The Message, October 16, 2022: "Are We Bothering God?" Luke 18:1-8

The Message, October 16, 2022: "Are We Bothering God?" Luke 18:1-8

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
October 18, 2022


“Are We Bothering God?”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Luke 18:1-8

            What is your favorite time of day? Is it your first cup of coffee or tea in the morning?
            Is it sharing lunch with that someone special?
            Is it the afternoon walk with the dog? (Or cat?)
            Is it when the kids get home from school and tell you all about their day?
            Or is it when the telemarketers, spammers and scammers start calling just as you sit down to dinner?

            The last one? Not likely.

            Whether they are selling gutters, storm windows, or want to talk to us about our extended warrantee on our cars, the telemarketers, spammers and scammers are a part of our daily lives! They call … and they call … and they call. They never stop!

            When we lived in Massachusetts, I received multiple calls every day … EVERY day … from someone saying that they were calling from National Grid. Of course, every time that they called, it was from a different number, so it was a pretty clear sign that it was not really someone from National Grid. But they called every day. Finally, one day I decided that rather than ignore it or just hang up, I would engage the person. I tried to explain that I was not even a National Grid customer. Then they hung up on me! And the calls kept coming. When we moved to Maine … the calls kept coming. Again, I tried to engage the person. “I know that you are a scammer but stop wasting your time on me. I do not even live in Massachusetts anymore!”

            They probably figured that I had hung up on them two hundred times … but two hundred and one would be the magic number! Or three hundred and one, or four hundred and one. They eventually did give up and stopped calling. Now I get daily calls about my credit card statement!

            Our Gospel lesson this morning is not about a persistent telemarketer or scammer, but it is a parable about a persistent widow and an unjust judge.

            Unless you work in the legal profession, or are obsessed with courtroom drama, you probably do not spend a lot of time in a courtroom. It is generally one of those places that most people try to avoid, especially if you are a litigant trying to settle a dispute.

            Unfortunately, that was not the case for widows in ancient Israel. Widows often found themselves before judges. In that culture, widows were deprived of the support of their husbands, yet they could not inherit their husbands’ estates. The family wealth and possessions were passed on to the husband’s sons or his brothers. Therefore, disputes between widows and orphans were common.

            That is the scenario that Jesus presents us with in this parable. A certain widow found herself in front of a certain judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. We do not know the nature of the dispute, but it was one that brought her continually in front of that judge.

            The First Century hearer of this parable would know right away that the judge was not a Jewish judge. According to their law and tradition, judges were to adjudicate disputes between Israelites fairly and impartially. Their responsibility within the covenant community was to declare God’s judgment and establish shalom (peace, welfare) among God’s people. They cared about God, they were in awe of God, and they cared for the people of God’s covenant community.

            Typically, disputes were settled by a council of three judges. One selected by the accuser, one selected by the accused, and one neutral judge. Those judges were steeped in Jewish law and teaching.

            The judge to which Jesus referred in the parable was likely one of those appointed or hired by Herod or the Romans. They were known to be corrupt. They were often called “robber judges.” It was said that they would “pervert justice for a plate of meat.” They had no concern for Jewish law or teaching. They settled cases based upon their own whims or the payments or settlements that they received.

            Jewish law required the community to care for the widow, the orphan and the defenseless. (Deuteronomy 24:17-17, Numbers 22:22-24) But this judge had no regard for their law. The listener of the parable would know that the widow was not likely to be vindicated in that judge’s courtroom.

            Until Jesus did what Jesus does … he surprised them! He turned the story upside down.

            In the story, the judge breaks the “fourth wall” and shares his self-realization, “Even though I do not fear God, and even though I do not care about these people or what they think, I am going to find in this lady’s favor before she wears me out!” The word is actually derived from language used in the sport of boxing. It literally means ‘to be punched in the eye.’

            He did not care about her case. He did not care about her story or her circumstances. He just wanted her to stop bothering him! “Fine, lady! You win! Just leave me alone!” She was vindicated.

            There is an old dictum that says that a parable makes one point. However, it seems as though Jesus did not adhere to that dictum, because there are multiple things for us to consider in this story.

            Jesus introduces this parable as a lesson in prayer. We are to be like the widow and be persistent in our prayer lives. We are to be faithful and committed to lives of prayer, praying day and night, praying in all circumstances.

            But it is NOT a parable about being a nagging child in our prayer lives. It is not about bothering God until we get what we want. It is not about begging for a treat.

            Prayer is not about ringing a bell for God and expecting that God will be like the bellhop or concierge, or a server at a restaurant that will hop to and cater to our every desire.

            This parable is part of a larger conversation that began in the previous chapter. The Pharisees had asked Jesus when the Kingdom of Heaven was going to arrive. Then Jesus spent the remainder of the chapter telling the disciples about the coming of the Son of Man. They wanted to know when it was going to happen.

            Jesus was saying that we are to be committed and we are to be patient. Be persistent and faithful. Because sometimes the answer to our prayers is, “to wait.” The time is not ready. Wait.

            And Jesus knows that there may be times when we will grow weary of waiting. Jesus knows that we may even get angry. But he says, “Continue to pray. Remember the words of the prayer that I taught you … ‘THY will be done.’ GOD’S will be done. Not ours. God’s.”

            It is also a parable about faith. We are to have a faith that will not give up no
matter what obstacles we may face. We are to have a faith that is determined. Last week, we talked about how we live in challenging times. We may feel as though we face an insurmountable task and all that we can do is chip away at the mountain before us. Jesus is saying, “Do not be discouraged. Remain faithful.”

            It is also a parable about the nature of God. God is compared and contrasted to the unjust judge. The judge had no concern or compassion for the widow. He vindicated her for his own purposes … to get rid of her!

            God is the complete opposite. God loves humanity. God cares for humanity. The judge is clearly not suited for the position, but God is the ultimate care-giver, the ultimate giver of shalom. God is intimate and involved.

            And finally, the parable is about caring for the widow. It is reminder of the need and call to care for the defenseless. Jesus wants to know: did you care for those in need? Did you help? Did you offer compassion?

            If we zoom out, we see that the wider context is the final lawcourt, in which God’s Chosen People … God’s children … will be vindicated by their lives of righteousness and service. Remember the final question that Jesus posed in the parable. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

            Will he find US faithful? Are we committed and persistent?
            Do we love? Do we serve? Do we care? Do we share?
            Do we face the challenges and obstacles of the world with the determination of the widow? Are we strengthened and empowered by our faith in God to do God’s work in the world?

            May it be so. Amen.


Congregational Church