Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 18:1-8

The Holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)


I grew up in a culture where it was considered poor form and impolite to be a bother or to pester someone. Children were “seen, not heard.” Adults were civil, or worse yet, nice. Folks who either “made a stink” or “raised a ruckus” were highly suspect and sometimes even the objects of outright ridicule. If you follow the rules, keep your composure, and do what’s right, the hope is that everything will turn out okay. If it doesn’t, well, you still aren’t supposed to complain too much because after all, no one ever said life was fair.


Yet here in this week’s gospel lesson, we find Jesus lifting up another kind of behavior–that of persistent pestering and incessant bothering. In the story of the Unjust Judge and Persistent Widow, Jesus seems to be saying to avoid the route of asking nicely and then waiting to see whether get results. 

Advocating for justice is messy work, Jesus seems to say, and a process that can be long, wearysome, and frustrating. Yet we are not to lose heart but rather keep on praying, pestering, and persevering.

One way to unpack this parable is to understand God as the judge and Christians in the role of persistent widow. That makes for a nice example, but there is one major issue with that approach: God is NOT like the judge at all. God’s nature is to love and to give lavishly. God doesn’t give just to get rid of us; the Creator of the universe desires to be in relationship with the created. Perhaps, then, this approach is not the most fitting application of the story.

One could liken the judge (who neither fears God nor respects anyone) to the forces in this broken world that run counter to God’s way of being, and to the powerful who abuse their power, exploit the marginalized, and ignore the injustices and suffering around them (sometimes a result of their own doing). We, then, are urged to be persistent in opposing these forces and calling for justice. Perhaps our persistent pestering will indeed wear down the will and the walls that are barriers to justice. Plus, in the midst of all this pestering, God is with us. God is active in the world, and God hears and answers prayers. Jesus makes this reality quite clear in verses 7and 8.

He ends with a rather odd question: “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Of course our immediate response is “Well, duh, yes. Hello! What about us? Aren’t we the good guys?” Perhaps we’d better think this one through a little more.


How often do we fail to persevere and advocate for justice and equity? Are we like the widow in Jesus’ example, or are we sleepy disciples who fail to follow through on the simplest of requests? Are we determined to wear down all that opposes the inbreaking of the reign of God, or are we more willing to go with the flow–being seen not heard as we meekly and passively watch the world go by outside our safe little fortresses?

The question is not whether the Son of Man will find faith when he comes. It is rather where he will find faith; it may not be in the most obvious places or ways. Whether God finds such faith in action with us is our choice. Are we willing to “make a stink in solidarity” and “raise a holy ruckus” knowing that God is with us? I pray that we will. We have nothing to lose because we have already gained everything, so pester, pester, and pester some more.

I saw a meme on Facebook awhile ago. It was a picture of a sign seen posted in the cafeteria of a Florida hospital: NOTICE: Due to the current budget cutbacks, the light at the end of the tunnel will be turned off until further notice.

In our Gospel lesson Jesus reminds us to hang on to our faith, even when the light of God’s love grows dim or even seems to have gone out. 

  • It is a story about not giving up in the face of difficult times. 
  • It is a story about continuing to pray and trust God, even when you’re getting no results; even when it feels like and looks like the windows of heaven are shut up tight and God either cannot or will not hear your plea. 

The story uses courtrooms and bad judges and poor widows to teach us lessons about life and God and our need to pray without ceasing.

A judge in Israel was a powerful, powerful figure. Jesus has set for us a scene in which a poor, helpless person has nowhere else to turn but to the judge.

And the judge appears not to care about her, appears to be unwilling to help. She has no money to bribe him, no power to coerce him, no important relatives to influence him; what is she to do? 

Well; she has two choices: One – she can quit, give up, crawl away in despair and frustration. Or two – she can continue to beat upon his door, accost him in the streets, stand in his yard with a sign demanding justice, tell his neighbors and friends about his unwillingness to help; in short she can refuse to go away.

As I said, this story isn’t really about courtrooms and judges and poor widows; it’s about persistence in prayer and faithfulness in living. God does not “grant us justice,” to get rid of us, or because we disturb the divine, or to avoid embarrassment. God is not like the unfair judge in that way. Jesus’ point is that God works on a different time schedule than most of us and it is easy for us to get discouraged if the “day of the Lord,” that the Hebrew Scriptures promise seems never to come.

We do our best to live a good life, giving to God and neighbor generously, praying and attending worship and paying attention to our religious duties. We are faithful to our wives or husbands or significant others; our family members can rely on us to be there for them in time of need; we raise our children with gentleness, discipline and generosity; we pursue our work with both diligence and honesty; and yet. Sometimes things fall apart; sometimes the roof caves in, sometimes the light goes out; sometimes we find ourselves trapped in the darkness of our souls, with no sign of hope; with no glimmer of grace; with not even a whisper of love.

  • And when that happens; how do we hang on? 
  • How do we keep faith through the dark night of the soul? 
  • What does it take for us to stay the course in difficult and perilous times?

Dr. Herb Edwards was professor of Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School. He used to say, “The trouble with the church is that it has no faith in the resurrection.” He usually went on to say something like this – Without faith in the resurrection, we will do all we can to avoid death; either as individuals or as institutions. But if we embrace the power of God to bring us back from the dead, we can leave our fear of death behind us and live bold and courageous lives, trusting God and risking all for the sake of the Gospel.


We sometimes treat the parables that Jesus uses as metaphor. How many times in human history have people suffering under oppressive, unjust systems been told to wait. If only they are patient, the argument goes, their oppressors will tire of the benefits they receive from subjugating that group of people? How often has the realization of the kindom of God been diverted by those who seek to keep a tenuous and false peace through compromise and procrastination?

It’s important to recall that this portion of the Lukan narrative demonstrates Jesus’ work of preparing the disciples for the coming kindom and their participation in it. This is no idle story; it’s a lesson with consequences. The disciples’ ministry after Jesus’ physical departure will depend upon their ability to adopt and live in this model Jesus presents to them.

It is equally important to note that the example Jesus presents is displayed through a widow. Yet again, Luke portrays Jesus taking someone from the margins of the margins and places them in the center as the model of the behavior he exhorts his closest followers to emulate. Like a Samaritan leper, a widow who has to advocate on her own behalf has little to offer in the society she lives. Isn’t it interesting how those who have nothing to lose can teach us how to faithfully live?

In the end the widow prevails. This woman who normally would not have been seen or heard, not only gains the judge’s attention whenever she wants it, she wears him down. She does not change him. He still does not care for anyone or anything other than himself. Yet, her persistence pays off. She wins the case because she does not give up or settle for less than what is right and good. And, while we should not approach prayer as an adversarial action pitting us against God, the lesson of persistence in prayer remains embedded in the story.

It would seem that the relentless pursuit of justice is its own form of persistent prayer. 

  • Non-violent protests in the streets form a prayer service. 
  • Writing letters and emails to elected officials advocating for the least of these is like writing in a prayer journal. 
  • A hunger strike takes the form of the spiritual discipline of fasting. 
  • Refusing to accept anything less than the God-given vision of the kindom prompts the faithful to challenge the systems of oppression and their authorities over and over again. 

As the civil rights leader, Ella Baker said, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

The widow did not rest until she received her justice. She didn’t let the unjust judge rest either. May that could be our prayer–our constant, consistent, relentless prayer.