So our Jesus is at it once again, using a parable to reveal truths to us about the Kingdom of God. We have to remember that all these passages are part of Luke’s “On the way to Jerusalem” section. Jerusalem stands as a symbol for the cross and Jesus’ execution and as Jesus moves toward that fateful day, he is preparing his disciples for the time when they will lead the movement without him. He knows that his followers will need to persevere against many obstacles and hostilities in order for the movement to flourish. And this parable illustrates how important prayer is for dealing with the challenges and injustices we face each day.
One of the ways this parable is traditionally interpreted as by comparing God to the unjust and corrupt judge, drawing the conclusion that if a poor widow can constantly badger even a powerful but self-interested politician to get what she wants, how much more can we expect from a loving and gracious God when we make our requests to God in the same way. I think that interpretation is a little too “on the nose” to make sense for disciples today. This interpretation suggests that we can somehow pray God into submission in order to get what we want. I think we all know that prayer doesn’t work that way – that we don’t understand God to be a genie granting wishes, even when we are praying for others – even when we are praying for hurricanes to pass by, praying for healing for a loved one, or praying for the worlds’ hungry to have food. Our experience informs us that prayer does not work that way.
So, I’d like to explore the teaching of this parable from a different perspective. Prayer is not so much a tool to ask God to change our circumstances, but it is a way for us to search the heart of God for what it is we can do to bring God’s will to bear in the world. When you pray, and you ask God to bring food to the hungry, you are not asking God to intervene directly and make food appear. You know that does not happen, even though you may pray the same prayer over and over again. Instead, your prayer is an expression of your faith, that God’s will be done, and that you are open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance in doing your part so that God’s will is done; so that when Jesus comes, such faith can be found on earth.
So the lesson we take from the widow is not about constantly asking for something and receiving it from a reluctant judge, but it is a picture for us of someone whose prayer life is faithful, persistent and above all active in bringing about God’s will for justice in a world plagued by systems that work against it.
Psalm 42, itself a prayer to God, tells us: “By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” What a beautiful way to think of prayer, as God’s song to us at night, preparing us for the day of working in the steadfast love of God. The widow, out of her persistence, must have had that song completely memorized, a song that always rises up above the noise of injustice.
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Devotions for the Week Of October 16,2016
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Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.