THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
19th Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 21: 1-7
2 Timothy 3: 14-4: 5
Luke 18: 1-8
“Persist in the Word”
Hearing how Jesus has urged us to persist in prayer and the Word, how are we to approach the Word in our lives?
How are we to approach Scripture; to approach the Law and the Prophets; the ministry, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus; the Acts of the Apostles; and the epistles of the young church?
This morning we have heard the guidance of the Apostle Paul to Timothy, concerning Scripture:
“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work”
Being encouraged to approach Scripture as that which is not just useful, not just “true” but as the living and breathing Word of God, Paul encourages us to approach this Word for our training, to equip us, and to make us proficient.
These descriptions help us to reimagine our relationship with scripture; not as ourselves approaching any old book, but as beloved and faithful people-in-progress, being trained, and fed, and strengthened by the Word of God.
It is in this same sense of training and upbuilding that we have heard Jesus Christ (the proof of our faith and the designer of our salvation) openly encouraging us to approach both scripture and prayer with the zeal of one whose heart far outmatches her worldly appearance:
Jesus begins the parable of the “unjust judge” saying:
“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 [the unjust judge] 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.’”
It is fairly easy for us to imagine this scenario: if we place ourselves in the judge’s shoes (or “robes”), we can imagine ourselves as one who has no fear for God, no respect for people; no “morals,” no “scruples,” no “code of honor,” we can imagine that even if we were such a person, we would still eventually get worn down by a widow who keeps coming to us and pleading her case.
We can imagine ourselves eventually saying “THOUGH I have no fear of God, THOUGH I have 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 while that makes sense, we’re actually missing something VERY IMPORTANT that is buried in the details of the text. Something that is illuminated in the original Greek text.
The word that Jesus tells us the unjust judge used to convey this idea that he doesn’t want the woman continually coming and “wearing him out” is hypopiazo.
Now, Hypopiazo doesn’t just mean “wearing someone out” with endless requests.
It doesn’t just mean continually asking for help until someone’s resolve is broken.
Actually, Hypopiazo is a rare word to hear in any context outside of a boxing ring!
Hypopiazo literally means to “beat someone up,” to “give them a black eye,” to “wear them down,” to continually pummel one as a boxer pummels his opponent when he is on the ropes.
This is obviously colourful language, it’s language used for effect. It’s language that Jesus used to really stick in the ears of His listeners and to leave an impression on them.
With Jesus’ colourful language in mind, we should hear the judge saying not that he is worried that he will be simply “worn out” by the widow but rather:
“I better give into this woman’s request, because if I don’t, she is going to beat me to a pulp”
And it is in THIS WAY that Jesus says we ought to pray.
THIS is the way that we ought to approach Scripture.
Not as someone approaching a book of “good ideas,” but rather as a boxer-in-training who knows they are going to be made stronger by the workout they are about to do and the encouragement they are about to receive from the designer of their training.
It is in THIS WAY that Jesus says we had better persist in prayer.
This is the way that we need to persist in God’s Word and to continually come to him in prayer.
Not like a shy child who is afraid to ask a question “um… excuse me God… if you have just a moment…”
NO! Like a boxer! Like Mike Tyson coming out of his corner all power and speed and sweat “God HEAR MY PRAYER! God hear me praise you! God listen to my confessions! God hear me make my requests to you!”
Not just once but with persistence: over and over again, round after round, prayer after prayer, until we ourselves are worn out by the effort.
Jesus instructs us to approach the task of prayer the way a Heavyweight Champion approaches his opponent. No hesitation, no weakness, no room for doubt, just fast feet and flying gloves.
After describing the unjust judge and the woman; her continual requests and his fear of being pummeled by them, Jesus follows the parable with these words:
“Listen to what the unjust 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 the earth?”
“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
From our own perspective, we might say “And yet, why don’t we pray like a boxer-in-training?”
Why don’t we pray like a boxing champion?
Why don’t we pray like Mike Tyson?
Why don’t we pray like one with all the commitment and tenacity in the world?
Why don’t we pray… like our life depends on it?
If you do pray this way, I am beyond happy for you; for myself, I don’t think I have EVER lived up to the standard of the poor widow, of one who prayed with “hypopiazo persistence.”
I have prayed hard.
I have prayed urgently.
I have prayed diligently.
But I don’t think I have ever prayed like a prize fighter.
And even though it would be nice to be able to say that we have prayed with the strength and persistence of a boxer, this is really not the point of what this parable is saying to us.
In the centre of the parable of the unjust judge is a mystery, is a paradox, that at once illuminates God’s reality and draws us closer to him.
The paradox is this:
In the figure of the unjust judge Jesus has described a man, a dealer of justice, who has no fear for God, who has no respect for anyone.
And before such a judge, Jesus places the lowest and most vulnerable person there is in this time and place: a widow, a person with no power in the community, a person who has no husband to plead for her, and he gives her the character of a prizefighter, as one who makes her request so persistently that the judge is afraid of being pummeled!
Now that is not yet the paradox of the parable! The poor widow with the heart of a boxing champion makes for a great contrast, but it is not the paradox.
The paradox of the parable is this:
It is that for as devoid of honor and respect and moral code as the judge is, God is exactly the opposite:
God is both honored and honoring
God is not just respect, God is the spark within each person that makes human dignity possible!
God is not just one with a moral code, God is the giver of the Law that has freed us from captivity AND God is the Son who fulfills the law!
God is happy to hear our request
God wants only to be in relationship with us
God wants us to come freely to Him, through the Son whom He has sent to sympathize with us!
God is the absolute furthest thing from the unjust judge, from one who has to be pummeled into granting justice, and yet Jesus instructs us to pray like the widow all the same.
“Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?”
Pray to God day and night.
Pray with strength and persistence.
Pray like a widow with the heart of a champion, not because God needs to be bothered into giving you your justice, but because He does not.
Inside this paradox of strength and weakness; inside this paradox of un-justice and justice we are given a glimpse of God and ourselves as we truly are.
God is one we ought to pray to night and day because He IS swift to give justice.
Likewise, we are people who ought to approach God boldly BECAUSE this God has placed such faith in our hearts.
This is the STORY (of justice and love, of faith and deliverance) that the Gospel of Christ invites us to live into.
Throughout the four Gospels, Jesus told a total of 37 different parables.
37 different stories.
37 different glimpses of the Kingdom of God.
37 opportunities to see God and ourselves as we truly are.
Faith in Christ is not so much about believing that the good things we pray for will be granted to us without delay; rather, faith in Christ is about living by these STORIES.
Living faithfully means living in a world of Good Samaritans, of Mustard Seeds, of Sheep that are lost and found, of Prodigal Sons; it means living in a world where we are destined not to be forgotten, not to be lost, not be left at the side of the road, not to fall on rocky soil, but to be destined for The Great Banquet that has been prepared for us.
In the parables and in the Gospels and in the person of Jesus Christ we are given a choice:
A choice to not live as those with no fear of God and no respect for anyone, but rather to live as those who know God and are known by God, to live as those who have been saved, to live as those who are not just remembered, not just cared for, but loved with a love that was there at the beginning of creation and will be until the end of the age.
Through the gift of faith, God has given us not only the stories but the faith itself that is necessary to believe in such stories and the world that they point to.
As we remember Paul’s words to Timothy, that all Scripture has it’s purpose: for “teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” we find that in the parable we have read this morning, Christ has not only taught us, not only corrected our selfish desires, not only trained us for righteousness, but trained us for the very task of reading, interpreting, and praying through Scripture itself!
In imaging the unjust judge and the widow who would not cease in her request for justice, we have been shown a reverse image of God:
Whereas the unjust judge lived a life of pure selfishness and conditional relationships: a life where even the pleas of the widow could move his heart no more than to be concerned with his own wellbeing, God demonstrates Himself in the infinite and Unconditional love of Christ.
In the love of a teacher who taught all who would listen that theirs was a just and boundlessly-loving God; in the love of a savior who never stopped pointing upwards to His Father to show us from whom our salvation would come; and in the love of a champion who took all the blows and pain that sin could deal to Him and did not yield in His unfailing love for us and his desire to set us free.
At the risk of exhausting the boxing metaphor that Jesus has invited us into, Christ encourages us to stand before not only scripture (our spiritual exercise), not only Himself (our coach and advocate), but also the empty cross.
The empty cross stands as the evidence of our salvation.
It is the ring in which the Son of Man undertook a match with sin and won the championship of our souls! Not with flying fists, but with a self-sacrificial love.
This same Son of Man, this same Jesus Christ, is not only our hero, not only our coach, not only our friend, but the champion who has won our salvation.
Each person who calls on the name of Jesus has been washed in the blood of his victory.
Each of us has been shown a world of paradox and otherworldly love in which the end of one man’s life on the cross meant the revelation of eternal life for everyone who would have faith in Him!
In crying out His final breath to God, in fulfilling the Law and the Prophets, in gathering us into the covenant written in His blood, Christ has made us able to BOLDLY APPROACH God: the God of Scripture, the God of unconditional love, the God of eternal Communion and fellowship.
In Christ we have been given everything: the encouragement to persist, the promise of eternal life, the access to the throne, the answer to the life-giving questions that Scripture has placed in our hearts; we have been remade into a NEW CREATION that both knows and is known by the God of all Scripture and Prayer and faithfulness.
“And yet,” (Jesus asks us) “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”
This rhetorical question, as haunting as it seems, is actually the second life-giving paradox we have heard in this morning’s short Gospel reading.
As Jesus Christ, the Word Made Flesh, the Son of Man, asks this question, He also reveals the answer.
“When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”
The response that Jesus has given us the freedom to proclaim is as joyful and as life-giving as to make us pray out with the same passion as the widow who made her petitions with the persistence of a boxing champion.
Lord you know! Lord you know because you are right now giving us such faith!
Lord you know because in the teaching of this parable, you have given us the courage to pray like those with all the power and persistence of a poor widow! You have given us the faith to cry out to God with all assurance that He not only hears but responds without delay! Lord you know because you have taught us and loved us written your Word on our hearts!
Lord you know because in instructing us in the Word and in giving us the faith to believe in the world you are right now bringing about, you have given us a heart that desires your justice and your peace.
You have given us a heart that cries out not for what we want but rather for what you are shaping in us and the world; a heart that cries out for your justice, a heart that cries out for your peace, a heart that cries out for your mercy, a heart that cries out for YOU, O Lord.
In moving within our hearts, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ has taught us how to pray with hypopiazo; He has taught us how to pray in such a way that when the Son of Man comes, He will indeed find the faith He has won for the earth.