Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And 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, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:1-8
Kentucky has just completed a two-week stint as host of the World Equestrian Games. Amazing human and equine athletes competed for prizes and recognition in events like dressage, jumping, reining and vaulting. I had the delight of being on the grounds a couple of days and watching a few of the events on television. Every event has a host of judges. Sometimes, judging is fairly objective: if a horse bumps into a jump, points are deducted. In other cases, a judge has to decide if one horse’s moves are more elegant than another’s, a far more difficult and subjective call. I suppose someone who feels that the judging was unfair can make a complaint later, but I’ve not heard of rulings being changed.
I also attended a football game last weekend. There, complaining is simply a part of the action. Receivers point to a defender in hopes of getting a “pass interference” call. Fans yell. Coaches jump up and down on the sidelines. Referees are steely and resolved, although on occasion a call is changed on review. The job of refereeing a sport is to be careful not to listen.
The woman in Jesus’ parable must seem very loud and whiney to the judge. Some unnamed injustice has occurred, and she needs resolution. As a woman, and a widow to boot, she is practically powerless in that time and place. Her only power is her persistent complaining, her constant reminders to the judge that she won’t go away. When he finally realizes that ignoring her won’t work, he gives her the just resolution she wants and deserves.
Jesus isn’t saying that God is like this guy who refuses to listen except when he’s pestered. On the contrary, God is so much more than that. God listens and cares.
The parable ends with this strange question: When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
It’s not a very satisfying story, is it?
Maybe this is it: when we seem to have the least power—that is when God is listening the hardest. God hears the heartbeat of the parent who sits worried by the bed of a child who isn’t getting well. God hears the frustrated mumbling of the man who shuffles down the street in too-thin clothes on a cold night because he is afraid to go to a shelter. God hears the anxious prayer of the grandmother who works two jobs to feed the grandchildren who live with her. God hears the lonely footsteps of the widower through an empty home.
The God who hears is as unlike the judge of the parable as is possible. Instead of closing ears and heart to the longings of those in trouble, God is open, receptive, empathic. And—what a concept!—faith is found wherever the troubled continue to trouble God with our prayers and worries.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2010