Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart … Luke 18:1
Pray always, Jesus tells us, and do not lose heart. I find it strangely encouraging that Jesus knew that his followers would be in danger of losing heart. He knew that that there would be times in all of our lives when we would get discouraged. Even as people of faith.
When you think about it, we as believers often have more reason to grow discouraged than those who don’t share our faith. We are taught to care, not just about ourselves, and our families, but about our world. About those less fortunate than us. About the injustice that we see all around us. About the effects of evil on our world. We are taught to care about the poor, the helpless, the vulnerable, the sick, the suffering, the grieving, the hurting. And this can open us up to discouragement. We can begin to lose heart. Jesus knew that. So he addresses it in this gospel reading.
He tells his followers this parable about our need to pray always and not to lose heart. But it’s not exactly the parable that we might expect. Because the parable is about a widow seeking justice, and a judge who neither feared God, nor had respect for people.
Imagine that: a powerful politician who doesn’t fear God, and doesn’t care about the plight of people in his community like this poor widow.
There is nothing new under the sun, as the Bible reminds us. And when you look at our world today, you see this happening over and over again. Corrupt politicians – or more generally, corrupt people in power. And the powerless suffering as a result.
One of my roles as a pastor is “speak publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming God’s love for the world.” That’s what it says in our constitution. And that is what I try to do.
But you might wonder why I don’t often address specific political issues in my preaching. And I thought this would be a good opportunity to explain why.
First, I take inspiration from the prophets of the Old Testament, and from Jesus himself, who often speak in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, but rarely speak about the specific issue of the day. I think that they give us more of a compass than a specific map. Which is partly why they are still helpful. Maps change. Issues change. But our general approach does not.
Another reason, though, is that my ultimate hope as a Christian is not in politics. It’s not that politics doesn’t matter. Or that current issues don’t matter. They matter. But solving whatever issue we are currently facing will never provide the same hope that we find in the life, death, and resurrection of God’s only Son.
As Psalm 146 puts it so well: “Do not put your trust in princes (or we might say politicians), in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish. Happy (instead) are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.”
But there is another reason why I avoid addressing specific political issues in my preaching. And that is because I think that it is very divisive and distracting to the gospel, to our ultimate hope. As soon as I bring up a specific hot-button issue, you will be listening for which side I am on. And as soon as you figure that out, you decide whether or not to keep listening to me.
The truth is that we are blessed in this congregation to have church members with very different political views. And that’s OK. Because what unites us is not our politics; it is our faith in our Lord and Savior. And our baptisms into Christ make us all brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of our political views.
Now, I know that our faith has political implications. And so I will continue to “speak publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming God’s love for the world.” But I think that I can do that without bringing up the hot-button issue of the week.
As people of faith, we can disagree about how to resolve these issues, but we should all be able to agree on where our hope is to be found. Our hope is always to be found in the Lord our God.
Alright. Enough of that. Back to this parable, about this judge who neither fears God nor respects people. A very powerful, but very corrupt man whom Jesus describes as an unjust judge.
Enter now the widow, the very symbol in that culture of someone who has no power. She has no real legal standing; likely no political connections or powerful friends, or she’d be using them.
And this powerless widow is being taken advantage of. She brings her case to this judge, but she doesn’t really have any way to persuade him to grant her justice. She really has nothing going for her, expect one thing, and one thing only, and that is persistence. She is relentless. She keeps bothering this unjust judge, to the point that he finally says, enough. I will grant you justice, so that you may not wear me out by continually coming. This widow, in other words, is relentless. She does not lose heart. She does not give up. And because of that, she finally gets what she deserves, and that is justice.
And so much the more, Jesus concludes, will God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry out day and night. If God can work through this unjust judge, then God can work through anyone. And if this judge will listen even to a widow because of her persistence, God will listen to us all. And God will answer our prayers.
And so we should not lose heart, ever, but pray always. Never give up on God. Never give up on prayer. Never lose heart. That is what Jesus teaches today.
But how do we do this when we begin to lose heart? That is what drives this reading, I believe. And as I have pondered this statement from Jesus, I have begun to see that Jesus is not just saying, pray always and do not lose heart. He is really showing us how not to lose heart, how not to get discouraged, how now not to give up on God, how not to let the unjust judges and evil and injustice in our world triumph.
And the way not to lose heart is by never giving up on prayer, which means never giving up on God. Jesus is teaching us to pray always so that we do not lose heart.
When we see injustice in our world, pray. When we have a loved one dealing with illness or depression or addiction, pray. When someone we care about gives up on God, pray. When our concern for our political system threatens to overwhelm us, pray. When we begin to lose heart, pray. And when we don’t know what else to do, pray.
And when our prayers seem to go unanswered, Jesus says, keep praying. Do not give up on prayer. Do not give up on God. Because God will never give up on us. And God always answers our prayers. In God’s time, and in God’s way.
An example of this that I have always found inspiring is that of a woman named Monica. Monica had a son who lost his way in life. He abandoned his Christian faith, and turned to the pleasures of the world. But as he did so, his mother held him in her prayers. And she did not lose heart. No matter where his life took him, she continued to pray for him. And for years, she saw no results, no answers to her prayers. But she didn’t lose heart. She didn’t give up. Until finally one day, many years later, her son, who was going through a difficult time in his life, happened to hear the voice of a child nearby singing a playground song. And one of the lines in the song was, “Take it and read.” Well, there happened to be a Bible nearby, so he opened it up and read. And was converted back to the Christian faith. He went on to become a bishop, and is now remembered as one of the great saints of the church, St. Augustine. But Augustine wasn’t always a saint. He was, for a long time, a man who was anything but. He needed a mother who would follow Jesus’ teaching to pray always and not to lose heart. And that is what she did.
Jesus concludes today’s gospel reading by asking a question: When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? Will he find people who have persisted in prayer? Who have not lost hope? Who have opened themselves to the sorrows of the world, but have continued to pray so as not to lose heart?
Will the Son of Man find this faith when he comes? Will he find people who are faithfully carrying on his mission, even as the church becomes less and less important? Will he find people caring for the poor and the powerless? Who are caring for the orphans and widows? Who are feeding the hungry? Who are healing the sick? Who are caring for the earth? Who have not lost heart, and not given up on God, or on each other? Will the Son of Man find this faith on earth?
Let us pray always, so that we never give up our faith, so that we always remain steadfast in our hope, and so that we never lose heart.
To the glory of God. Amen