Pentecost 19, Proper 24 C Luke 18:1-8 October 20, 2019
The Gospel reading today is about the Persistent Widow. Today we might call her a nag. Almost everyone has the experience of wanting to get something done and you run into a roadblock. Someone who just isn't listening, or they just do not understand, maybe they do not even care about your issue.
Moving from one house to another recently I had several of those experiences. In one case you might say that I had become a nag. Trying to change my phone number, email account, and my internet service took at least 12 very long phone calls. When the person I was talking to did not know what to do they responded with something lie, "I need to transfer you to tech support." I knew that meant starting the whole process all over again.
Now in this high-tech age we all have to listen to, "Listen carefully as your options have changed, press one to change your appointment, press two if your calling from a doctor's office, after you go through the whole list you get "press 0 to speak to an operator."
If you have ever had to deal with an insurance company or a government agency, like the DMV, you might know how it feels to wonder if anyone is listening or responding to your needs.
One situation that makes me laugh, after they go through the whole list of options and departments it makes it sound like a big operation. When I go to the office, there are three ladies sitting in one small office. They could just tell the right person to take the call. They are sitting right next to each other.
We all experience the micro-aggressions of bureaucracy, but sometimes our needs are serious and the experience of feeling unheard in the middle of an emotional or desperate situation can be devastating. Often, it is our persistence, our unwillingness to let things slide by, our unwillingness to lose hope, that eventually leads to success.
It isn't always comfortable to keep advocating for what we need, and of course, it would be much easier if everyone with the authority or capability to do so would help. At the end of the day, our constant reminders, our relentlessness, make a big difference in getting the job done. Like the persistent widow in the Gospel, if we keep making our case, we make eventually get a response--even if only because the people in charge are so annoyed that they just want to get us off their backs.
History is full of people whose success can be directly attributed to their persistence. Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken tried to sell his chicken recipe 1,007 times before it was eventually picked up. More heroic figures like Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther Kin, Jr., Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela sought justice and social change through careful, thoughtful, bold persistence. If any of these figures had gotten tired or burnt out and had given up--which likely crossed their minds--the world would be a very different place. The pursuit of justice requires perseverance; the ability of individuals and communities to persist in seeking justice can change the world.
in the parable, the widow eventually gets what she wants even from this judge who, in his own words, had "no fear of God and no respect for anyone". To be a widow in the ancient Near East was to be among the most vulnerable of society. As a widow, this woman would have had no advocate, no social standing upon which to plead her case. Despite the widow's marginalized status in society, she exhibited great strength.
When have we felt vulnerable? When have we noticed things in our lives or in the world around us that need to change? Are we all praying for the future of St. Andrew's Church? Are we praying for the Episcopal Church in general?
The unrighteous judge eventually does what is right, but only because this nagging woman has made him feel trapped. He does not respond out of a changed heart.
The Gospel assures us that God is not like the unrighteous judge. God does not respond to our needs only when we have pestered Him so much that it would be easier to just give in. The Gospel says that God will vindicate us-or bring us justice-"quickly". So how does God bring justice? How does God respond to our prayers? God did not settle a court case for this woman.
That's our work. It's our job to persist, to advocate for ourselves when we feel helpless. The Gospel promises us that God will respond to our prayers much faster than the unjust systems of society. If even an unrighteous judge can be merciful in the face of a persistent woman, then how much more merciful is God who loves us and created us and knows every inch of our being?
We believe in a God who came to be with us and suffered alongside humanity. Jesus himself experienced injustice at the hands of a government that neither feared God nor regarded man.
We believe in a God who is always at work, changing hearts and minds, transforming lives, bringing dead things to life, turning the normal systems and power structures on their head--making the weak strong and the vulnerable powerful and giving resounding voice to those who have been ignored for too long.
The hope that we have in God is not the same as the hope we have in society. Society will change; injustice will eventually end, but our hope in God is that God is with us through it all; that God hears us when we cry out; that God's love for us will give us the strength to persist; and that God's justice will transform our lives and hearts and minds of everyone in the whole world.