Jesus tells us about a judge who is a jerk. This guy doesn’t fear God and he doesn’t respect people. He must be a terrible judge, huh? In that city is a widow and as a widow in those times, she had NO power. If she leaves her house she has to wear two veils covering her face. She is not supposed to speak in public and she certainly isn’t allowed to plead her own case to a judge. But she has no money to pay a lawyer or bribe the judge, so she decides to take matters into her own hands.
She approaches the judge on the street and starts yelling: “GRANT ME JUSTICE AGAINST MY OPPONENT!” Over and over she shouts, over and over he turns away, wishing she would shut up. But our feisty widow won’t stop. “GRANT ME JUSTICE AGAINST MY OPPONENT!” she yells. The judge is embarrassed and annoyed. He fears that she will start beating on him and give him a black eye! (This is a literal translation from the Greek)
Finally, he just wants to be left alone. Admitting that he is a jerk with no fear of God, he grants the widow justice. She wins her case! Her incredible persistence wins out. Nevertheless, she persisted!
Now Jesus does something very unusual. This is supposed to be a parable. Parables always end abruptly and leave us shaking our heads and confused. But in Luke’s telling Jesus explains everything neatly. This is so unusual that some scholars think that these last sentences were added on after the fact. Jesus tells us that God is better than that jerk of a judge and would do anything to answer our persistent prayers.
Remember that this story is told by Luke who wrote his gospel a generation after Jesus died. Christ’s followers were getting discouraged and were tired of being a persecuted, tiny minority in a great big, powerful empire. They were waiting for Jesus to return as he had promised. They were suffering. Luke writes this story to tell them to not lose heart, to persevere in their belief that God does answer prayers. They would hear this story of a weak member of their society who stands up to a powerful judge as empowering.
Jesus asks, ‘When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ With this question, Luke is encouraging his readers to persist in their faith, to persist in their prayers.
How do you persist in your prayers? I get very discouraged when I’ve prayed for the same thing for years with no answer. If there is some lesson I’m supposed to learn, I’m not getting it. I pray for the health of a relative and she just keeps getting sicker. I persist in praying because I don’t know what else to do. I bet that each of you have similar challenges in your prayer life.
Even when my prayers aren’t answered, I do have faith; I have faith that God hears me and loves me. Like the widow in our story, we need to live out our prayers in the world through our actions. I love that saying: ‘Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary.’ We all preach our faith in the world when we help others, when we stand up in the face of injustice, when we persist in speaking truth to power.
Let me tell you a story about Mother Teresa’s persistent prayer while speaking truth to power. She was in New York City to meet with the president and a vice-president of a large company. Before the meeting, however, the two executives had privately agreed not to give her any money.
Eventually the diminutive Mother Teresa arrived and was seated across from the two men separated by a very large mahogany desk. They listened to her plea but then said, “We appreciate what you do but we just cannot commit any funds at this time.”
“Let us pray”, Mother Teresa said. “Dear God, I pray that you will soften the hearts of these men to see how necessary it is to help your needy children. Amen.” She then renewed her plea, and the executives then renewed their answer that they were not going to commit any money.
“Let us pray” she said yet again. “Dear God, I pray that you will soften the hearts of these men to see how necessary it is to help your needy children. Amen.” As she opened her eyes, she was looking at the now beet-red face of the executives even as the lead exec reached for his checkbook.
Speaking truth to power… We have incredible examples of this all around us: Rosa Parks sitting quietly in the front of a bus and launching changes to civil rights in our country. Tiny Greta Thunberg standing up to the United Nations and bringing about increasing global recognition of the need for climate activism. Closer to home, we have the incredibly brave homeless people in Aberdeen who stand up to haters at City Council meetings, bringing about more compassionate action by the Council.
These are people speaking truth to power. These are examples of faith in action. These are examples of praying with your feet, being Christ’s hands and feet in the world. So yes, I can answer your question Jesus, when you ask if the Son of Man will find faith on earth when he returns. Yes, yes and yes. Amen.