”Persistence Pays Off”
October 20 2019 – 19th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C
Rev. Bob Kaylor tells a story about a 3 year old boy named Scotty. He is the youngest of 3 and has to fight to get heard over the general household chaos. One day Bob was talking with Scotty’s mother when Scotty suddenly crawled up onto her lap, obviously in need of something. The boy was persistent. “Mommy, mommy, mommy, MOMMY!” he whined. But mommy was oblivious to the noise. Then Scotty, realizing that simply making noise wasn’t going to work, he reached up and grabbed his mother’s face in both his hands. Then he looked her right in the eye and said, “Mommy!” he got her undivided attention. At 3, Scotty had already learned an important truth – that the most effective communication takes place when we are face to face. Bob said it this way, “True prayer is not about asking and receiving – it’s about crawling into God’s lap and seeking God’s face and resting in the knowledge that God will care for us.”
We have just heard _____ read the account of a persistent widow appearing before an unjust judge. The persistent widow teaches us about yearning for change and modeling a healthy stewardship of commitment. She shows us that seeking justice is really nothing more than wishful thinking if it is not attached to wise stewardship of our God-given gifts for justice-making. The very nature of justice is such that it must go beyond theory. It is not something we believe, it is something we do.
I am proud of the United Church of Canada’s commitment to justice on issues such as Canada’s response to climate change, residential school compensation, support of same-sex marriage, and improving race relations. The United Church has knocked on the doors of policy makers in government many times over the years, adding to the rising swell of voices crying out for transformation and a more just world.
As I think about the persistent widow, I find myself wondering about her life story. Is she a woman supporting children? Does she have a way of supporting herself? What is her health status? Where are her friends? What is her opponent? Is it a misogynist community? Is it poverty? Is it a crippling illness? Is it abuse at the hands of her in-laws?
The widow in this story requires no charity. She demands admiration. But it is not only persistence that is admirable in the widow who keeps hassling the unjust judge, demanding attention for her legal concern. No! Not only pathetic persistence! The judge finally agrees to vindicate the widow out of fear that she will beat him up. “She will wear me out,” says the judge. This is not a woman to be pitied! This widow, demanding the few legal rights she has, is a woman to be respected. Persistence? Yes! Power? Yes! And yet powerless enough (she was a woman after all, and there are so many widows like her) that Jesus acted like a mother bear on their behalf.
Pablo Casals suggests: “Each person has inside, a basic decency and goodness. If he/she listens to it and acts on it, he/she is giving a great deal of what the world needs most. It is not complicated, but it takes courage. It takes courage for a person to listen to their own goodness and act on it.”
Jesus essentially is making the point that, if an unjust judge can be moved by persistent appeals, how much more will God – who is wholly just and compassionate – be moved by the cries of the faithful?
Many of Jesus’ followers would be persecuted and even martyred for their faith, and Jesus wanted to prepare them for these tribulations. They would need to be as determined as the widow, and to have an unshakeable trust in God’s care and defense of them, even when it seemed God had abandoned them.
Many people’s faith is shaken when bad things happen to them. Few of us have not cried, “Why me, O God?” Indeed, some people believe their faith is a shield against suffering.
Our Gospel passage ends with Jesus’ words, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Humanity comes, will he find faith on earth?” It is a good question, is it not?
We live in a community that has a homelessness problem. We live in a community that has a hunger problem. We live in a community where too many people are crippled by mental illnesses or drug use problems and are living on the streets. We live in a community where too many people are living in poverty. These people are coming to us and wanting us to do something positive. I am sure they don’t want to have to use our stair wells as bathrooms. I am sure they don’t want to be confronted by By-law officers and the RCMP on a daily basis. And even though several affordable housing complexes will soon be accepting residents, not everyone will be housed. The Soupateria is no longer a safe place to get a noon meal. So, many single parents and single women are reluctant to go there. “What is the answer?” you ask. I am a member of the Downtown Churches for Social Justice Committee. It has expanded to include social service agencies, the RCMP, and other churches in Penticton. We are working with local, provincial and federal government representatives, urging them to do their part in eradicating this injustice. We are urging that more money be earmarked for affordable housing. We have formed a food distribution hub, so that the hungry are not going from church to church for a hand-out. We are working side by side with the RCMP.
Albert Einstein said; “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
For years I had a poster up in my office that said, “In Germany, they first came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me – but by that time there was no one left to speak up.”
The whole image of God in this parable seems so bizarre. If we just bug God long enough, God will change God’s mind.
Walter Wink, a noted theologian, talks about that in terms of the Lord’s Prayer. He says you are meant to stand and yell it. He says the Old Testament reading of prayer is that it is a demand, it is like saying “I believe in this and I want some action!” And so, the story of the widow runs very much parallel to that.
Now, you could read this as saying something about God, that God does not pay attention. But I think it is really asking something about us. Are we convinced enough that God hears us? Are we convinced enough that God hears us, to say things out loud? Are we convinced enough to stand up in public and pray? If so, will we be persistent?
It is not easy to be persistent. Without the hope of something worth working for, it is easier to give up than consistently work for the compassion of God’s law to be realized. On this Peace Sabbath it is important to uphold the hope of a world at peace and to persist in seeking the justice that will bring that hope to fruition.
May we hear this parable as a challenge from complacency. May we feel challenged to stand up for justice. And, may we pray fervently. Amen.