears to be telling us that if we bug God long enough with our requests that eventually God will get tired of our pestering and give in to our whining. However, the point of the parable is missed entirely if we understand the unjust judge as representative of God. Jesus’ point is that God is very different from the judge who begrudgingly does what is right only after being harassed by the widow. God desires to give all good things to his children. God does not withhold blessings from us until we pray long enough for them. Our times of prayer are not intended to show God just how bad we want something. Instead the sweet hour of prayer is the moment in which we show God how much we want him and love him. Prayer is God’s gift to us through which we know and worship the Provider. The focus is always intended to be the Provider, not the provisions. Even the unjust judge eventually gives to the widow what she needs. Jesus is saying to us, “How much more confident can we be that our Father, a good faithful judge, will certainly take care of us!” God is not arbitrary. God does not view our prayers as annoying requests as did the unjust judge.
In God’s perfect goodness, he never deprives us of what we need unless there is some larger purpose for our good behind the deprivation. Often times, it is impossible to imagine what that greater good could be. Even if we can fathom a greater good, sometimes that greater good doesn’t seem worth the cost. However, as St. Paul declares, God is at all times working in all things for the good of those who love him. In this light, the parable seems to be communicating something to us about the way God works in our lives. Since the beginning humanity has been struggling with this question, “How does God work in our lives?” We often ere in one of two directions, neither of which is commensurate with our faith in Jesus Christ. Some of us believe in fate, an idea that began with the Greek philosophers but remains with us today. Fate is the belief that everything that will happen has already been determined. God’s creation is not free and dynamic. God is in no relationship with the world. For the one who believes in fate, God is like the watchmaker who winds the watch and simply lets it run its course. Another alternative that fails us is the belief that everything happens by random chance. Here again, God is far removed from his creation. With chance there is no purpose or reason behind anything that happens. Through Jesus Christ, the question of how God works in our lives has been answered for us. For the Christian, there is no fate; there is no random chance. There is only providence. God works in each of our lives through a particular providence. As the God who works for good in all things, God takes the pieces of our lives and, through Christ, God joins us in our lives providentially guiding us through the valleys and the mountaintops of our days until finally bringing us to an eternal home of bliss and glory. A construction crew was building a new road through a rural area, knocking down trees as it progressed. A superintendent noticed that one tree had a nest of birds who couldn’t yet fly and he marked the tree so that it would not be cut down. Several weeks later the superintendent came back to the tree. He got into a bucket truck and was lifted up so that he could peer into the nest. The fledglings were gone. They had obviously learned to fly. The superintendent ordered the tree cut down. As the tree crashed to the ground, the nest fell clear and some of the material that the birds had gathered to make the nest was scattered about. Part of it was a scrap torn from a Sunday school pamphlet. On the scrap of paper were these words: He careth for you.