15” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?
This is a familiar parable Jesus uses to teach us about the nature of prayer. The widow shows us what it looks like to persist in prayer: to keep praying, believing and acting like God will answer our prayers because God is just and merciful.
Even though it is familiar, this parable has always left me a little frustrated. Not so fast Jesus. I struggle with the fact that the picture of prayer is one that pits extreme power (the judge) against extreme powerlessness (the widow).
If we slow this story down a bit, we see a woman who is at the end of her own resources. Widows were the symbol of extreme vulnerability-without means to support themselves.
Her struggle and her need are very public. We get the picture that she comes before this judge repeatedly, asking for his help. She acts on what she needs. She has nowhere left to turn. She comes before the judge and her request is this: “Grant me justice.”
Can you feel her desperation? She has nothing and he, the judge, has everything. He holds power over her.
This is a horrible scenario if you ask me. It feels like a lost cause for her. I can’t get past the idea that she kept coming back to ask for help-even though he’s told her “no” many times. What kind of inner-strength and resolve must it have taken to do this? His indifference toward her is unbearable. This judge didn’t respect God-or respect people for that matter. Don’t expect this guy to do anything good or just on behalf of this widow.
And yet she is persistent with her plea. “Grant me justice.”
It’s almost too hard to watch.
I have a friend who is a single immigrant mother. She moved to this country and into our community a year ago.
She navigates complex systems, every day, that are set up to assist, but ironically, actually make it extremely difficult to access resources she needs for herself and her child. I’ve witnessed her go to “the judge,” the systems that hold power over her life-immigration, justice, public transportation, housing, healthcare, education, insurance, employment-and plea her case. “Grant me justice.” “Grant me what I need, please, in order to live with dignity.”
She persists in the face of systems that can say “no” one day and “yes” the next.
I’ve asked her how she keeps doing it. What keeps her from throwing in the towel?
That’s the obvious question I have for the widow, too. What keeps them both from saying, “forget it!”? What is behind this persistence?
Her answer? “God is good. God is faithful.”
It is a difficult thing to watch. It is a beautiful thing to behold.
She, like the widow from the parable knows, and even more importantly, believes and acts on something that we often forget: God is on the side of the vulnerable and has a special affection for widows, orphans and aliens.
And so, they pray and persist. They pray and believe. They pray and they act.
They know God is not like the unjust judge. They believe God hears and answers the prayers of those who cry out, “Grant us justice.” They know and believe, like their life depended on it, that God is with them and is on their side.
Some of us may never know what this kind of utter dependence on God feels like. The point of this parable is to get us to move toward that kind of dependence. Those who are vulnerable and powerless can be our teachers. Their lives invite and challenge us to a relationship with God that is predicated on God’s goodness and faithfulness-especially in the face of adversity.
Rev. Lina Thompson
Pastor, Lake Burien Presbyterian Church
Longtime Friend and former Board Chair, Street Psalm