The Fiesty Widow
I was a young woman at the Metropolitan Art Museum in NYC.
It was lunchtime, so I stepped outside the museum to grab a bite to eat at a food truck.
When I got to the front of the line, I began to speak, but the vendor looked right beyond me
And asked the person behind me, “What do you want?”
I honestly do not recall now whether I had mumbled or asked a question, but whatever I had done It didn’t matter—it was as if I was invisible, not even there.
I was infuriated. I went to a different lunch truck.
There haven’t been that many times in my life where I felt truly overlooked.
Generally I have a place in the social circle, money to spend, educated words to contribute.
But many people don’t have those advantages.
And even some who do eventually move into a category in society that is invisible,
Like my mother-in-law, who talks about how she feels ignored and discounted as an older woman.
In biblical times, widows were among those who were invisible.
Women’s economic and social standing was tied to men
Most Jews in first century Palestine were peasants and laborers, living hand to mouth
Once the man was gone in that family, there was no longer a livelihood.
Left financially and physically vulnerable, widows were erased to a society
that saw their worth only in light of their attachment to a man.
Jesus tells a parable about such a widow.
On top of losing her husband, some wrong has been done to her.
She seeks legal intervention.
The judge, however, doesn’t give her the time of day.
Now she is not only invisible, but also ignored by a corrupt judge who cares for no one but himself.
She has no other recourse.
So she simply continues coming.
Despite the worth assigned to her by others
Despite constant rebuffs from the judge, she continues to speak up
She demands justice against her opponent.
And finally, the judge decides,
“I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”
But the original Greek is much more colorful:
the judge finally relents because he doesn’t want the widow “to give him a black eye.”
The picture Jesus paints is almost like a cartoon:
Like a boxer in the ring, this feisty little widow refuses to back down,
“get over here, sonny!” to the hulking physique of the judge in a boxer shorts,
calling out the judge’s corruption and dereliction of duty, and demanding just treatment.
It surely was an unexpected image. But it was a needed one.
Jesus had just finished telling his disciples about ‘the suffering and rejection of the Son of Man’ And about the coming suffering and destruction of the Jewish people
Which would be like the flood in Noah’s day, or the fires that ravaged the ancient city Sodom. By the time Jesus’ words were written down, a major Jewish revolt had failed,
Which resulted in the Romans destroying the temple and as many as a million Jews killed.
Against this ominous background, Luke tells us that Jesus shared this parable
“about the disciples need to pray always and not to lose heart.”
In our times we can identify with the temptation of fear and hopelessness
We have our own bad news of war and slaughter of the innocent,
of corrupt systems and power hungry leaders whose aim seems more about control than public service.
It is enough to make you want to put your head in the sand, turn on Netflix, escape.
Sometimes that is a little of what prayer is like.
Prayer can create a monastery within, safe from the buffeting storms of the world.
Prayer reconnects us with the love and protection we have from God at all times,
Regardless of circumstance or outward fortune.
Prayer of this type fortifies and strengthens us And builds within us as individuals and as a community to understand not only our own beloved status But also the beloved status of all God’s children and God’s steadfast concern for creation itself. Prayer, however, can never be said to be an escape. True prayer leads us into a consideration of our place in contemporary realities True prayer eventually leads to action If we are to take the image of the widow in the parable seriously Sometimes our prayer may lead us to take initiative
in places where previously we have been shut out Our prayer may lead us to advocate for ourselves or for others who are vulnerable.
Our prayer may even lead us to make demands for justice that are vociferous and sustained, and actions that appear to some as troublesome, nagging, and inappropriate.
There are numerous personal applications of Jesus’ encouraging words on prayer,
but I want to lift up for you a corporate one.
For the past four years, clergy and people of faith in Greater Hartford have been praying
About the inequities they see in education, housing, and opportunities
which disproportionally affects the poor and people of color.
They have also been working—
building networks of relationships, training in effective organization,
Listening to the community and researching issues that affect all of us,
but have the greatest impact on the most vulnerable.
And after all that prayer, all that action, they are launching the Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance.
It you are interested to see the fruits of four years of 1000 people of faith praying and acting,
Then I invite you to speak to PB or to me—the event is a week from tomorrow evening
And we’d love you to join us.
Sometimes it is important to see that we are not alone in our prayer for a better world
It can be important to consider the breadth of action that may grow out of prayer.
The widow is helpful corrective to temptation to give up in prayer or to turn inward in prayer.
The widow and her tireless efforts are our inspiration.
Our prayer is more than a cursory offering of ‘thoughts and prayers.’
In this parable Jesus give us permission to pray boldly, to make demands of God,
to persist even in the face of apathy, invisibility, defeat
Jesus’ example of the fiesty widow commissions us to action on our own behalf
and on the behalf of others.
Jesus urges us to stay hopeful, because, unlike this unjust judge, God is just.
God is faithful. God will grant justice through the action of everyday people
—to you, to me, to the widows, to all God’s beloved.