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“Perturbingly Persistent Praying”

May 22/16 Luke 18:1-8


Luke 18:3 “And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’” We’re never told exactly WHO the adversary is in Jesus’ parable. But someone was trying to make life difficult for the old lady, trying to take advantage of her unjustly. It seems she was all on her own, probably with no children as well as a dead husband: if she’d had children, likely it would have been them trying to seek justice for her, as would be their responsibility.

      Life was not easy for common folk in first-century Palestine in the first place, let alone for the elderly, and particularly for a widow. In Mark 12(42) Jesus praised a poor widow for putting two small copper coins into the temple treasury, worth just a fraction of a penny, yet it was all she had to live on! Yet there were sleazeballs out there ready to take advantage of those who were so vulnerable.

      Some of them were surprisingly respectable sleazeballs. Was it a crooked landlord trying to jack up her rent unreasonably? Or someone craftily trying to steal what little property she had left? Jesus criticized the teachers of the law, the professional ‘scribes’ or lawyers: Lk 20:47 “They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.Such men will be punished most severely.”

      Though the injustice isn’t specified, it was nevertheless happening, and people could probably think of numerous types of problems the elderly woman could be having. Just as there are adversaries or “opponents” out there today who deliberately set out to plunder the elderly and vulnerable.

      Early this past week, my 95-year-old father received a phone call from an outfit who offered to check his furnace and water heater for upgrades, with an offer of a bonus to him. He made an appointment for 4 pm a couple of days later. That night he got thinking it over, and didn’t like the sounds of it. He phoned the Mayor of West Perth, Walter Mackenzie. Walter in turn checked with the PUC, and phoned Dad back advising him to lock the doors and not speak to anyone when they came, because there were scammers in the area utilizing such tactics. My father also mentioned it to his niece who lives nearby, who came over with her largish husband at the time. He answered the door instead of my dad and refused admittance when the operators failed to produce a legitimate business card.

      You may not exactly be a widow facing a crafty adversary. But where are you feeling most vulnerable right now? Who seems to be your “opponent”? In what way do you most need help? How can you relate to the widow with her plight? There ARE evil forces at work in society, ready to act unjustly, to PREY upon the weak and take what’s not theirs, regardless of who they can get it from.


Odds seem doubly stacked against the old girl, for not only is she getting unfairly picked-upon, the only source of help she can seek is a particularly hard nut to crack. Lk 18:2 “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men.” This man is completely careless in both the vertical and horizontal dimensions. While the Lord summed up the whole law in terms of loving God and loving your neighbour (Mt 22:37ff), this man has no regard for either. NRSV translates it as him having “no respect” for people. Now, an atheist might view such an individual as having an ideal attitude, being most independent, completely free and autonomous, even “self-actualized” – not needing anyone else for the fulfilment of their happiness. Socially speaking, this unjust judge has made it to the “top of the heap” and has no need of another soul in his life. Yet in these two terms – as Jesus rephrases it in the words of the judge himself in v4, “I don’t fear God or care about men” – we can detect he is at the extreme opposite pole in terms of God’s will for people’s lives. He’s not prepared to either love God OR anyone else.

      This may be “success” in the world’s eyes – but it is lamentable failure in God’s eyes. Devilish, demonic – he appears to be the “self-made man” but is corrupt spiritually. This is obdurate, hardened pride, complete conceit, a ghetto of self-centredness. He probably only found time for those who were able and willing to grease his palms, slip him a fiver under the table for bumping their case up in the queue.

      God warned about this type of official in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 27:19 “Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow.” Jeremiah prophesied in 22:15f lambasting the king of Judah, Zedekiah, whose behaviour contrasted with his father Josiah: “‘Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him.He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the LORD.‘But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion.’”

      The official’s attitude is a problem because, while he doesn’t pretend to be above reproach, he views himself as above accountability. That’s always a warning flag for corruption. This week a news item in ChristianityToday told of the pastor of the third-largest church in Europe. Pastor Sunday Adelaja, originally from Nigeria, founded an independent charismatic church in Kiev, Ukraine in 1994 which surpassed 15,000 members by the year 2000. But he’s alleged to have had affairs with dozens of women parishioners, and bilked investors of $100 million in a Ponzi scheme. A bishop and administrative leader at the church announced his departure from the church last month, stating that Pastor Adelaja “in writing categorically rejected our help, humiliating us and saying that we have no power to tell him what to do and how to do it and that he knows how and what to do.” Does that tone raise warning flags for you? Sounds like someone refusing to make himself accountable.

      Yet, which of us enjoys accountability? It’s not much fun getting a rebuke or being corrected. Yet humility and willingness to learn and grow from our mistakes is essential for real spiritual development.

      The widow was in a real bind. She was bering the brunt of abusive behaviour from her adversary; yet the only person she could turn to for help, the crooked judge, had his own issues and refused to be of assistance.

      He forms a real contrast to the mayor who helped out my father when the scammers came calling. Dad says Walter “went the second mile” - phoning the PUC about it, and even calling him back the next morning. That’s the difference between being righteous official and an unrighteous one – servant leadership.


But the widow has one trump card in her pocket: PERSISTENCE. She perseveres doggedly; she keeps coming back, again and again. Every time he opens his office door, hoping to pop out for a coffee or head to lunch, there she is! He just can’t avoid her. Lk 18:4-5 “For some time he refused.But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’” The original language here is kind of interesting – “This widow keeps bothering me” is more literally “keeps dishing up trouble for me”; and, “eventually wear me out with her coming” has the sense of “to beat black and blue”, as in causing bruises under one’s eyes! By her perpetual insistence, she was a ‘heavy hitter’.

      Jesus draws this lesson from the parable. Lk 18:6-7 “And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?” The judge is human, sinful, unjust, crooked; God is divine, perfect, righteous, holy. The judge does NOT “care about men” (2,4) but God cherishes His own: “Will not God bring about justice for His CHOSEN ones...?” Those who trust in Christ are God’s “elect”, the “pick of the crop” as God sees it, His precious own. God makes special allowances for those He has chosen, as mark 13:20 describes a “shortening of the days” before Jesus returns: “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive.But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.”

      Luke tells us the whole point of Jesus’ parable in v1: “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” Other passages in Scripture prompt us to keep on praying. 1Chron 16:11 LORD and his strength; seek his face always.” Mt 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Eph 6:18 “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Php 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Col 4:2 “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” 1Thess 5:17 “pray continually...”

      ...Does it sound like God actually WANTS us to come to Him with our requests, our needs? Don’t be like the proud uncaring self-sufficient judge. ASK so your joy can be complete! (Jn 16:24)

      Wednesday I conducted an interment for my uncle. Afterwards over lunch I was chatting with my cousin Doug Hocking about the current challenges at Maitland River Conservation Authority, where he works. He was describing the perennial concern of erosion of the Lake Huron shoreline. I asked whether Gabion baskets worked. Doug explained they are OK when the force of the water is square-on, but over time the lake washes in from many directions, and the water gradually works its way in behind the baskets and erodes the soil anyway. Persistence of a small applied pressure is powerful; it can “wear out” a land mass. How do you think we got Niagara Falls?!


After all, it’s not an unjust hardened uncaring judge we’re appealing to when we pray, but a God who loves us dearly, to whom we’re His ‘chosen ones’. He treasures us more than any loving earthly parent. Jesus assured us in Matthew 7:11 “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

      Yet, despite the Father’s affection for His children, we seem slow to reciprocate and trust Him to be sufficient for our needs. Jesus closes the passage with a poignant question. Lk 18.8 “I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” He just sort of leaves it there, hanging – WILL HE find faith here? WILL we trust Him? I thought He was talking about prayer – but suddenly He mentions “faith”. Faith and prayer are closely linked. A person’s prayer life is a barometer of their faith-life. If we trust, we will entreat. Conversely, our selfish independence – like the self-focused independent judge – BLOCKS us from intimacy with God.

      Self-reliance blinds us from seeing God’s involvement in our lives. A carpenter was nailing shingles on the roof of a house. He lost his footing and started to slide off. As he was sliding he began praying, “Lord, oh, Lord, help me!” Still he kept sliding. Again the man prayed, “Lord, oh, Lord, help me!” But he kept sliding until he got to the edge. Finally a nail sticking up caught hold of his pants. After he came to a stop he heaved a sigh of relief and said, “Never mind, Lord; the nail’s got hold of me now.” (!)

      God delights to hear the prayers of His children. Sometimes we’ll be talking on the phone with the kids and we catch in the background the delightful sounds of our grandchildren. Do you suppose God gets a charge out of hearing the sound of our voices calling to Him?

      George Muller wrote concerning His orphan ministry: “The funds are exhausted.We had been reduced so low as to be at the point of selling those things which could be spared...” Then a woman arrived who had been traveling four days, bringing with her sufficient funds for the orphanage. Muller and his co-workers had prayed those four days for something God had already answered.

      Under these circumstances, Muller made the following observation: “That the money had been so near the orphan house for several days without being given, is a plain proof that it was from the beginning in the heart of God to help us; but because he delights in the prayers of His children, He had allowed us to pray so long; also to try our faith, and to make the answer so much sweeter.” Let’s pray!