“Never Give Up”
Pentecost 23, October 23, 2016
Never Give Up!
Text: Luke 18:1–8
I do not know if you have ever experienced this, but at my house, it is often the case that my children will come up to me and ask me a question. Usually, it is something like: “Can I have a snack?” “Can I have a root beer float?” “When’s dinner?” Now, if I am busy, and I often am, I will answer them by saying, “Give me a minute.” And as all of us adults know, that really means 5-10 minutes. And in that time, they will often repeat their question about, oh, 327 times.
In the Gospel today, Jesus tells us that we need to be persistent when it comes to talking to Him, when it comes to prayer. Because He has promised to be listening, we should “Never Give Up.”
Today’s story that Jesus tells presents us with the account of a judge. And not a very good one. Every once in a while, you hear on the news about someone who is convicted of a crime they didn’t commit. Then years later some new piece of evidence comes to light. These are times when the system failed. But what if you had a judge like the judge in today’s parable? The judge in the parable does nothing! A widow comes to him for help, and over and over again, he refuses. The widow then is forced to flood the judge with requests until he does the right thing and listens to her. The text makes clear that he does the right thing in the end. However, he does the right thing not because he’s had a change of heart, but simply to get rid of her.
Widows in biblical times had no power or economic clout. They were among the weakest, most vulnerable members of society. For this reason, Old Testament law commanded that the worshiping community care for them (Deut 14:28–29). God’s people were repeatedly warned not to take advantage of the orphans and widows in their midst. This woman went to someone who was supposed to help her in her quest for justice, and he didn’t want to.
This widow in our text is a lot like our children when they want something. Instead of using my kids this time let’s go with something a lot of teenagers have said over the years. You know the routine. “C’mon, Mom, Dad, please! Please let me go! What’ll my friends think if I’m not at the party? My friends won’t think I’m cool anymore if I’m not there. Everyone else is going. Please, let me go!” And they don’t quit. That’s the intensity Jesus is talking about. Don’t give up.
As we read this text, many of us like to identify with the persistent widow. But how many of us identify with the judge? There is a part in all of us that is a lot like that judge. The Concordia Commentary I have pointed out that the way Jesus tells this tells us that the Judge was a pagan (unbeliever) and he didn’t care about people and what people thought about him, either. Our natural state is not to fear God and not to care about anyone other than ourselves. How many of us, when we see someone in need, turn the other way? “Oh, it’s not my problem. I don’t want to get involved.” How many of us are like this judge and give only we see a benefit to us? We need to watch out for that.
There is another danger here. Some may think from the text that prayer is reduced to an act of pestering God until God cries, “Enough!” But the argument Jesus makes here is like the one He makes in the Gospel of Matthew, where He says, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Mt 7:9–11).
When it comes to God, we’re assured that God listens to those who pray, who want to talk to Him day and night. Beyond persistence, this parable calls us to pray, to have courage, and to act on our faith. We are reminded here to pray with regularity and perseverance. Picture Jacob, in our Old Testament Reading, wrestling with God through the night. It took courage to refuse to let go until he received a blessing. It took courage for that widow, who had nothing, to be persistent in her request.
It is not right that some people mistakenly think that Jesus was suggesting we should nag God and wear Him down in order to get a good answer to our prayers. Actually, it is clear from the story that He was setting up a stark contrast between the judge and God. God does care about people! That is why we should keep praying to Him and not give up. He wants to help us. Our persistence in prayer comes from believing that. We know He is listening, we know He will answer, so therefore we know we need to keep praying.
Jesus teaches us to pray regularly and never lose heart. His promise is that He will grant vindication and justice for His chosen ones and will do so quickly (That’s His time frame, not ours.). Jesus shows us that God’s justice is not understood until you first understand God’s suffering love, a suffering love that has as its aim to make sinners like us whole and forgiven. A suffering love that took Him to the cross to die and rise for us and our sins. This suffering love is for people like the unjust judge, and it is for you and me as well.
This is also probably a good time to remind you that when God answers our prayers, the answer will be “Yes,” “No,” or “Not Yet.” Which is why we also need to say in every prayer, “Lord, Your will be done.” We do know that when the answer is “no,” and we really want it to be “yes,” that God is always here looking out for us in His way and by His will. And ultimately He will vindicate His people. The context with Jesus telling us this here in Luke is a reminder of Jesus’ coming back again. Things are not going to always go our way here, but there will come a day when Jesus returns, puts us in the new heaven and new earth, and everything will be perfect. Those things that hurt us will be gone, and we (and our faith) will be vindicated.
Time to sum up. Luther, when he teaches about prayer in his Small Catechism, says that we are to be confident when we pray. We “ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.” That’s the language of relationship. We are God’s children, and He wants us to approach Him, describing to Him the needs of our lives and the needs of others. As I like to tell the kids in confirmation, “We should pray anywhere and everywhere, anytime and all the time.”
I am reminded of my son Matthew, who has shown a lot of persistence. When he was big enough to move furniture around a few years ago, he noticed we kept candy in a cupboard way up above the kitchen counter. This was at “the old house.” I do not want to tell you how many times I got up in the morning and found a kitchen chair, with a bucket on the chair, and a phone book on the bucket, and a fork lift on the phone book, so Matthew could reach that candy. Marvels of engineering. Persistence to achieve a goal. Perseverance of the highest caliber.
So can we pray and not lose heart? Yes! Can we pray and not give up? Absolutely! For we know to whom we belong. Peter the apostle has said, “[Cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7). He does care for you and, unlike the judge in today’s parable, God wants to hear from you. You are His child. He loves you. So don’t give up. He’s listening.