This text is one that I think has had much harm done to it over the years by overly pious preachers and translators. They promise things that Jesus himself is contradicting. And their promises often make God out to be a monster and a liar. I don’t know if I manage to do it, but I hoped to set it straight. The persistent widow is not a tale about how we should pester God. That oddly feeds into a prosperity gospel trope of “asking consistently and believing”. Instead it is much more specific. What is she asking for? Justice? When does Justice for the Christian happen? At the return of Jesus. Until then we live in the now and not yet. The Kingdom is now ours; it has not yet been fully revealed. Hence we persevere is asking “deliver us from evil”. And we do that because we have faith in the one who promised. Because the Character of God is not one that needs pestering, but one slow to anger and abounding is steadfast love. Persistence in prayer is just outward proof of persistence in faith.
Have you ever read a biblical passage that just doesn’t make sense or maybe I should say makes sense in very bad ways? Then this sermon is for you. This text is one that has often struck me wrong and is one that when I pushed or heard others ask question the explanations would just “keep digging.” When I hit a passage like this I typically find one of three things: 1) the translators have chosen a particular word or phrase that carries the wrong connotations or ignores the larger context, 2) the cultural assumptions of the writers are just different than ours or 3) I have a sin problem that is more or less directly being addressed by the text. In the first two categories it is not that our English translations are bad, we should just recognize that the task of translation is an art. With this text I think it falls into my first category. So, this sermon starts with my problem, which I think would probably be familiar, and attempts to think our way to something that doesn’t make Jesus a liar or the Father a cretin. Hopefully the path is full of the gospel, helping us not to lose heart.
Worship note: I’ve left in our final hymn of the day. Lutheran Service Book 652 – Father, We Thank Thee. The text is from the Didache, the earliest catechism of the church from the 2nd century. I left it in because I think it captured the two main points almost perfectly: 1) the Father that Jesus reveals is full of compassion for the sinner and 2) that we do not lose heart by staying connected in prayer. The second verse is a mighty example of the prayer “your Kingdom come”.