Sermon for 20 Pentecost, Year C
Based on Luke 18:1-8
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
“The Praying Life”
Our gospel today teaches us three simple, but also very important things. Jesus wants us to pray. He wants us to be persistent. He wants us to be patient.
One of Luke’s favourite gospel themes is prayer. Luke, more so than other gospel writers, emphasizes the importance of prayer on several occasions. His gospel underscores that not only is it necessary for the followers of Jesus to pray; it is also necessary for Jesus himself to pray. According to Luke, Jesus is a man of prayer.
Often times we so easily forget to pray. Our lives become so busy with the affairs of daily living that we find it very hard to take time out for prayer. But the irony of this is precisely when we are the busiest, then we need to pray the most. All great people of faith have discovered this great truth.
Martin Luther was one of them. Luther said that whenever he felt overloaded with his work, he would then take more time for prayer. We too need to take more time for prayer. If we don’t, it then becomes so easy to take matters into our own hands; instead of realizing that there are many things in life that we cannot accomplish without the help and direction of God. Prayer gives us a grip on life; it brings life more into focus, providing us with a proper perspective. It keeps us in touch, in communion with Jesus, our Source of life. Sometimes we feel we’re carrying the weight of the whole world on our shoulders. Sometimes our view of life is out of whack, we stumble around without a clear focus. It is all-too-easy for us to become negative, or desperate, or feel overwhelmed. At such times we need to pray in order that God can help and guide us. Our gospel today gives us a picture of a God who will listen to our prayers; who will understand our situation; who will help us with our needs.
Even though M. Gandhi did not consider himself a Christian, I believe that he had a very profound understanding of prayer that we Christians can certainly learn from. On one occasion, Gandhi extolled the physical, mental, and spiritual virtues of prayer in this way:
I discovered that after a time of prayer, I was able to do a far greater amount of work. A doctor has testified as a medical fact that my blood pressure was lowered by it, my nerves calmer, my mind rested and alert, my whole body in better health. I was refreshed and ready for work, and if previously I had been in a mood of pessimism and despair, after I prayed I was charged with new hope and confidence. 1
We too need to adopt a praying way of life, if we are going to be faithful followers of our Saviour Jesus Christ. However, to be a person of prayer means that we are called upon to discipline ourselves—because it doesn’t come naturally! What I mean by that is we’ll always find it so easy to make excuses not to pray. In fact, any excuse will do! To correct this, we are challenged to have a regular time and place for daily prayer, as well as make a concerted effort to stick with it—that’s likely one of the reasons why some folks will discover it is helpful to follow “the daily offices.”
This leads us to the second simple, yet important point of today’s gospel. Jesus wants us to be persistent because persistence does work things out in the end—even though it all-too-often does not work out the way we initially had thought or hoped it might! Too often we pray backwards, for example: may our will, not God’s be done, instead of the proper prayer may God’s will, not ours be done.
The parable tells us that the widow’s persistence with the unjust judge was successful in the end. Here’s a person who, in Jesus’ day, had at least two strikes against her before her case was even considered. First, she was a woman. The place of women at that time in Near Eastern society was very low. A woman had very few rights that were equal to the rights of a man. Second, this woman was also a widow. Widows at that time, were classified along with the orphans as the poor and powerless people of society. They were quite often overlooked and neglected. If, in their patriarchal society, they had no sons or brothers-in-law, they had little hope of improving their lot in life—unless, of coarse, they were fortunate enough to be in some sort of professional or business position. Moreover, to make matters worse, the reputation of many judges was not good. The judge would often accept bribes for a favourable decision. However, a poor and powerless widow would not have the money to pay for a bribe. The system clearly favoured the wealthy.
Therefore, the only avenue open to the widow for a just settlement was her persistence. She visited the judge several times to remind him of her situation and the need for a just settlement. This willingness to be persistent is an important one for us today. Many things of great value in life involve much persistence.
I know this has certainly been true in my life experiences. For example, it was not without personal and spiritual struggle—arguing with God, and challenging my skepticism, my faith presuppositions—along with several years of study that I became a pastor. However, in retrospect, those were some of the best years of my life; and I’ve come to realize how indispensable and important those struggles and years of study were in the process of preparation for ordained ministry.
In our world today, there are literally millions of poor and powerless people—like the widow in our parable who long for a better and more just way of life. They, like the widow, have no other avenue open to them than persistence. In a sense, their persistence is addressed to us, since we live in a free country and in a position to speak out on their behalf. We can pressure and influence leaders to work for reforms; we can oppose all forms of social, political, and religious persecution. We can do this as an expression of Christ’s love for the world and all the people in it; for our loving response to Jesus; which shall always want to reach out to the little and forgotten ones of this world. If we are to be persistent, we are called to be prepared to expect resistance and opposition; while, at the same time, we need the commitment to hang in there and stick with things over the long haul.
Another important point of this parable in regards to persistence is its viewpoint on who God is. It is, in my humble opinion, a grave mistake—though tempting—to compare the parable’s unjust judge with God. God is not like the unjust judge, only giving in a grudging, miserly way, only after we persist. Not at all! God has already given us many things before and without our asking. The point of persistence is not to do it to pander to our selfish wants or needs. Rather, the point is that it keeps us in communion—in a healthy, dynamic, loving relationship—with the Lord and Loving Giver of all life. The more we persist in prayer, the more we realize that our love affair with God grows, blossoms, matures; the more we realize that we cannot live without God.
This leads us to the third simple, yet important point for today. Jesus wants us to be patient. To pray it requires persistence and to be persistent it requires patience. This is a most difficult paradigm for us today; since we live in an instant world of high technology and expect things to happen right now, if not sooner! The basic presupposition is that if we cannot have or accomplish something immediately, in as easy a way as possible, then we give up because it’s not worth anything more. This instant, immediate, way of life is also prevalent in the Church. It’s expressed in prayers like the following: “God, grant me patience, but hurry please!”
All too often people are not patient enough with God and with other people. They expect God and other people to cater to their every whim and fancy, at the drop of a hat. As one of my professors—the Rev. Dr. William Hordern—used to put it, “their God is an eternal Bellhop.” Quite often—or should I say, most often?!—God’s time is not the same as our time. God has a way of keeping us humble and teaching us things that we sometimes are not willing to learn. God does not always cure our illnesses or solve our problems right away; precisely because we need to learn patience. When we learn to be patient with God and others; then we will forget our selfish motives and realize that we cannot manipulate God or others to get what we want. Moreover, when we don’t get what we want, how many times has it turned out for our own good? How many times have we come to give thanks to our Most Patient God, who knew exactly what we needed at the time, even though we didn’t? How many times has not getting what we wanted actually saved us from a host of perils and tragedies? Take time, bend the knee, bow in adoration and heartfelt gratitude to our All Knowing and All Loving God.
As God and others are patient with us, we too are called upon to be patient with God and others. We do this by recognizing our humility and God’s power and freedom. We also do this by accepting and respecting others for who they are—with all of their strengths and weaknesses.
May God grant us the grace to be a people of prayer, persistence and patience. May we trust in God’s promises, knowing that God is righteous; hence will favour us much more than the unrighteous judge favoured the widow—ways beyond our hopes and comprehension, beyond measure!