Saturday, October 16, 2010

Persistence Pays - St. Luke 18:1-8 - Proper 24C

If you wish to read the parable you can find it - HERE - St. Luke 18:1-8

This past week I watched some of the “God in America” series on PBS’ “American Experience.” If you have not seen any of this go to their website and watch it – FIND IT HERE!! This series is a series of vignettes from the history of the lives and events that have shaped the development of religious thought and experience in the USA. One of the stories that I found particularly captivating was the story of Anne Hutchinson. Anne was a puritan living in Massachusetts. The puritans had come from England to escape persecution and to be able to worship freely, but they had fallen into the same kind of trap so that life in the puritan villages was just as oppressive and strict as life in England, if not more so. In this context Anne started women’s bible studies and she began quietly and later not so quietly challenging both the theology and the male leadership of the colony. In particular Anne was lifting up issues of grace. This did not sit well and so she was tried before the governor (John Winthrop) and eventually she and her family were exiled. They were exiled for the principals of freedom of religious thought and practice, principals that eventually find their way into the US constitution (1st Amendment). Between Anne’s trial and the ratification of the constitution there are about 150 years. It didn’t happen overnight and Anne, unfortunately, never got to see it. But the principals for which she prayed, and struggled and suffered prevailed.

This brings us to the parable of the Unjust Judge. Every so often Jesus tells a parable which is odd and difficult to understand. Such is the case I think with the parable of the Unjust Judge. But also like many of Jesus’ parables this on is also rich in meaning.

The first point to be made about this parable is that we must avoid the mistake of equating the judge with God. Jesus is not drawing this parallel at all and it is a mistake to presume this. Jesus is drawing a comparison: If even an unjust and corrupt and greedy judge will be swayed to do the right thing with persistence then how much more will God, who is just and loving, be inclined to hear and answer your prayers! The key is not to give up, not to get discouraged, but to keep praying and to continue to pray fervently.

This parable is set within a discussion between Jesus and his disciples about the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom has come into the world through Jesus, the Son of God, but it has not yet come in all its fullness. The Kingdom is already and not yet! We as disciples of the Kingdom have a calling to work so that others might experience the already of the Kingdom in their lives, where the not yet seems to dominate. In this context then it is easy to get discouraged, it is easy to look around and see only the not yet and give up. The parable is a call to keep your eyes firmly fixed on Christ, to recognize that the Kingdom has come into our midst, but it is still incomplete. But we are to be like the widow in this parable, constantly knocking at the gates of heaven with our prayers; lifting up our concerns, calling for justice, caring for those in need constantly.

To this end there are three main points that can be derived from this parable: 1. The parable encourages us to not be afraid to tackle difficult issues with confidence. 2. The parable cautions us not to expect immediate results. 3. The parable assures us that God’s justice will prevail in the end.

Of these three points I think that the 2nd is probably the most challenging for us. We live in a society that is not very patient. We are a people who like to have things happen, now – instant gratification. We don’t want to wait and if we don’t see an immediate answer to our prayers we tend to give up and figure that they are not working; or we just take matters into our own hands and try to force the issue. Neither of these is faithful or appropriate. We are rather called to be persistent in prayer, recognizing that God’s ways are not our ways and that God’s time is not our time.

Anne Hutchinson’s prayers were answered, but not in the time she may have expected. Nevertheless, God did bring transformation to this land. Anne was faithful and persistent – just like the widow. And, just like the widow in the parable, she was vindicated in the end.

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