“Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”Luke 18:1-8
Not giving up is one of the hardest lessons of life. There have been many times over the years when I have been tempted to give up on certain projects or tasks. I know it sounds frivolous, but playing the bagpipes was one of them. Yes, I gave up and everyone in the neighbourhood rejoiced! And still today, I am tempted every Tuesday and Friday not to go to gym! Simply the thought of going is more than enough to raise some serious questions: do I really want to do this? Maybe at my age it is not a good thing to do? But, of course, going to gym is really a minor matter when I come to think about it. There are much more serious challenges that face us in life when the temptation to throw in the towel is strong, sometimes overwhelming.
The issue Jesus was talking about to his disciples, and therefore to us, in his parable of the widow and the unjust judge, was certainly not gym, but prayer and s it happens, justice as well. The opening words of the story make it clear that prayer was the subject that Jesus first wants to talk about. Don’t lose heart in trying to pray, he tells his disciples. I am quite sure that fisherman like Peter, James and John would have had no difficulty in going to the gym and pumping iron. But prayer? None of those first male disciples were pious, people to whom prayer might have come naturally. Maybe they joined in the synagogue prayers in Capernaum, but nobody would have asked Peter to lead in prayer at the weekly prayer meeting, and everybody would have been surprised if Andrew had a daily Quiet Time! So Jesus had his time cut out in helping his inner circle to learn how to pray and not lose heart. Persevere in prayer was his counsel. And that is also his counsel to us as disciples. Prayer might come naturally and easily to some, but not to all of us. But, says Jesus, don’t lose heart! And those of us who meet here on Volmoed every day for morning prayers sometimes need to be reminded of this when our prayers seem to hit the ceiling and bounce back. Don’t lose heart! The only way to learn how to pray is by persevering in prayer. As Isobel paraphrases Julian of Norwich
If you have come to God with your request
asked him again and again;
implored him over and over,
but still not received
what you asked for,
don’t be discouraged;
don’t give up.
Keep on waiting
for a better time,
or for more grace,
or for a better gift.
For God has heard you…
But Jesus’ story develops beyond prayer. The widow in the story wants justice. Maybe a corrupt official has stolen her welfare allowance. Who knows. What we do know is that the judge did not care. The widow could not afford to bribe him, so she was a nobody as far as he was concerned. As Jesus says, the judge had no respect for God or for anyone else. He was a nasty man whose judgments favoured the powerful not the poor. But the judge had not counted on the persistence of this feisty widow! She was not going to be pushed around even by a powerful judge. She wasn’t asking for favours, she just wanted justice. So she kept on banging on the judge’s door, making a real nuisance of herself.
Sometimes we have to do this as disciples of Jesus. Whether we want justice for ourselves, or we are fighting for justice on behalf of other people who have been badly treated, we have to keep on banging of the door of those in authority. This is what I like about Thuli Madonsela our former Public Protector. She refused to give up doing what had to be done for the cause of justice even though many in powerful positions tried to prevent her from doing her duty. What an example to all of us of someone who did not lose heart. And as a good Seventh Day Adventist, I bet that Madonsela didn’t give up on prayer either. She persisted in both prayer and the struggle for justice.
Well, in the end the judge gave up! That’s the truth of the matter. Prayer and having justice on your side is a potent force, and often an unbeatable combination when it comes to dealing with corrupt judges or a corrupt political system. In the end the powerful crumble before the persistent onslaught of truth telling in the interests of justice, and especially in the interests of people like Jesus’ widow who are poor and regarded as insignificant. In the end the judge, says Jesus, was worn out by her persistence and caved in. So, says Jesus:
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!
But, yes, there is a “but” that sneaks into the story because it does not always work out as it did for the widow. Not everyone who prays for justice has his or her prayers answered even if they persevere as did the widow. Sometimes, as Julian of Norwich counsels, we simply have to go on praying and struggling for justice against all odds, even when it all seems so helpless. That is why Jesus ends the parable with a question put to all of us who would be his disciples: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” When all is said and done, will we remain faithful in prayer and the struggle for justice till the end simply because that is what the disciples of Jesus are called to do? That is a question we all have to face. That is a question the church has to face, and never so much as right at this time in the history of our country.
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 13 October 2016