Sunday, October 20, 2019
Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.
If you’ve ever read stories or watch movies about spies and espionage, then you know that spies live in constant tension of being found out. Because spies are hiding their true identity and purpose, even the tiniest false move could put them in danger.
One of the most famous true spies of modern times was a Spanish man by the name of Juan Garcia. At the start of World War II, Garcia went to British intelligence agents in Spain and offered his services as a spy for the British government. Garcia was a brilliant man and wanted to defeat the Nazis, but the British government kept turning him down. So, Juan decided to defeat the Nazis a different way. He went to German intelligence agents in Spain pretending to be a Nazi sympathizer and offered to spy on the British. The Nazis hired him immediately.
This was the start of the most brilliant intelligence operation in modern history. Garcia and his handler created hundreds of false reports detailing the “secret” plans of British troops and fed these plans to the Germans. Garcia’s greatest deception was convincing German military commanders that the invasion of Normandy wasn’t the biggest assault planned in France. He provided intelligence reports that convinced the Germans that a much bigger invasion was planned for a different site in France. The Germans believed him and sent their best forces far away from Normandy. The British government believes that it was this tactic that allowed the Allies to succeed against the German forces on D-Day.
Garcia was such a successful double agent that he is the only known person to have been awarded the highest military honors from both the German and British governments.
For those of us who aren’t world-famous spies, the danger in living between two worlds is that we might forget our true identity. Jesus knew that this was a very real danger for His followers.
Jesus knew that His followers live in the tension between two worlds. That’s still true today. The Bible says that our citizenship is now in heaven. And our values and priorities and relationships now reflect the character and the values of God. But our bodies are still living in this world; a world full of sin, a world in which people neither fear God nor care for their fellow man.
Walter Payton played thirteen years as a running back for the Chicago Bears. During his career he rushed for 16,726 yards. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? That’s a lot of running, more than nine miles worth of rushing yards. You know what makes it even more impressive? He achieved that record with someone knocking him down every 4.6 yards.
Jesus knew that we’re going to get knocked down over and over again. That’s just the way the world is. How could He convince them and us to get back up and keep running? He told them this parable to show them that they should always pray and never give up.
This passage today is about a persistent widow and an unjust judge and is part of a larger teaching that’s all about the kingdom of God. To understand this story in Luke 18, we must go back to the end of Luke 17. In Luke 17:20-37, Jesus warns His followers that the kingdom of God is coming, and they need to be prepared because most people won’t be ready for it. We’ll be in the middle of our ordinary, busy lives, and the kingdom of God will suddenly be here. The people of Noah’s day didn’t see it coming. Lot didn’t believe it, he had to be led out of the city of Sodom. And of course, who would be able to forget two people side by side; one is taken – one is left.
And then we get to Luke 18, Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. The parable is about a poor widow. In Jesus’ day, widows had nothing. If their family or their community didn’t watch out for them, then they were in trouble. This widow was in trouble. She had been wronged, and she goes to the courts to ask for justice.
But the judge is heartless, corrupt. It says he didn’t care about God or man. No morality and no compassion. The judge is a good example of our fallen world. Our world doesn’t respect God or show much compassion for the weak and needy. And this corrupt judge has all the power over this woman’s life. Or so he thought.
The poor widow is a picture or a better is, an example of all those believers who are holding on to their faith in this corrupt and unjust world, who are praying to know God’s will, to hear God’s voice, who are praying for mercy and receive enough grace to get through another day. And Jesus is saying, Don’t stop praying. Don’t stop believing that God can and will give you justice. Don’t give up on the kingdom of God, because it’s coming. No matter how bad things look right now. God will redeem this world back to Himself. His kingdom will come.
Jesus spent His ministry creating a vision of the kingdom of God. More than anything, He wanted people to understand who God is and what God’s original plan for creation was. And He wanted them to understand that no matter how corrupt and unjust this world can be, He would come back as Messiah someday and establish the kingdom of God, God’s vision for this world. And how do we fight off frustration and weariness in the meantime? First of all, Jesus commands us to pray.
Prayer is the bridge between this sinful world and the kingdom of God. As the Union Pacific Railroad was being constructed in the West, an complicated and complex trestle bridge was built across a large canyon. Wanting to test the bridge, the builder loaded a train with enough extra cars and equipment to double its normal payload. The train was then driven to the middle of the bridge, where it stayed an entire day. One worker asked, Are you trying to break this bridge? He said, no, I’m trying to prove that the bridge won’t break.
In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us that God knows what we need before we ask Him. So, you may ask, what’s the purpose of prayer? Prayer puts us in the presence of God. Prayer may or may not change our circumstances, but it changes us. Prayer helps us to see this world, to think about this world, to respond to this world the way that God would. Prayer gives us the strength and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, a strength and wisdom that give us an eternal perspective on our current circumstances. And persistent prayer reminds us that God is working in this world whether we see the results or not.
Prayer is the tool God gave us to set us free from the values, priorities and powers of this world. The poor widow in our parable had no power against the unjust judge. Yet she wasn’t afraid. She wasn’t afraid to demand the justice due her. She wasn’t afraid to stand up to his lack of concern and his corruption. Her faith in God gave her the courage and determination to persevere.
We too can persist in prayer because we have a God who keeps His promises. And God promises that we will see justice and mercy when Jesus returns to establish the kingdom of God on earth.
So, what about our poor widow? Jesus says she kept coming back day after day. She kept demanding justice until her persistence wore the judge out. The judge even says in vs. 5: Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!
The Greek verb he uses for the phrase, “so that she will not beat me down”, is actually a boxing term and it means to strike someone with a full blow in the eye. This widow has no power whatsoever in her society. But she has faith in the Almighty God. She refuses to give up. And her faith is so powerful it’s like a punch in the eye. Even though he has all the power, as the world measures power, he’s powerless in the face of a woman of God.
We’re living between a world of righteousness, peace and joy, and a world of injustice, sin and suffering. And the only thing that keeps us going is the certainty of God’s faithfulness, the certainty of God’s love. How do we keep from giving up? Pray. And God promises that our faithfulness will be rewarded. And what’s that reward? We will have the power to endure now, and the joy of seeing justice and restoration when His kingdom comes.
All because of the love, and enduring power of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.