Text: Luke 18:1-8
Date: Pentecost XXI + Proper 24 + 10/17/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
She wasn’t praying for a husband, nor for a handout of bread, and certainly not for a nice suburban house, a second TV or a Mercedes-Benz. She was praying for justice, a just judgment in the face of everything and everyone that spoke against it. It is a complete misuse of this text to draw the conclusion, as so many have, that we are being told here that if we pray long enough, or hard enough, God will ultimately give us what we ask for, no matter for what it is that we ask. But this parable is not about praying for anything and everything, but only one thing. It is about prayer over the long haul, the prayer for ultimate deliverance from our adversaries, sin, death and the devil. It is about the constant prayer for salvation in view of the fact that we are not there yet. “Thy kingdom come.”
This parable is unique in a couple of ways. First, St. Luke tells us it is a parable; something he doesn’t always do as we have seen of late. Second, the Evangelist even tells us what the meaning or the point of the parable is before we even hear it, namely, that Jesus’ disciples must always pray and not grow weary or lose heart. Finally, it is similar to the parable of the unrighteous steward in that it is trying to say something about God through the backwards-image of an unjust judge “who neither fears God nor respects man.” The hoped for result of our preaching on this text will be if you are convinced of the necessity of praying and never giving up. This parable is about the Christian life between our Lord’s first coming to the cross and resurrection and His promised second coming to judge the world and deliver His saints, and how, until then, faith moves us always to pray and not lose heart.
The parable urges us, His disciples, “always to pray.” Now this “always” does not mean to pray unceasingly or constantly. Even St. Paul’s admonishment to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) doesn’t imply constantly verbalizing prayer to the point of stopping everything else; only the inner attitude of prayer. It also does not mean even just to pray a lot. It means just to pray—whenever, wherever and never refusing to pray, to give up or to consider prayer a worthless activity.
There are at least two kinds of prayer: liturgical, congregational prayer and personal, individual prayer. We pray together when we gather here as Church. We pray the liturgy. We pray for forgiveness of sins. We pray for the glory and praise of God. We pray the psalms. We pray for faith to be increased through the nourishment of hearing God’s Word and receive His Sacraments. We intercede for the needs and concerns of others. Most of those prayers we say together, using the same words. Most of those prayers are thought out or written beforehand and not “ex corde” (out of the heart) meaning made up at the moment. All of those prayers are said not only in the fellowship of those sitting next to us now but also in the fellowship of those who have gone before us, with the saints of all time and place. There is a lot more prayer going on here than there is the rest of the week in most cases.
Then there is personal prayer by which I mean, simply, prayer in the morning and evening, before and after meals, prayer in the various circumstances and challenges, opportunities and fears we face. Sometimes the prayer is complicated, even a little heated as when we are like Jacob of old or the widow in our parable wrestling and contending with God. Other times it is as simple as, “Come, Lord Jesus,” “Now I lay me down to sleep,” “Let your holy angel be with me.” To “pray always” is simply to pray whenever, wherever it is appropriate or it strikes you as necessary.
Many people have given up on the worth or value of gathering together on the Lord’s Day for prayer. We can list the reasons for which people have given up but none of them are “good” ones. No one can deny that we ever stand in need of the things for which we pray here. We still sin. We are still afraid. We still have not been delivered to the goal of heaven. Yet many Christians have given up on the worth or value even of personal prayer. Besides the excuses we might come up with, it could also just be simple neglect.
God knows what it is to “lose heart” or to “grow weary.” “He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:14). How many times were His covenant people of old a disappointment or unresponsive to His mercy? But His greatest disappointment was the moment also of His greatest love—the rejection and murderous offering of His only beloved Son dying at the hands of sinful men, our hands, for our sins and the sins of the whole world. As the hymn says it is our sin that brought about His suffering:
I caused Your grief and sighing
By evils multiplying
As countless as the sands.
I caused the woes unnumbered
With which Your soul is cumbered,
Your sorrows raised by wicked hands. (LSB 453:4)
Yet by that offering, by that death we have the forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life with God in the Day of Resurrection. God has declared it so in your Baptism; He declares it so in His Word of absolution; He declares it so in the giving of His Son’s body and blood for you to receive; and He will declare it so on the last day in the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant…. Enter into the joy of your master” (Mt. 25:21).
Until then, the one thing God does not want us to do is to give up, for God will never give up on us. The most insidious reason for giving up is when wrongly think the answer to our prayer depends on how long or how well we pray rather than solely, as we should, and as this parable tells us, on the reputation and promise of God.
In the parable the unjust judge is described as neither fearing God nor respecting man. It is even a little humorous that Jesus puts these very words into the character’s mouth, having him admit, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, nevertheless I’m going to give this woman justice.” In a rather hard sentence to translate or interpret, where we heard that the judge is going to give justice to the woman “so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming,” a more literal translation is, “that she not keep coming until the end and give me a black eye”! The word (hypopiazai) means to strike under the eye, hence, to give a black eye. If the child shows up at school with a black eye, he cannot deny that he has either been in a fight with another kid or there may be some abuse at home. Though our judge was said to, and believed of himself, that he was no respecter of persons, this little detail shows that he does have at least a little concern for his reputation in the community. And this is not an unimportant idea in the parable. For our motivation to pray is never because of anything in us, but solely because of the reputation of God’s stated will of grace to bless and to save. To pray thus is but only to take God at His word. In other words, never give up praying because God’s reputation is on the line. “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?” The expected answer is, yes He will!
It’s the same sort of thing as the Biblical answer to the old “evangelism question,” “Imagine you were to die tonight and go before God and He were to say to you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven,’ what would you say?” The wrong answer is in trying to find something in yourself and begin by saying, “Because I;” because I believe, because I wasn’t that bad, or whatever. The Biblical answer, however, is, simply, “Why should you let me into heaven? Because You…Because You promised!”
It is because God has promised to hear us that we pray. Because God has promised good to us, we pray. Because God has promised the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation to us, we pray with confidence. Is there something that tempts you to give up? God doesn’t give up on you! So we pray as in today’s Collect, “O Lord, mercifully grant that Your Holy Spirit may direct and govern our hearts in all things that we may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of Your name.” Persevere. Don’t give up!