I don’t know about you all – but I am already feeling sick and tired of the 2020 election – and it’s still over a year away! Now, I consider myself to be a pretty civic-minded person, and I definitely think it’s important to engage in the political process, but this election season has been over the top. It’s only October 2019, and there have already been six primary debates! That is absurd. I am already seeing campaign ads all over facebook and TV, and even getting campaign texts on my phone. I went back through my email and counted up over 30 campaign related emails that I received in just one 24 hour period! That is waaay too many.
Even if you’re not that plugged into what’s happening with the election, it’s almost impossible not to be aware of it. The candidates and their teams are relentless about keeping their campaigns in the public eye.
And even though I am already annoyed by this election season, with over a year still to go, I have to admit: I get it. I get the passion and the need for persistence. I myself have even worked on a few political campaigns in the past – I have been one of those annoying people making phone calls and knocking on doors. Obviously, I didn’t do it to be annoying. I did it because I really believed in the candidates I was supporting, and I was passionate about the issues they represented. And when you really believe in something, you push for it, you fight for it, even if it means being a little obnoxious.
That kind of unflagging persistence is a theme that runs throughout all of our texts for this morning. In our first reading, Jacob wrestles with some kind of divine being until he gets a blessing. In our psalm, God, the keeper of Israel, neither slumbers nor sleeps. And in our second reading, the author of 2 Timothy urges Timothy again and again to stay strong in the faith and to keep going, even when the going gets tough.
But, of course, our gospel reading for today contains one of the best known stories in scripture about persistence: the story of the widow and the unjust judge.
Jesus tells us that this judge is a man who “neither feared God nor had respect for people.” His word is literally law and he doesn’t give a hoot whether people like it or not. We don’t know much about this widow, but we can guess that she was probably not that well off. As a widow, she basically had no legal standing in that society, no way to stand up for herself. She knows that she is fighting an uphill battle. She knows this judge doesn’t listen to anyone – not even God! – so there’s no way he’s going to listen to her. And he doesn’t… at first.
It’s easy to imagine that even this woman’s friends and family were telling her to give up and just let it go. Whatever this injustice was that she had suffered, it was obvious that this jerkwad judge was never going to help her. But she doesn’t let that stop her. Instead of giving up, she decides to lean hard into the saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” She relentlessly hounds the judge over and over and over again until he finally says, “Ugh, FINE! I’ll do it!” Our translation says that he decides to grant her justice, “so that she will not wear me out by continually coming.” But in the original Greek, this is actually even stronger! He says, “I will grant her justice so that she will not beat me black and blue!”
This widow is relentless in her pursuit of justice – and she is not about to let some judge with a bad attitude get in her way. She doesn’t lose heart, but keeps on fighting until justice is served.
Jesus tells this parable to say that we should be like this also. He says that, like the widow, we need to pray always and not lose heart. Now, one way to interpret this parable is to say that if we are to be like the widow, then that must mean that God is like the unjust judge – meaning basically that we have to annoy God into listening to our prayers and doing what we want. But that doesn’t exactly sound like the God we worship every Sunday, does it? The God we know is loving and merciful and patient. God is nothing like this jerky judge. Instead, I think Jesus is drawing a contrast between them, basically saying, “if even this guy agreed to give this widow justice because of her persistence, how much more will God be ready to listen and to do justice for anyone who asks?”
In fact, if God is truly like any one character in this parable, it’s got to be the widow herself. God is the one who works relentlessly for justice. God is the one persistently at work in the world, trying to bring about healing and reconciliation and peace. And even though the world is broken and bound by sin and resists transformation at every turn, God does not give up, but keeps on going. Even though humanity has spent thousands of years resisting God’s will and God’s kingdom, God refuses to throw in the towel.
When Jesus tells us to pray always and not lose heart, it’s not really for God’s sake so much as it is for our sake. We are not going to change God’s mind by praying for justice, or blessings, or whatever – because God is already on it! God is already at work in the world on behalf of the kingdom, long before we even think to pray for it. When we pray, we become part of what God has already started. We become part of the kingdom campaign. Prayer opens us up and helps us discern where God is at work – and prayer can move us to join in.
And before long, we start to see things happen – we start to see what God’s power can really do! For instance, every Sunday, we pray for the sick and the suffering, for the vulnerable and the hungry. And it’s prayers like that that open us up to ministries like hosting the mobile food bank, or volunteering to work shifts at the new food pantry. Prayer opens our hearts to be more like God’s heart. Prayer renews our hope that God really is at work in the world for the good. And prayer turns us into agents of God’s kingdom campaign, out to annoy this broken world until God’s kingdom comes and God’s will is done!
It doesn’t happen all at once – don’t get me wrong – it is often slow and frustrating work. And it can be heartbreaking when it seems like we pray and pray and pray and nothing happens. It’s frustrating when we invest so much of our time and effort and resources into doing God’s work and it seems to us like it doesn’t make a bit of difference.
But that is exactly why we are reminded so many times, in so many different parts of the bible, never to give up hope. That’s exactly why Jesus tells us to be persistent like the widow in the parable. And that’s exactly why the author of our second reading writes these words to Timothy:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus… proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience… carry out your ministry fully.
We are encouraged not to lose hope, not to succumb to thinking that our prayers and our good works don’t matter. They do matter. Because we’re not in this alone. We are all part of God’s much, much larger campaign of justice, and blessing, and love. We are pundits for peace, canvassers for the kingdom, campaigners for Christ! We are part of a campaign that will not stop until victory is won.
The 2020 election may already be annoying; and the candidates may be obnoxiously persistent in their fight for office and for what they believe in. But their persistence is nothing next to God’s. God’s kingdom campaign has been going for millennia. And, like a certain widow, it’s not going to stop until justice is won.