Proper 24, Jeremiah 31:27-34, Psalm 119:97-104, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Luke 18:1-8
The widow in this story — I don’t want to be like her. I expect that you don’t want to be like her either. You don’t want to be so demanding. You don’t want to cry to God day and night. Who wants to be so needy, so dependent, so tiresome.
Don’t we all understand that we have to get real and accept the realities of life? If you expect justice all the time you’re going to be a very frustrated person, and probably not much fun to be with. We all put up with many daily injustices. Parking, your place of employment, your family. Your medical insurance.
If Jesus were telling the parable today it would be the widow against her insurance carrier. I recently received two medical bills, both for treatments from a year ago. Both of the doctors were supposedly in my network, and I paid my co-payment, and now one is asking for fifty-eight dollars and the other for five hundred odd dollars, so I’ll hold off on the latter bill as long as I can, and keep on making phone calls, which is a pain, but the first one I’ll just pay off to get rid of it. I don’t have any expectation that the system is fair. So I deal with it.
In America our justice is relatively good. In much of the world it’s a given that a bribe is the only way to get consideration. They would tell the widow that the judge is only waiting for his money. Lots of people make the same assumption about God. Not necessarily money, but something in return, like a good life, or good behavior, or going to church. They want something from God, so they offer something in exchange. Dear God, if you give me this, I promise I’ll be a better person, or I’ll do this or that, whatever.
But according to the parable the widow offers nothing to the judge except her pure demand; so when you pray to God for something, it doesn’t help if you offer something back. That would be a bribe. You should just ask for it and ask for it and ask for it, for no reason other than that you think it’s right for you to receive it.
Now let me ask you this. Why do you come here on Sundays? Do you come here because you’re looking for justice? I’ll bet not. In other times and places that is what congregations were praying for. Like in Montgomery, Alabama, in the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.
Or like in East Germany, in 1989, in the city of Leipzig, while the Communist police had encircled the Nicolaikirche, some 5000 people were gathered inside and were praying for peace and justice. That same year in Rumania, in the city of Timasoara, inside the Hungarian Reformed Church, one night, all night, the whole congregation was praying, and outside, all night, hand-in-hand, their friends had made a circle around the church as a barrier against the Securitate of Cauçescu. Outside, holding hands against the guns, and inside, folding hands against the heart of God. Of course, in all three cases, these people had been crying to God for justice day and night for many, many years.
I’m wondering if we ask enough of God. Do you think we demand enough of God? Do we expect enough of God? Do we keep our expectations minimal, limited, and well-controlled? If we don’t ask much, we won’t be disappointed. We are modern people after all, we are not superstitious, nor fundamentalist, we don’t go round saying God did this for us and God did that for us. We know what life requires and what life offers and we deal with it.
So we do not ask too much of God, we let God off the hook. In this regard, then, I have three things for you to keep in mind. One from the epistle, one from Jeremiah, and one from the gospel.
First, the epistle is recalling us to scripture, to the trustworthiness of scripture, the necessity of scripture, and the discipline of scripture, for our proficiency and equipment in the world. The epistle reminds us that there is sound doctrine and bad doctrine, and the bad doctrine is often more attractive and appealing than the sound doctrine. And a great deal of bad doctrine purports to tell you what God offers and what God expects, and what you should pray for and what you might as well forget about. And we need to learn what’s right in this and what is wrong, and the way to learn is through the mature and responsible study of the public documents of scripture.
So you need this balance. You should allow yourself to make every request of God that comes into your mind. You should not filter your requests to God. If you think it, ask it. But, at the same time, commit yourself to long-term learning what it is that God desires to offer and expect.
For example, if you want to be wealthy, ask for it. Be true to yourself and be honest in your relationship with God. If you want justice, ask for it. And if you are doing the long-term learning of what God truly offers and expects, then you learn that God is a lot more interested in giving you justice than wealth. The goal is that by long-term spiritual training your deepest requests begin to conform to what God truly offers and expects.
Second, from Jeremiah. Just as there is a time when God builds up and plants, there is also a time when God plucks up and takes down, when God overthrows and destroys. There are times when what God has for us is definitely not what we would pray for. There are times when the justice that God gives us might mean a penalty for us. I mean, right?
So you should keep on praying exactly what’s on your heart, but you need also to understand that God may answer you with the very opposite. And understand also that God is not impressed by our sense of immediacy or necessity. And that the fullness of what is good for us is not known to ourselves, and is known to God much better than we know ourselves. Good thing.
And finally, from the gospel. You should pray exactly what’s on your mind, and do not filter it, but we’re not talking about a couple of prayers, or what you are asking for this week, we’re talking about long-term prayer, we’re talking about months and months of prayer, years and years, we’re talking about prayers that wear God out, like the Civil Rights Movement, like the churches in Eastern Europe. If that’s what you’re willing to do, and stay at it, then go ahead, tell God exactly what’s on your mind.
We have to consider the possibility that we have an influence on God. Philosophically I know that’s difficult, and the strictest Calvinists say that it’s illogical, but let’s be sloppy Calvinists, and say that we have an influence on God, who wants us in a partnership.
But at the same time, God has an influence on us. If you keep at it, your long-term discipline of prayer starts to convert you, so that two things happen: your mind begins to merge with God’s mind, and you also become part of the answer. The answer to your prayer starts to flow right out of you into the world. Onto the street. Into your world. Your prayers and your answers come together in you, because God’s Word and God’s Spirit live in you.
Copyright © 2007 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.