Jesus once told a parable about an unjust judge and a persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8). The widow, says Jesus, was seeking justice but the judge wouldn’t give it. So she kept at him, constantly returning to plead her case until he finally gives in, perhaps because he was tired of hearing her or maybe she was just taking too much of his time or she was making him look bad. For whatever reason, justice comes from her persistence, not the judge’s sense of justice.
It’s like that when you pray, says Jesus. Don’t ever give up on your prayers because God hears them: if even an unjust judge will give justice because of persistence, imagine how a loving God will respond to your prayers.
God hears our prayers and answers them.
There’s more. Not a “but.” More.
God’s response to our prayers may not be exactly what we expected and it may not be readily apparent, perhaps, but it will always be just. “Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you,” says Jesus, “he will quickly grant justice to them” (Luke 18:7-8). I think this story’s about a widow (very much a marginalized member of society in those days) seeking justice for precisely that reason. We don’t need the details of her story, only that she seeks justice. And she receives it.
Remember, too, that the widow’s persistence is more than words. She actively pursues the judge, in person, returning constantly and with consistently the same message: give me justice. When we pray for justice, do we offer only words and thoughts, or can we offer more? And what might that “more” look like?
I’d like to answer those questions with “yes, we can” and “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and I’ll do what I can.” Our prayers may be different, as our actions may be, because our contexts are different. But can we pray for the hungry without offering food? Or the thirsty, without offering water? Can we pray for the homeless without offering shelter? Can we pray for those who haven’t coats for the winter, without offering them clothing? Or the sick and the shut-in, without offering care and comfort?
A family in our community lost so much in a fire recently. People have offered prayers and contributed to a fund to help support them, the hockey team gave over their fundraising bottle drive to support them and the Fire Department’s town-wide collection for the Food Bank added an opportunity to support them.
Our community isn’t large, and the Food Bank is busier than ever before. We offer prayers for the hungry and we collect donations of goods for the Food Bank, at the church, with drives and directly to the Food Bank itself. But not just that, because a local farmer generously donates a cow. You and I can help by donating the money to pay for its processing.
It’s turning to winter and getting cold. We pray for those in need of shelter and clothing and local groups collect coats, hats and mitts to distribute to those in need of them for the winter.
Those are just a few inspiring examples of people and money at work. And that’s just locally. There’s so much more. Oh God, there’s so much more.
I think this parable is about the importance of “more.” More prayer, more action. More justice. More hope that our prayers aren’t just empty words casting our cares and concerns on God, but actively working with God and with each other to bring our prayers life, together.