The Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8)

“The Persistent Widow” by Ronnie Farmer, Jr.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (New International Version)

“God desires of us nothing more ardently than that we ask many and great things of him, and he is displeased if we do not confidently ask and entreat.”

Martin Luther

God wants us to pray! Prayer happens from a place of faith because to pray, one must believe that God is good and answers prayer. Conversely, prayerlessness is faithlessness. A person of little faith prays only a little. A person full of faith cannot stop praying.

Today’s Gospel lesson is a parable about not losing heart, about justice, and ultimately about faith.

Be Persistent In Prayer

For the Gospel writer, Luke, the widow, along with orphans, the diseased, and the handicapped, represent those who are dependent and vulnerable. And so, Jesus took a particular interest in them. (Luke 20:47, 21:3)

Widows are also presented by Luke as prophetic, active, and faithful. The widow in Christ’s parable, much like the other widows mentioned by Luke, is persistent and persuasive enough to get the justice she demands – even from an unjust judge. Her persistent petitioning is held up as a lesson in prayer.

Don’t lose heart and give up praying when your prayers are not answered as quickly as you want. No matter the prayer, we typically hope for and even expect them to be answered quickly. And if they don’t, we may get upset or discouraged.

“We must patiently, believingly, continue in prayer until we obtain an answer… Most frequently we fail in not continuing in prayer until the blessing is obtained, and in not expecting the blessing.”

George Müller

We pray daily for a variety of situations as individuals and as a congregation. Not all those prayers get answered in the ways we expect. Many times, it can seem like nothing is changing, or things are just getting worse. It is possible for us to despair in those moments and give up.

Yet, even if we do not immediately see an answer to our prayers, we need to keep praying. Even if we are suffering and seeing darkness all around us, we should not stop crying out to the Lord. And the content of those prayers is important.

Be Persistent In Justice

The parable is like a sandwich. The two pieces of rye bread are prayer and faith, with justice being the ham and cheese between them. The meat of the parable is in the ingredients of the prayers.

The widow is the vulnerable justice-seeker, and the powerholder is the unjust judge. The powerful and just God replaces the unjust authority’s reluctance, granting justice to vulnerable people who cry out to him day and night.

We are to persistently and passionately pray as Jesus instructed us:

“Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation….”

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:2-4, 9-10, NIV)

Jesus said, “Seek his kingdom, and these things [food, clothing, basic necessities] will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near, and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:31-34, NIV)

Be Persistent In Faith

Christ’s parable ends with a question: When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? In Luke’s Gospel, there are several folks whom Jesus commended for their faith:

  • A Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant, being confident that Christ could do so without even being present to do it. Jesus commented, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith, even in Israel.” (Luke 7:1-10)
  • A “sinful” woman anointed the feet of Jesus with perfume and her tears, loving the Lord despite the judgmental people around her. Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50)
  • Friends of a paralyzed man dug through a roof to get him access to Jesus, knowing that Christ could heal. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 5:17-26)
  • An unclean woman, because of a chronic issue of bleeding, touched the edge of Christ’s cloak, believing that even this small touch will heal her. Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” (Luke 8:43-48)
  • A Samaritan leper cried out for mercy, recognizing that Jesus is the Christ who could heal him; and then fell at his feet in profound gratitude. Jesus said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)
  • A blind beggar called out to Jesus, seeing with spiritual eyes who Jesus really is. Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” (Luke 18:35-43)

So, will Jesus find faith on the earth when he returns?  Yes, he will, but it may likely be in unexpected places — not among the religious professionals or the ones certain of their own righteousness, but among the outsiders, the unlovely, the unclean, the ones certain of their sinfulness.

Perhaps the best sign of faith is a willingness to persist in prayer, like widow who persisted against all odds in her struggle for justice with the powerful judge.

Conclusion

We must have faith in Christ, and not in faith itself.

If we are honest, every one of us who has made a difficult prayer request, mustering-up all the faith we can, and then being disappointed when it did not happen, has been hurt. The unstable person vacillates when this happens, playing the “God-loves-me, God-loves-me-not” game. The person of faith, however, believes God answers prayer, and that if it is not answered when I want, God knows what’s up and will answer it in God’s own good time and grace.

None of this is about the amount of faith. Maybe you have told yourself, or somebody else has said to you, that you don’t have enough faith, and that’s why your prayer was not answered.

“The value of persistent prayer is not that God will hear us, but that we will finally hear God.”

William McGill

Know this: positive thinking is not the same as Christian faith. Faith is neither a matter of optimism nor of sending $19.95 to some hack preacher who promises to give you the secret of answered prayer, along with a free gold cross.

Taking a lesson from Christ’s parable about the persistent widow, we can put aside tepid, milquetoast, mumbling prayers with hunched shoulders (i.e. “Well, God, if it is your will, could you help me?”) and instead, because of our union with Jesus Christ and our redemption in him, pray confidently and boldly. In Christ, we have the privilege and authority to do so.

Blessed heavenly Father, we praise you for the grace we possess through the Lord Jesus Christ. We rejoice in Christ’s teaching, the gift of faith, the privilege to approach your throne with boldness, and the victory you have provided for us through Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. 

We pray your mercy over our sins, the sins of other believers, and the sins of our world. We confess the sin of prayerlessness, faithlessness, apathy, complacency, and indifference to your concerns for righteousness and justice. We acknowledge the wickedness of our world through injustice, oppression, and exploitation of others.

We recognize that the kingdom of darkness has laid strategies against us, trying to keep your people from faith and prayer. So, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we claim our place as children of God. We smash and pull down all the strongholds which Satan has erected against humanity – and pray that the power of Christ’s resurrection would hinder and frustrate the plans formed against us. 

We, your people, accept the role of standing in the gap for others in prayer. In Christ, we are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. So, we bring all the work of the Lord Jesus Christ – his incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and glorification directly against all of Satan’s power in their lives.

By faith we pray for fruitful lives of spiritual abundance, social justice, and sanctified relationships in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Luke 1:26-38 – The Holy Spirit Will Come on You

Pentecost by Jen Norton

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (New International Version)

It is good that the Daily Lectionary has us considering these verses of Scripture outside of the Advent season. In this time of year, in which we focus on the Spirit, we need to remember that these stories, and our faith, are meant to be held throughout the entire year.

Most of life is lived in the mundane, even in times of uncertainty. For the most part, our everyday lives involve going about our business and dealing with the daily grind. That’s because we are common ordinary people. So, we can especially relate to Mary because she is rather plain. 

To put Mary’s life in our contemporary vernacular, at the time of this encounter with the angel, she is of junior high age but has never attended school. She wears mostly clothes from Goodwill, and occasionally can get some from Wal-Mart. She cannot read because girls of her day rarely did.

Her parents make all the decisions that affect her life, including the one that she should be married to an older man named Joseph. We don’t know if she even liked him. Mary lives in a small town that most people cannot even point to on a map. 

One night, into the bedroom of this young girl comes the brightly beaming divine messenger Gabriel whose name means, “God has shown himself mighty.” Mary stands there in her ratty old flannel nightgown, her life very quickly moving from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

The juxtaposition could not be more pronounced: a mighty angel and a plain teen-ager; a messenger of the Most High God and a girl barely past puberty; a holy angelic light which beams in a simple candlelit bedroom; an awesome power encountering complete vulnerability.

Mary, compared to Gabriel, is defenseless, fragile, and overwhelmed. She’s in way over her head. That’s why we can relate to her. We can get our human arms around Mary. She is like us. She has faced life with little power to make it turn out the way she planned. Forces beyond her have rearranged her life and altered it forever.

Descent of the Holy Spirit by John Lawson

Mary is the Matron Saint of the Ordinary. We can totally understand why Mary responds the way she does. Mary’s initial reaction to the angel Gabriel was to be greatly troubled. She was disturbed and shaking in her hand-me-down slippers.

The angel confidently told Mary that she had found favor with God. This scenario didn’t happen because Mary had some extreme spirituality. Instead, God simply chose her to be the mother of Jesus.

Mary needed to come to grips with what was happening to her. This was well beyond anything she could have expected.  Becoming pregnant with the Savior of the world was not even remotely on her radar. 

She immediately sensed the crazy disconnect between what was being told to her and who she was. After all, she was a plain ordinary girl from the hick town of Nazareth and was being told that she would raise a king.  Maybe somebody in heaven screwed up. Maybe Gabriel got the wrong girl. Maybe his Google map sent Gabriel on a wild goose chase.

Relating to Mary, we can totally understand that she would question how in the world all this was going to happen. Not only is Mary ordinary and far from royalty, but she is also very much a virgin. Nothing about any of this made any sense.

But, then again, this is the very sort of thing that the wild and seemingly reckless Holy Spirit would do.

The angel let Mary know that God specializes in the impossible. There is nothing outside of God’s power. There’s nowhere we can go, no place on earth, no situation whatsoever, that is beyond God’s ability and reach to affect divine power.

We very rarely get straightforward answers to our questions about God. Yet, Mary asked a question and got a straight answer: She really can be pregnant with Jesus because the Holy Spirit will come upon her, will overshadow her with power.

If the story were to end there it would be a great story. However, the Spirit’s work goes well beyond effecting the miraculous. The Spirit also brings about faith.

God has poured out his love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to us.

Romans 5:5, GNT

Mary believed the message and submitted herself completely to God’s will. We may completely understand if Mary simply said in her plain ordinary way that she was not prepared for this. We would totally “get it” if Mary pushed back on what the angel said to her. We could relate if Mary just dismissed the angel’s presence as a hallucination from using some bad chickpeas to make the hummus.

Yet, Mary not only believed; she also humbly submitted herself to what was happening. And this is what I believe we need to relate to most about Mary – not her being just a plain ordinary person in a non-descript village but stepping up to the calling she received.

We, too, have received a calling in our lives. We, too, have been given the power of the Holy Spirit. We, too, are ordinary people who have been given a very extraordinary task. 

Our response today can be the same as Mary all those centuries earlier: “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said.”

The Church is pregnant with possibilities because of the Holy Spirit.

We know the end of Mary’s story. She gave birth to Jesus and raised him in her plain ordinary way. She watched him grow up and embark on a ministry to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. Mary didn’t always understand what Jesus said or what he was doing. And she experienced every mother’s nightmare in seeing her beloved son killed in a terribly gruesome manner right in front of her eyes. 

Yet, just as the Holy Spirit was with the birth of Jesus, so the Spirit was with Jesus at his resurrection from the dead. Jesus lived an ordinary life in a very extraordinary way. Furthermore, today Jesus invites us to do the same.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Jesus (Acts 1:8, CEB)

Because Christ accomplished his mission of saving people from their sins and establishing a kingdom that will never end, he has given us the same Holy Spirit to follow him forever and call other people to follow him, too. 

To trust and obey is God’s only way to live into the life of Jesus. The Christian life may often be difficult, but it isn’t complicated. It’s rather simple, just like Mary.

Mary responded to God’s revelation with faith, choosing to fully participate in what God was doing. “I am the Lord’s servant” is our confession, as well. Along with Mary we declare, “May it be to me as you have said.”

Good and gracious God, thank you for giving us your Son, the Lord Jesus. Draw us into the mystery of your love. Join our voices with the heavenly host, that we may sing your glory on high. Give us a place amongst all of your saints so that we may experience your Word made flesh, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, in the splendor of eternal light, God forever and ever. Amen.

Confess and Believe

Welcome, friends, to this Christian season of Lent. Holy Scripture graciously communicates that everyone who believes in their heart, with a faith which bubbles up and come pouring out of the mouth, shall be saved. Click the videos below, and let us consider God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ…

Pastor Tim Ehrhardt, Romans 10:8b-13

Forgive those things we have done, O God,
which have caused you sadness,
and those things we should have done
that would have brought you joy.
In both we have failed
ourselves,
and you.
Bring us back to that place
where our journey began,
when we said that we would follow
the way that you first trod.
Lead us to the Cross
and meet
us there. Amen.

Romans 10:8b-13 – Believe and Confess

“The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame. ”For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (New International Version)

Confess with the Mouth

John Wesley (1703-1791) was an Oxford don who became an Anglican priest. He had all the intellectual tools to rightly handle the intricacies of theology and teach the Bible. Yet, when he first started out, there was no heart behind it. 

On a voyage across the Atlantic to America, Wesley spent much of the time on the ship with a group of German pietists – men and women who had a heart behind their practice of Christianity. The Germans deeply impressed Wesley, and he realized there was something important missing from his own religion. 

The ship encountered a storm and Wesley was afraid for his life. But the German believers seemed unfazed, having a heart-faith that John could not explain. He wanted what they had. Wesley was fearful and found little comfort in his religion. So, he confessed to one of them his growing misery and decision to give up the ministry. One of the Pietists advised, “Preach faith till you have it. And then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”

John Wesley acted on the advice. He led a prisoner to Christ by preaching faith in Christ alone for forgiveness of sins. He was astonished. Here was a man transformed instantly. Wesley cried out, “Lord, help my unbelief!” However, he still felt dull inside and little motivation even to pray for his own salvation. 

Statue of John Wesley as a young preacher, by Adam Carr, located in Melbourne, Australia

Having returned back to England, Wesley was in a church service listening to Romans expounded by the preacher. He recalled the experience years later: “While he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Believe with the Heart

Simply uttering the words with our mouths, “Jesus is Lord,” by itself does not create deliverance and salvation. The heart needs to be involved. Yet, we must also consider the reality that only focusing on the heart, without having the mouth involved, is an insufficient faith. Christian belief has a solid objective real historical base from which our hearts can tether themselves. Christian confession affirms that Jesus is, indeed, risen from death and is Lord of all, having secured salvation for us through his shed blood on the cross.

Consider two hypothetical men at the time of the Passover in Egypt: Eleazar Ben Macaroni and Yakov Yarmulke. Eleazar and Yakov are talking together on the night the angel of death is about to pass through Egypt and the firstborn son in every family would be killed – that is, unless the blood from a sacrificial lamb was over the door of the house so that the angel would “pass over” the house and no one would be killed. 

Passover Angel of Death, by Arthur Hacker (1858-1919)

Yakov says to Eleazar, “Can you believe all that has been happening around here?  It’s all very scary!  All of those plagues, the disaster around us, and now this night!”  Eleazar asks, “Well, haven’t you put the blood over the door?”  “Yes, I’ve done all that – but it all is still disturbing.  My heart is troubled.  What do think will happen?” “Will we be okay?” asks Yakov nervously.  Eleazar responds, “I trust in the promises of God; let the angel come!”

So, when the angel of death came, which house do you suppose lost his firstborn son: Eleazar ben Macaroni, or Yakov Yarmulke?  The answer: neither of them. The angel of death did not come to either man’s house because deliverance is determined by the blood of the lamb and not by the quality or intensity of faith of the person. 

“For me His precious blood he shed – for me His life He gave. I need no other argument, I need no other plea; it is enough that Jesus died, and that he died for me.”

My Faith Has Found a Resting Place, hymn by Eliza Edmunds Hewitt (1851-1920)

If we only focus on the heart, our hearts will condemn us. We need to say the words of our faith, to confess them with our mouths, repeatedly, again and again, until we believe them. We are not to wait for our hearts to feel like having faith and living for God, because our hearts can be desperately wicked, and they will keep deceiving us. The heart needs to be informed by God’s Word and accept the words of Holy Scripture by faith:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NIV)

Have the Heart and Mouth Work Together

We need both a right confession with our mouths and a right confession in our hearts for saving faith. When the heart receives grace, and the mouth expresses the beauty of faith – when heart and mouth work in concert with each other – something beautiful and gracious happens: 

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Romans 10:13

When Holy Scripture says “everyone,” it means “everyone.” All who cry out to God with their mouths, from a heart desiring God, will be saved. It does not matter whether that call is melodious, sweet, and in tune; or whether the call is a jumbled off-key joyful noise. It makes no difference; both will be saved. 

Only uttering the right words like some magical incantation does not save us. Only sincerity of heart does not save us. One does not achieve salvation through self-effort or trying to be worthy. No one is saved by finding the right combination of words in prayer or having a nice feeling.

Calling on the name of the Lord with both mouth and heart, trusting in the redemptive events of Jesus Christ, is what saves us.

Whether Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, American or Arab, famous or infamous, it is no matter – because salvation isn’t dependent on our looks, our past, or our zeal in doing good works. Salvation is completely from God and freely given to all who call upon the name of the Lord.

Make No Room for Shame

What’s more, all who trust in Jesus Christ will never be put to shame. In ancient Roman society, nearly three-fourths of all the people in the Empire were slaves to the other one-fourth. It was a culture built around the concept of honor and shame. It was shameful to be a slave, and honorable to be privileged, wealthy, and influential with a good Roman pedigree and citizenship. It was beneath such people to interact with those who served them because dealing with shameful people would make them shameful, as well.

Jesus forsook his honorable position in order to hob-nob with us rabble. He became one of us to save us and lift us up with him.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich.” 

2 Corinthians 8:9, NIV

Jesus embraced the shame of the cross. Therefore, we need never live in a state of shame ever again. Our hearts need not condemn us. Jesus has already taken care of shame, once for all.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3, NIV)

Put a Focus on Lent

The season of Lent lets us know we are neither brains-on-a-stick nor walking-headless-hearts. We have both heart and mouth, both deep feeling and real intellectual knowledge. Together, they form belief and confession. Lent is an invitation to prepare our hearts for Christ’s passion and resurrection. It includes an examination of our hearts so that we can deepen our piety and devotion to Jesus. And it incorporates confession of Jesus with the mouth.

The good news is this: Jesus is Savior and Lord; he has risen from death; and there is forgiveness of sins and deliverance from guilt and shame through is cross. When all is said and done, people need the Lord.

“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners,” said Jesus. (Matthew 9:13)

Repentance involves both heart and mouth. And Lent is just the season for it, to turn from everything we have previously been living for other than Jesus. It’s an opportunity to start afresh with new life in Christ. It’s enough to make old John Wesley smile from the grave.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Save me from guilt and shame and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Amen.