On the Road with Jesus, Pt. 16: The Persistent Widow
The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

A sermon by Dr. Peter James Flamming, Pastor Emeritus
Richmond’s First Baptist Church
Richmond, Virginia
October 20, 2013

Luke 18:1-8 [link]


I hope you appreciate it and I think you do, the magnificent choir we have. I was reminded, sitting over there, why the staff calls that the penalty box. Because you really do suffer; you don’t get to hear what you hear from the choir. You will forgive my sinuses. I’ll forgive yours if you’ll forgive mine.

Our pastor has been preaching a series of sermons from Luke’s gospel entitled, “On the Road with Jesus.” When he called me some weeks ago to ask me if I would fill in for him that, this Sunday, I was of course honored, humbled, and delighted. He said, “You know, we are following the Lectionary,” and I said, “Yes, I know that.” And he said, “Well, the text will be from Luke, the 18th Chapter, the first through the sixth verses.” There was a time when I could have remembered what that was. So I got the Bible and I looked at it, smiled, gulped, because you see that passage and our passage this morning is in some ways, the most difficult in the New Testament to interpret.

Jesus is nearing the time of his death. His time on earth. And he has to get the disciples ready for that time when they can no longer come to him and seek his counsel, get his advice, and even receive his inspiration. And so Jesus is giving them instructions, basic instructions, bed-rock instructions, on praying. How do you pray? Jesus tells them through a parable there are two basic bed-rock, absolute necessities in prayer. Now there are lots of kinds of prayer, just like there are lots of kinds of people. But there are some basic things all of us have in common and so with prayer. The two basic things that he teaches us out of this parable are that prayer: number one, that prayer is about our needs; and secondly, that it needs to be daily. Needs and daily. Needs and daily. Say it with me. Needs and daily. Let’s begin by looking at the widow in this parable. I have a hunch Jesus knew this widow. And in that first century, women had no rights except through their husband. Women were considered second-class human beings and if the husband should die, she suddenly became a nobody. To put it in our frame of reference, she had no way to survive. And if the widow had no family left, no children to go to, she was alone. The widow had one thing that nobody could take from her. It was her middle name and her last name. Persistence. Stubborn persistence. She had one hope – it was the judge. He could release funds that were available. You see after a husband died, and the widow … You see there were no common rights in those days. No joint bank accounts, no joint inheritance rights, no joint property rights. All were in the name of the husband. And if the husband died, all of that money went into a community fund and it was administered by one in those days they called the judge. But it was more like a mayor and financial administrator than he was what we would think of as a mayor, as a judge. But the widow had one thing that she could put into operation – stubborn persistence. And she did it. She went back day after day after day until finally, finally the judge says, “Who-wee, I am going to get that woman out of my hair.” He must have had some. Well, let’s look at this judge. Let’s face a difficult question head-on. Is the judge a picture of God? Hmmm. Is the parable teaching us that God is as reluctant to answer our prayers as the judge is to answer the needs of that widow unless we keep coming back and back and back and finally get his attention? Is God so busy running the universe he doesn’t have time for you and me? And the answer is no. A thousand times no. That would be contrary to all of the teachings of Jesus. And furthermore, we need to realize that Jesus says some things about prayer in another place that would absolutely contradict that. Jesus said, “I stand at the door and knock and if anyone will open the door, I will come in.” The teaching of Jesus is this: we don’t have to get God’s attention. God’s trying to get our attention. It isn’t that we are knocking on God’s door but that God is knocking on our door. In Luke 11, Jesus gives them another comparison.

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion. If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more will your father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” You might ask, “If the judge isn’t like God, the person probably doesn’t believe in prayer at all, why does Jesus put him in the parable?” Well, that’s an easy answer. Take the judge out of the parable, you don’t have any story. You don’t have any contract. No drama. Jesus is going to get our attention. And he does. Notice also the difference between a parable and an allegory. Both of them work off of a story. But in an allegory, after the story is told, all of the parts of the story relate to what you’re trying to teach. But a parable is different altogether. In a parable, and this is true of all of Jesus’ parables, there is one thing he’s trying to get across. And all of the other parts just help the story be told. And in this, it’s that widow. And all of the other parts, especially the judge, part of the scenery as it were. Look at the parable like this: This is a story about you and me. There’s a judge and a widow inside of each one of us, spiritually speaking. There’s a part of us that’s like that judge. Hard working, admired, preoccupied with getting everything done, a guy with a list at the beginning of the day, determined to go down that list and check it all off. He’s a doer. A completer – busy, busy, busy. But there’s a part of us, a small in the shadows sometimes silent, part of us that’s like the widow. It’s the spiritual part of us. And it’s the part of us where God dwells. It’s the part of us that wants to be heard every once in a while. It’s the part of us we access when we pray. And that’s the reason Jesus is trying to teach us through the widow, “Look there’s a part of you that isn’t very confident. That isn’t always successful.” That is sometimes fearful. That doubts. That worries. That has anxieties, fear enters. We don’t show it on the outside. It’s there. And what Jesus is saying is, “What are you going to do with that? That’s part of you.” And, truth is, that’s the part of you that often gives you the most trouble. He’s given a way to handle it – prayer. It’s the kind of prayer that isn’t just memorized. It isn’t hum drum. It isn’t even using religious words. It’s a prayer that answers two qualifications: One, it’s about your basic inner needs. Second, it’s daily.

Daily, you say? Man, I go to church once a week. What do you expect me to take church into my life every day? No. I expect God would like for you to take prayer into your life every day. You see, this widow knows she has one place that she can get her answers. One place that can answer her need. And the Lord is saying, “You have one place. You are like a widow with basic needs. Why don’t you with the stubborn persistence of that widow every day take those needs to the Lord? And as the song says, “Take your burdens to the Lord and leave them there.” The judge was preoccupied with responsibilities and opportunities. Oh, my, is there a better word for our society than preoccupied? Our schedules, the advertisements that come out, preoccupied with getting our attention? Well, preoccupation is part of life but where is the breakthrough? Where is the crack in it? As for prayer, ask the average person on the street if they ever pray, and they will say, “Oh, my, I’m too busy for that. That’s for religious people.” And ask a church member who prays or should pray, and “Tell me about your prayer life.”

And very often, the answer might be, “I know I ought to pray more but I’m just so busy, I can’t work it in.” What Jesus is saying is, “You’ve got a choice." There’s a judge inside of you who is preoccupied. Has his list, goes down every day, does everything right. But there’s a widow inside of you as well where you hurt, where you grieve, where you suffer loss, where you even go with that. Jesus is giving you an answer that is incredibly beautiful. Prayer.

You can take yourself that you know that nobody else knows to the Lord anytime, any place, about anything. The only thing he asks is, “Do it daily.”

Is it not true that sometimes we just let everything pile up and pile up and pile up and then finally when we are desperate, we just WHOO! Turn it over to the Lord. If that’s the only way you can do it, do it. But there is a better way. When should you do it? Everybody has their own time. Mine’s in the morning. Whew! That’s the only time my mind and my memory is at its best anymore, in the morning. Shirley is really her best self in the morning. That’s my wife. And she’s an artist and a craftsman and such a good one. And when she’s at that potter’s wheel and she has come clays and she’s shaping it all up, and all that kind of… something inside of her just clicks in. And it’s time for her to praise and pray and to lift it all up. I don’t know when your time is. I know a surgeon that before he goes into operation, changing into his operative clothes, that’s when he stops and prays. Prays for the skill that he would have and need, for the patient he is about to face. I know a businessman who, when he pulls in to make a sale, has trained himself to shut the car off and have prayer. He prays for himself, for his family, and everybody else, and for the approach he’s going to make to the people he is going to see. That’s his place and time of prayer. Invent your own. But do it. And do it daily. Many are puzzled by the name, by the remarks in Jesus’, that Jesus makes. When the son of man comes, will he find faith? What in the world could that mean? Reminds me of the section of Patsy Claremont’s book, “God Uses Cracked Pots.” She’s just sent her six-year old Jason out the door to catch the school bus. She walked back to the kitchen what mornings do to a kitchen, when the doorbell rang and she ran to the door to see who it was, and who should it be but Jason? “What are you doing here,” she said? “I’ve quit school,” he announced. “You’ve done what?” “I’ve quit school.” And Patsy tried to remember some child psychology or something she had memorized for such a time like this, but all she could come up with was “starve a fever and feed a cold, ” neither of which fit. So she asked the logical question, “Why?” And Jason said without hesitation, “I’ve quit school because it’s too long, it’s too hard, and it’s too boring.” She looked at him and said, “You have just described life. Get on that bus!” Friends, we too can find life too long, too hard, too boring. Jesus told a parable that said there was a better way. Are you willing to tend to the widow that lives within you? And let that widow be fed. Prayer, dealing with your needs, daily, is the way to handle Jason’s answer to life. Will you take it? Jesus offers it. I hope you will. Let us pray.

Lord, God, we’re just folks. We have our own bundle of problems. But, Lord, you’ve given us an answer. A way to handle it. And a way to get your spirit and your healing and your strength within us. And a lot of us know that in our heads but we haven’t practiced it in our lives. Lord, turn us into pray-ers and help us to learn from the widow that we can take anything to you but we do need to do it very often. We pray this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Peter James Flamming 2013
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