Many biblical commentators will tell you that Jesus told this parable to educate his disciples about the value of persistence. I remember once reading about a man who was the very heart and soul of persistence in the face of repeated disappointment and seemingly insurmountable odds. He came from modest means. He was largely self-educated and had a heart for service. It is said that he failed in business when he was 23 years old. He was defeated in his run for the state legislature the same year. He tried starting another business, but it also failed. He was 26 and engaged to be married, but his fiancée died, causing him to have a nervous breakdown. At age 34, he ran for congress and was defeated. He tried again a couple of years later and was defeated again. He tried running for the U.S. Senate when he was 45… and lost. The next year, he ran for Vice President… and lost. Is this ringing any bells? He was defeated a second time when he ran for the U.S. Senate at age 50. But in 1860, at the age of 51, Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States of America. I suppose it could be said that the difference between history’s boldest accomplishments and its most staggering failures is often, simply, persistence… the will to persevere.
But I’m not so sure that Jesus’ main purpose in relating the parable in our Gospel story today was simply to extol the virtues of persistence… or even of prayer, though that would seem to be Luke’s take on it. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own struggles and priorities that the lesson in the parable becomes all about us. But this is not simply a story about us. This is not simply the story of a widow in pursuit of justice, or of the ungodly judge who was eventually compelled to do the right thing. Sure, persistence can be a good thing, and we should all seek justice, but we miss the point when we stop listening when the widow achieves her vindication.
Jesus goes on to say that, even this poor excuse for a judge eventually did the right thing… even if it was for the wrong reason, and the widow received what was due her. And if this is so, then how much more will the Judge of all mankind, who cares for each of us as beloved sons and daughters, give us what we need in due course. This parable is not about our own feeble efforts to justify ourselves before God Almighty, this parable teaches us to have faith in God’s faithfulness.
I guess the thing that most strikes me about our Gospel lesson today is Jesus’ heartfelt question at the end of the passage. After the Creation and the Fall, after God’s covenants with Abraham and Moses and David, and after the New Covenant brought by Emmanuel: God with us, and all that that entails, Jesus asks, “[W]hen the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Ouch! …that the Savior and Redeemer of the world should need to ask such a question. It makes me squirm a little. How about you?
Scholars have questioned Abraham Lincoln’s faith: was he even a Christian at all? Certainly, Lincoln did not wear his faith on his sleeve. Perhaps that’s a good thing in a President. But I believe that he “tipped his hand” just a little bit as he prepared to leave Illinois for Washington, DC in February of 1861 as he said goodbye to friends and colleagues who had gathered to wish him success as President. And this is what Abe Lincoln said, it was almost a benediction… he said: “Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”
Perhaps we can take a measure of comfort and solace from Lincoln’s words of encouragement to his friends during the lead-up to one of the most difficult periods of American history as we navigate our own “silly season” of politics and conflict, hoping for a future that is better than the current reality we have created for ourselves. So, pray always. Pray for justice… pray for peace… but above all, pray for faith in God’s almighty Providence as we navigate the rocks and shoals of this life, striving to prepare ourselves and our broken world for the coming of the Son of Man. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!