Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Faith Is Patience
The parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) isn't difficult unless we make it more complicated than it needs to be. Jesus sets it up as a parody of real life: "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people." What sort of judge is that? Surely a judge should be one or the other, if not both. Jesus is trying to make it clear to us from the start that this isn't supposed to be a depiction of reality. Even the judge, when making his decision, says to himself, "Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone..." This break with reality frees the audience from any need to make allegorical connections with the judge or the widow, but that doesn't stop us from trying.
Don't compare God with the judge. They aren't the same. They aren't even close to the same. Sure, both are in the position of granting requests, but no one is supposed to think about the faithless judge as an image of God. In fact, the point of this parable rests in the opposite conclusion: God is nothing like the judge.
And don't think of yourself as the widow. You're not. Your prayers are not supposed to annoy God into giving you what you want. Sure, we are being invited to be persistent in our prayer, but we aren't supposed to read this parable and conclude that God is "bothered" into giving us what we ask because we've worn him out.
This parable is to teach us to be persistent, patient, and faithful. Luke tells us in an editorial insertion why Jesus used this parable: "Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart." Perhaps we should take him at his word. This isn't Jesus' attempt to teach his disciples how to pray. Nor is it Jesus' attempt to explain how prayer works. This is Jesus way of teaching the disciples (and us) how to pray and not lose heart.
If the unjust judge will grant relief to the irritating widow, how much more will God, who is faithful, "grant justice to his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night?" And there's the difficult and edifying teaching of this parable. This isn't a call to pray over and over and over. It's a reminder to be faithful even when God's justice is delayed.
We pray and pray and pray, and often God doesn't answer us. That's how life works. What will our response be? Will we give up on God? Will we give up on prayer? We won't wear God down by repeating our prayers, but our faith is held intact when we continue to bring our supplications to God, expecting that God is the one who can give us justice. If we believe in God--if we believe that God is the one who can give us what we need--we cannot stop asking. We don't believe that the answer will come simply because we ask, but we do believe that faith is found in those who bring their petitions to God. Being faithful means being patient. It means not giving up. It means remembering that God is the source of all our blessings--immediate and delayed.