Luke 18:1-8: Bothersome Widows and Limping Men
Back in the summer of 2013, like so many thousands of men, women, youth, and children who were fed up with certain actions being taken by our state’s General Assembly, I drove down to Halifax Mall every Monday afternoon to participate in Moral Monday protests. Over that summer I heard impassioned pleas, strident demands, fervent prayers, rousing speeches, and energizing calls and responses demanding justice on such issues as voting rights, the environment, cuts to social programs, tax changes, the Racial Justice Act, abortion, public education, and the infamous Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, better known as the “Bathroom Bill.”
One of the groups that were there regularly was The Raging Grannies. They would show up in outrageous outfits with silly hats and sing protest songs to popular tunes. One of them is in your bulletin handout, and it’s sung to the tune of “We Shall Not Be Moved”:
We are not, we’re not giving up! We are not EVER giving up! We know we’re in this struggle for the long haul — We’re not giving up.
Shoulder to shoulder, we’re not giving up Although we’re growing older, we’re not giving up We know we’re in this struggle for the long haul We’re not giving up.
WE ain’t sittin’ crying, we’re not giving up The Left is not dying, we’re not giving up We know we’re in this struggle for the long haul We’re not giving up.
We’re up against Big Dollar, we’re not giving up We still know how to holler, we’re not giving up We know we’re in this struggle for the long haul We’re not giving up.
One of the things that I loved about the Raging Grannies was they brought some much-needed humor into the Monday afternoon protests. They were clever and ebullient and fierce! I like to imagine that the persistent widow was a bit like the Raging Grannies! This widow has a fierce need for justice. Someone, whom she calls her “adversary” “opponent” or “enemy” has done her wrong and she will not give up until she has justice. Like the Raging Grannies of the Moral Monday gatherings, she’s in the struggle for the long haul. The unjust judge, who neither feared God nor had respect for people, refers to her as “bothersome,” or in Eugene Peterson’s translation, “badgering” like a pesky fly that keeps landing on his nose no matter how many times he swats it away. Finally, in exasperation, he does give up and grants her justice, not because he loves justice or cares anything for God or people, but because “otherwise I’m going to end up beaten black and blue by her pounding.”
The persistent widow stands unmoved and unbending in a great cloud of witnesses to justice before her in the OT, alongside her in the NT, and after her in those among us who still cry out continually for justice. As we read just a few minutes ago, the RCL pairs her with Jacob, who wrestles with God and pins him, refusing to let go until God blesses him. And God does. But there are many other voices in the OT who cry out for justice and refuse to give up until they win. The constant pleas of the persistent widow echo these voices that would not give up until their pain was acknowledged and their rights granted.
The voice of Moses crying “Let me people go!”
The voices of the daughters of Zelophehad, five women among the Israelites wandering in the wilderness who said to Moses, “Our father died in the wilderness; he was not among . . . those who gathered themselves together against the Lord . . . . Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.” 5 Moses brought their case before the Lord. 6 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 7 The daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying; you shall indeed let them possess an inheritance among their father’s brothers and pass the inheritance of their father on to them.
The voice of Rizpah, who stood vigil over the bodies of her sons whom David traded away appease the Gibeonites. Day and night she chased the carrion birds and wild animals away from her sons so that everyone wold see the injustice done to them.
The voice of Tamar, the DIL of Judah, who tricks him into acknowledging her rights of inheritance from his son.
The persistent widow stands alongside the men and women of the NT who also cry out for justice or healing or mercy and refuse to give up until they are given justice and healing and mercy:
The voice of Lazarus the beggar who calls out to the rich man for table scraps, and who rests in the bosom of Abraham.
The voice of Blind Bartimaeus who embarrasses the disciples with his cries for healing, and whom Jesus heals.
The voice of the Syrophoenician woman who persists in crying out to Jesus for mercy even after he calls her a dog, and to whom—after much badgering—Jesus grants mercy.
And she, the persistent window, still stands today, alongside millions who cry out for justice.:
She is the voice of men and women who will not stop crying #MeToo until all victims of sexual assault are taken seriously.
She is the voice of men and women who will not stop crying #BlackLivesMatter until we end the disproportionate deaths of black men and women at the hands of police officers.
She is the voice of 6 million moms who will not stop demanding that Congress take action to end gun violence.
She is the voice of the LGBTQ community who cry out for justice in the midst of escalating violence against transgender people, especially transgender women of color.
And she is the voice of each of us, when we join our voices to theirs in prayer for a world where the hungry are fed, the naked clothed, the homeless housed, the lonely comforted, the sick healed, the traumatized soothed, the disenfranchised restored, the migrant welcomed, the war-ravaged rebuilt, the exiled brought home, the tormented relieved, the voiceless heard, the invisible seen, the untouchable touched, and enemy loved. Hers is the voice we echo every time we come to God in prayer. and hers is the spirit Jesus asks us to bring to prayer, especially when we pray for justice.
Yes, we pray. We pray like those Raging Grannies who are in it for the long haul and will not ever give up.
And the good news from Jesus is that the God to whom we cry will hear our prayers and come quickly to our aid. For our God is not a distant, unjust judge, who has no regard for people. Our God is a loving and compassionate God, who is as close to us as the very breath with which we pray. And so we pray with the ring of justice in our voices, passion in our hearts, and the confidence that God will hear and answer.
Now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.