Luke 18:1-8 (Pentecost 19C)

St. John, Galveston 10/16/2022

Rev. Alan Taylor

 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

"O Spirit, who didst once restore

Thy Church that it might be again

The bringer of good news to men,

Breathe on Thy cloven Church once more,

That in these gray and latter days

There may be those whose life is praise,

Each life a high doxology

To Father, Son, and unto Thee."

 

Those words of Martin Franzman's hymn, "O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth," parallel the fundamental question that shapes the parable before us this morning; “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (v. 8).

 

The parable in Luke 18, as well as, the Epistle reading from 2 Timothy 3, speak of the plight of the church as she lives out her days under the cross of Jesus, in an unjust, callous and self-serving world. The frustration and the pressures faced by the Church and her people are immense and the question of “why” looms in the back of the mind of the faithful. Why must we endure such godlessness?

 

"The time is coming, writes the Apostle, when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." Those words are a timeless warning and admonition to the Church. They were as true in the days of the apostle’s as they are today. Thus, Jesus prepared His disciples for the Church’s militant years, her time of living, as it were, as soldiers of the cross, by way of parables and other means. 

 

Luke introduces one such parable this morning, saying, Jesus told them “a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not to lose heart."

There was a judge who neither respected man nor feared God. This judge, in other words, was a prude and a reprobate. The universe, at least by his own estimation, revolved around him and his judgments. He cared little for the needs of others, even if those needs should happen to deal with justice, which was certainly within his vocation to give.

 

A woman, a widow, kept coming to the judge to get justice for herself. In the broader interpretation of the parable, the woman represents the Church. The point of justice over which she plead before the judge is intentionally left unknown, for in a world filled with injustice, the Church continually cries out for the One who judges the living and the dead to make all things just and right.

 

The woman repeatedly cried out for justice, but the unrighteous judge kept sending her away. What, after all, do the unrighteous have to do with justice? Justice is supposed to be blind, meaning, it’s not supposed to be a respecter of persons. The widow was truly one of little respect. Socially, she had no standing to insist on anything, including justice. She was humbly dependent on the powers that be for her very existence.

 

In this case, since the judge didn’t respect men, or, fear God, he didn’t care if the widow got justice for her case or not! However, he finally gave in to the woman’s cry for justice. Oh, it wasn’t that he ultimately saw her point of view, or, that he finally acknowledged that a point of law had been violated. It was nothing of the sort. To the contrary, he had no interest in her, or, in the law. Rather, he reasoned with himself, ’though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down.’ ” Which is to say, the judge gave in to the woman’s cry for help because she wore him out!!

 

Now, since the widow represents the Church and since God is the final judge of all things, is Jesus telling us here in this parable that we need to learn to pester Him so that He’ll finally give in to our cries for help lest we wear Him out? I mean, that seems like a reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the parable, doesn’t it? God’s mercy goes to the persistent! And, ultimately, perhaps to the belligerently persistent.

 

The thing is, it’s not the point of the parable at all. If we think it is the point of this parable, we miss the crucial difference between the unrighteous judge and the true God. In the parable, Jesus is making a comparison using a really effective technique of debate. It’s called making a comparison from the lesser to the greater. It works like this...if the lesser thing in a particular analogy is true, how much more must the greater thing be true. In this case, if the unrighteous judge, the man who doesn’t respect men, or, fear God, will finally give in to the widow’s request because of her persistence, “will not God (you see, there’s the greater), will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.”

 

Again, the whole point of the parable is to encourage the disciples, the Church, you and me, to “always to pray and not to lose heart.” Persistence is good in prayer. Not because it will ultimately break God down and cause Him to give in, but because the burdened need to be able to talk with God about what weighs heavily upon their heart. Prayer, including persistent prayer, is the voice of the faithful. It is the cry to God for mercy and the expectation that God, who, in Christ, poured His mercy upon us, desires to do that very thing even today.

 

If the unrighteous judge ultimately had mercy on the widow who cried out to him for help, how much more will your heavenly Father have mercy on you? It seems to me that, in the midst of trying times, those days when justice falters and people “turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths,” the struggle for the Church, for you and me, is to believe that God, though He may appear to not hear our cries, does indeed hear us and that He will answer us in a way that preserves our faith and upholds our confession.

 

When Christ returns will He find faith on earth? He will among those who have trusted in Him to give faith and to nurture and sustain it. The Church finds her hope, her trust in Christ, in the gifts of His Word and Sacraments. Ironically, in this place where we cry out to God for mercy and for justice, we are fed with the body and blood of Jesus, which were given and shed in the most unmerciful and unjust way, by way of the cross. And we are convinced even more that if the unmerciful can find it in themselves to give justice to those who cry out to them, so much more the God of mercy and grace will give us what we need to sustain us in faith and trust in Him.

 

"O Spirit, who didst once restore

Thy Church that it might be again

The bringer of good news to men,

Breathe on Thy cloven Church once more,

That in these gray and latter days

There may be those whose life is praise,

Each life a high doxology

To Father, Son, and unto Thee."

 

In name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

 

+ Soli Deo Gloria +