Summary: Though the parable of the widow and unjust judge is difficult to hear, Jesus' lessons on the urgency of faith continues as he wonders, "When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on earth?
For the last two weeks, we have learned along with the disciples as Jesus has taught about faith. And what we have learned, in essence, is that we are not made “Christian” by the amount of faith we have, but by a faith that is focused on God and lived out in gratitude to God and others. Now, we pick up today as Jesus continues his teaching about faith. But as he closes out this parable admittedly strange parable, Jesus raises a question: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
That’s some kind of question, isn’t it? Actually, we might even be tempted to go so far as to call it a loaded question. The disciples have longed for more faith, and Jesus told them all that is required is faith the size of a mustard seed. Out of ten healed lepers, only one returned to be truly saved through his faith lived out in gratitude. And now we have this story of a widow, ceaselessly seeking justice against her adversary, even to the point of pestering. We are to understand that this is the kind of faithful persistence the Son of Man hopes to find when he comes to earth; and so we must ask ourselves, are we so persistent?
Consider this; we find ourselves, at the moment, in the midst of quite a significant political meltdown. We have been forced in recent weeks to watch helplessly as the politicians in Washington sit around and stare at each other like a bunch of angry kids, refusing to talk to each other and resolve their differences. Meantime, millions of people have been furloughed, or sent home from work altogether, or even worse, asked to work without pay. Those not directly affected are now feeling the ripples of the shutdown as government services are limited and the economy is slowing. Of course, in the midst of this great mess, we can imagine many out-of-work people picking up the phone every day (maybe several times a day), calling up their elected representatives in Washington and giving them an earful about getting some work done. Or maybe some are going even further than that, knocking on the doors of the politicians day in and day out. And, of course, what they hope for; what we all hope for, is that in the end that persistence will pay off. What we are all seeking is that moment when Congress and the President will finally say, “Alright, already! Knock it off! We’ll get this fixed and get the government going again!”
It would almost be funny, if it weren’t so serious, and that’s why so many persist; because peoples’ well-being depends on the government being fully operational. And what Jesus wants us to hear today is that humanity’s well-being depends on God and God’s righteous work in the world. Just like the widow with no means of support, no husband, no inheritance, no social standing, whose well-being depends upon achieving justice over her adversary. So it is that we, like the widow, should persist in prayer, seeking justice, peace, and mercy for all; just as the widow persisted in seeking justice from the judge.
But before we delve into this parable and all that it says to us, let me first offer a word of caution. Jesus is not telling us that we should just pray for whatever we want and expect that eventually God will give in to our desire. We can’t start asking for a Lamborghini every hour on the hour and expect that if, like the widow, we persist day in and day out, God will ultimately deliver to us the fiery red sports car of our dreams. That’s not the way God works, not even close. And so we have to remember that the issue here is justice, not simply using God to get what we want or even what we think we need.
Yet, that raises another question in and of itself, doesn’t it? What happens when we are not praying for ourselves, but seeking God’s justice and God’s will, and still bad things continue to happen all around us? It happens all the time, doesn’t it? We hammer away at God’s door to no avail. A mother with young children is diagnosed in the advanced stages of cancer, and so we pray and pray and pray, but death comes anyway. We are busy lifting up prayers for the victims of an elementary school shooting in Connecticut, when a massive tornado strikes Moore, Oklahoma. Broadcasts bring news of more war casualties, even though we continually pray for peace. Is this really the way it’s supposed to be? Why is it that even when we persistently pray for God’s will and according to God’s way, we are still let down? What hope is Jesus offering?