The Gospel this week (Luke 18.1-8) has three important words connected to it: prayer, persistence and justice. The first two I know lots about and the last, because of its usage in parts of the Church these days, is something that makes me cringe. The word justice makes me cringe for one simple reason: most people don’t know what it is they are asking for when the ask God for justice. It gets applied to the personal situation and to what might be perceived as the unfairness of the current social state of the community, but that is not what justice is. What people are searching for is not justice, but equality. So let’s carefully consider what justice and equality might look like from a biblical perspective and then look at our own situation to consider how it might be understood and applied.
Jesus in Gospel lesson, tells his disciples and the Pharisees and the lawyers who are gathered around him talking, the parable of the unjust judge. At first I thought about pointing out the widow and how she harangued the judge until he decided in her favour. But then I remembered being thought that we need to learn what we can about God and how God acts and reacts, which puts the judge in focus.
So let me ask you, how do you pray? What is your thing to do? My normal thing to do is to come to the office and the first 20 minutes and the last 10 minutes of the day are spent in prayer – for the people I minister to, for the people I minister with and for other needs that I want to mention to God – things that I think are important both personally and pastorally. And I would note that there are things which I pray for a long time for as well as things that I have received almost immediately.
The parable encourages us to consider carefully the nature of God and how God judges people, situations and other things. And if we are going to do that we need to consider Scripture to hear how others have experienced God. Take the prophet Isaiah for example. Consider these words from Isaiah experiencing his call to be a prophet:
And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. (Is.6.4-6 NASB)
Isaiah went to worship and was allowed a glimpse of God for who he really was – he got to see the glory of the LORD (Elohim). Thing is, after seeing God’s big toe, he then was confronted by reality. Seeing who God was made Isaiah turned and considered himself and the life of the nation, he could see things he did not before. He saw the state of his life before God and the state of his people and the Land they had be given by God. It made him crumble. The passage goes on to note that his lips are touched by a holy coal from the altar and then answers the call to go and speak to the people what he has seen and what God needs to communicate with them. God asked, “Who will go for us, whom shall I send?” and Isaiah replied, “Here I am. Send me. “
What I take from that is this: we need to pray. We need to pray to gain the attitude of altitude. We need to spend time in God’s presence. And we need to learn to pray for what is requisite and necessary for the body as well as the soul. It is not so much about how you pray it, but rather that you mean it. We need to learn to pray and not give up because we are praying in the face of the reality of the coming of God’s kingdom. The world will act to preserve itself and its own interests because it is all about self interest and self preservation. For the Church, this life is more than just about having lots of faith or possessing the correct doctrine, (thought there is need of them both) it is about the pursuit of divine justice because in that is the Church’s hope. The Church must persevere through trouble and hardship wade through whatever besets it.
This does bring me back to the two people in the parable. The widow does persist in seek a judgement in her favour. So much so, that the judge who does not care about man or God actually beginning to worry about self preservation. He chooses to vindicate her in her small financial matter because he will be the worse for wear if he does not.
Consider then how God answers prayer: is it unfair that we have to wait? Why shouldn’t prayer be like a drive through window where we can order what we want an pick it up so we can get on with our busy little lives. Answer? There is a cost and there is a time. Somewhere in the middle of trying to get what we want there is a cost. Besides, a delay is not a no – what about timing. An answered prayer may take time to answer. Maybe there is something that God needs to do in us before a prayer is answered. Otherwise, how do we develop and grow as people of faith if it is not taught and tested? When he returns, will he find faith in the world? Wouldn’t you want to be one of those people? it is God who meets out justice because in his eyes we are all equal.