by Frank Schaefer
based on Luke 18:1-8
In my mind, there are two types of prayer needs:
1) the ones we really, really need to get answered by God, and
2) the ones we think we need to get answered, but really just want to
During our recent teacher-training seminar at church one keen observer
said: "kids today don't use the phrase: "I want this, I want that" any
longer. Today they say: "I need this, I need that.""
Yeah, tell me about it! Im hearing it every day, especially from
my 3 year old son Pascal: " I neeeeeed chocolate. I need it!" I have a
hypothesis about this: if my three year old son is using the "I
need-but-really-want" language we either have a little Einstein living with us who
has figured out how to "play the system" or--more likely--I am seeing a
reflection of my own attitude. So, lets not point at our kids. Lets point at
ourselves for having a problem distinguishing between what we really need and what we
Todays Scripture lesson is on what we really need--not really
With the parable of the persistent widow, Jesus teaches us about real
prayer needs and how to pray for these needs effectively. There was a widow who was
suffering an injustice. A widow, in those days, did not have a lot of security. Families
were very important--all important--in this society. There was no life insurance plan,
pension plan, or the "safety net" of social security. And if a widow in those
days didnt have children or other family who took care of her, she was out in the
streets begging for alms.
It goes without saying that a widow in first-century Judea did not have
great legal recourse. To make things worse she was dealing with a corrupt judge--one who
didnt give a hoot about anybody but himself, and what is worse, he didnt
respect God. In other words, he didnt aspire to the highest possible standard of
justice. Whoever said that corruption in the legal system is a modern phenomenon? Why
should our legal system in the US be an exception?
Our widow is suffering an injustice (whether directed toward herself or
to a loved one, we don't know) and the only recourse she has--the towns judge--is
not paying attention. How does that apply to us? Gospel-writer Luke tells us exactly how
it applies. He writes: "Then Jesus told his disciples a parable in order to show them
that they should always pray and not give up (NRSV: not lose heart)."
Luke is very much aware of the real danger of giving up, of loosing
heart when we suffer injustice. A person can only take so much of that--Christians
included. Injustice can so easily put the human soul in a state of bitterness, depression,
anger, fear, and a sense of utter helplessness and hopelessness. In fact, when we suffer
injustice, we may even begin to think that God doesnt care--as the judge in the
parable doesnt care.
So, Luke is saying that if we pray hard enough and if we don't lose
heart, God will give us justice, right? Well, does God? Is there justice in the world? In
our country? In our communities? In our neighborhoods? In our churches?
Just look at this weeks news headlines:
What do we say to the 250,000 Albanians in the province of Kosovo who
have been brutally driven out of their homes by the Serbian army.
What do we say to the parents of 7 year-old Sherrice Iverson, who was
cold-heartedly murdered by a man who wanted "to experience death first-hand"?
What do we say to the family and friends of the student of the
University of Wyoming who was savagely beaten, strung up on a fence like a scarecrow, and
left to die--apparently because he was gay?
I vividly remember a recent clergy meeting in Allentown. Rev. Robert
Johnson was late that day and he shared that he had been held up by an emergency: one of
his parishioners was murdered. You could see the shock in the eyes of all the Caucasian
ministers in the room--myself included--and then he shared that this was not that unusual,
in fact, this had been the second murder of one of his people this year. And he shared
about this very dedicated Christian young man who was murdered--a college student (I wish
I could remember his name)--who was home for only a few days of during "reading
week." He had selflessly helped a girl that was assaulted in the street and paid with
his own life for it.
I remember thinking: "can it be that we live in the same vicinity?
How come that any Christian person or family has to go through something like this? How
come so many of our brothers and sisters have to live in such bad neighborhoods? I mean,
we are talking of brothers and sisters living in America! Not just in third-world
countries. In our own neighborhoods! Where is God in all this? Where is Gods justice
for us--His own children?
At another meeting Rev. Johnson shared that on his way to the meeting
because he was pulled over on the PA turnpike for no apparent reason. Even though he told
the state troopers that he was a United Methodist minister on his way to a clergy meeting,
they ordered him to stand in front of his car for more than twenty minutes without giving
any explanation. Apparently because of being in the "wrong neighborhood" for the
color of his skin, Rev. Johnson was treated in a most humiliating way. I couldnt
believe what I was hearing. I was really upset, when Robert shared this--even angry, and
very sad. Robert is the closest family I have, he is my brother in the Lord, and so are
the many Christians who have to live in a "world" in which murder and rape, and
who-knows-what-else is a painful everyday reality.
So where now is Gods justice? Doesnt Jesus say: "will
not God bring about justice for his chosen ones? . . .I tell you he will see that they get
justice, and quickly."
Someone asked on the Desperate Preachers Site this week whether it
be possible that Gods justice looks different than our justice. Good question. Yet,
somehow I trust that God gives us a righteous sense of justice--especially if it is a
selfless sense of justice--one that is concerned with others. Another Desperate Preacher
suggested that the problem may be that we dont pray enough. Perhaps we have lost
heart a long time ago. Perhaps we lost faith in justice here on earth, here in our
neighborhoods, here in America, a long time ago. Do we even pray for justice? When was the
last time you prayed for justice?
Lets look at our widow. What does she do to obtain justice? She is
persistent. She is stubborn. Perhaps we should call her attitude a kind of
"stubbornness." She doesnt give up, she doesnt lose heart. She keeps
knocking at the judges door.
Now, I believe I dont have to explain "stubbornness" in
Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Stubbornness is something thats put into our cradle. Its
our German heritage. (I see Cliff Ainsworth nodding his head). Yes, thats right, we
are naturally endowed with the "great gift of stubbornness" and the only thing
God has to help us with is to learn how to be stubborn for the right cause--Gods
justice. In that case we may talk about a "holy stubbornness."
One theologian (G. Gutierrez, We Drink From Our Own Wells, p.
105) actually compared this kind of stubbornness to being spiritual. He said: "[it]
is precisely a force that bestows constancy and prevents our being "tossed to and fro
and carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Eph. 4:14).
Holy stubbornness happens when we start not only to pray our prayers,
but when we start to live our prayers. Holy stubbornness happens when our actions, yes,
our entire life speak just as loudly as our words. Thats what I believe Luke means
with "praying always" in the face of injustice. When we start to stubbornly
live out our prayers thats when our prayers become effective.
I am really proud of my father for the "holy stubbornness" he
has shown recently. After his retirement 3 years ago, he got involved in the work of a
Christian political party (in Germany). During the election race last month he acted as a
speaker on behalf of his party. And he shared how much of a struggle he had at press
conferences. He said: "sometimes the booing and whistles never stopped the entire
time I tried to introduce our Christian platform. People wouldnt even bother to
listen to what we stand for." In contrast, when on one occasion a party introduced
their "anti-work" platform, concluding with the words: "work is dumb (it
was actually a stronger depletive)" there were great cheers and applause.
The "world" doesnt want to hear about Gods
commandments, about moral values, about self-denial, and about justice--thats why
society around us is deteriorating.
O I wish that I had more of that kind of "holy stubbornness."
I admit, I too feel tossed to and fro and carried about at times. Its not easy in
this day and age to hold on to our convictions and to stubbornly live out what we believe
in--not even for us stubborn Pennsylvania Dutch. Luke is right: it is easy to loose heart
and go with the flow rather than go against the current.
We often ask: "can prayer move Gods arm?" Jesus turns
this question around on us this morning and concludes his parable with the question:
"Will the son of man find faith when he returns?" In other words he is asking:
"can prayer move your own arm?" " Are you willing to put your actions where
your words are?" God always has relies on his children--people like you and me--to
usher in His Kingdom. God will give us strength, God will empower us, but we still need to
stubbornly live out our prayers for justice. Are our prayers effective? The answer is:
"it depends on how effective we help make them."