- What do you think this parable is about? Is it about what Luke says it’s about?
- Does the passage encourage prayer?
- What does the passage say about God? Is God the unjust judge?
My commentaries all agree that Jesus is employing a rhetorical device here that would have been common in his day. It goes like this, “If X is true, how much more true is Y?” In other words, “if even an unjust judge will heed the widow and do what is right how much more so will God offer justice?” That device may not be obvious to us on first read, but if you put the emphasis in the right place it comes out a bit more clearly: “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him?” The point, in this case, is that God is not like the unjust judge. God is infinitely more generous, compassionate, and responsive to the needs of God’s people.
The passage, given this perspective, paints God in a more favorable light. But, even if it sounds right, we have to then ask if it’s true to our experience of God. Have we found God quick to answer our prayers? Is it the case that our turning to God for healing, or hope, or guidance, or peace is consistently answered with a clear and compassionate response? Maybe some would say, “yes,” but I’m guessing most wouldn’t. I have found prayers to be answered, but often it’s in retrospect and in reflection on events that I couldn’t perceive as answers at the time.
I turn to Debbie Thomas a lot and her reflections on a website called, “Journey with Jesus.” This one however comes from the Christian Century magazine. She suggests that we put our questions about unanswered prayer on hold and think instead about what happens to us when prayer becomes a pattern of our lives. She writes, “When I persist in prayer – really persist, with a full heart, over a long period of time – something happens to me. My sense of who I am, to whom I belong, what really matters in this life, and why – these things mature and solidify. My heart grows stronger. It becomes less fragile and flighty. Once in a while, it even soars. And sometimes – here’s the surprise – these good things happen even when I don’t receive the answer I’m praying for.”
Here’s what I wrote three years ago when this same gospel lesson came up in the lectionary. I rarely ask for much in my prayers. This is what I do instead: I close my eyes and I say, “Eternal Beauty, Peaceful Presence, Source of Life, Sacred Love, Holy Spirit, God of us all,” and I say those words until the impact of each sinks in and I am reminded of the One upon whom I am calling. And then, I try to sit with that God. I sit quietly with God and I remember the love that surrounds me, and then, as I pray for others, I invite them into that love too.” I don’t know how God uses these prayers for others, but I know that for me there’s a shift. I see God, I see myself, and I see others in a less hurried and more sacred way than I’m inclined to otherwise see.
So, in other words, instead of thinking about unanswered prayers we might think about how it is we pray and what we think God has to offer. Remember last week we talked about the “poverty of God,” and how what God really has to say and give is God. It’s in the receiving of God that we are invited to find our answer.
But, I’ve also been reminded that we might want to be careful about the ease with which we identify with the widow in this story. Widows in Jesus’ time were in a difficult situation. They were not permitted to inherit their husband’s estate. Any wealth or property that the husband had went to the husband’s sons or other male relatives. Without the support of a husband widows were reliant upon others to take them in, which often landed them in situations of great need and poverty. We – you and I – likely have more agency than the typical widow in Jesus’ day. So, instead of being about God’s response to prayers in general this may actually say more about God’s heart and God’s will to lift up and love the lowly.
Another twist on the passage to consider is a possibility offered by a friend at lectionary group who said he heard it from Barbara Brown Taylor. What if we were to see the God-figure in this story as the widow herself. In other words, what if it is God who is persistent in prayer, persistent in petitioning us, persistent in requesting access, persistent in asking to be received. If not true to Luke’s use of her in the story, it is true to the greater gospel narrative of an incarnate God, and certainly in keeping with the creative, determined, and faithful love of the mother bunny from our children’s sermon. It is God who is endlessly finding ways to meet us where we are so that we might also become, more and more, who we are. And, what this means is to cultivate receptivity. Our job is to put ourselves in places where we are able to receive the presence of this self-giving God. This leads me to one more question that I would like to ask you: what are those places for you? In what settings and through what actions do you find yourself most able to experience God’s presence?
 The Christian Century, Sept. 28, 2016, page 21.
 NIB, Volume IX, page 338, Abingdon Press, 1995