I could while away the hours,
Conferrin' with the flowers,
Consultin' with the rain.
And my head I'd be scratchin'
While my thoughts were busy hatchin'
If I only had a brain.
I'd unravel every riddle
For any individ'le
In trouble or in pain.
With the thoughts you'll be thinkin'
You could be another
If you only had a brain.
Oh, I could tell you why
The ocean's near the shore
I could think of things I never thunk before,
And then I'd sit -- and think some more.
I would not be just a nuffin'
My head all full of stuffin'
My heart all full of pain.
I would dance and be merry...
...Life would be a ding-a-derry
If I only had a brain!
These prayerful wishes of the Scarecrow from the musical "Wizard of Oz" take me back to a time of wonderment. A time of hope. A time that took me out of my small world and into another world of places and people and things that I could never imagine alone. These characters were persistent and followed a long journey of faith down the yellow brick road to the Wizard of Oz.
Our gospel today is the first of two parables found only in Luke. Both parables center around prayer. This parable begins by stating that Jesus wanted his disciples to pray always and not to lose heart. (Perhaps Jesus knew of a similar story in Sirach that tells of the power of prayer in relationship to divine justice.) The story tells us of the unethical judge who didn't relate to others, God or people, at all. A judge at that time was the most powerful of all positions in a community. Then we are told of a widow who persisted in asking the judge to grant her justice. The widow is at the lowest end of the society – no power, no money, no status whatsoever in the community. We don't know why she is deserving of justice, but the fact that she is confident, even brazen, about her request tells us that she has confidence in her position. After refusing to grant her justice, finally the judge decides to change his mind. In the original Greek of the New Testament, he compares her persistence to giving him a black eye, either literally or figuratively. So he wouldn't have to put up with her, he decided to grant her justice. Truly a David and Goliath story - a lowly widow, somebody regarded by society to be worthless, is able to persist and persuade and get her way in the courtroom of a powerful and mighty unscrupulous judge.
Some see the judge as God….but we know our Lord to be the initiator of all justice and compassion, not a hard hearted and uncaring God. This judge has no shame, in the first century Christian world, this was very socially demeaning - the sign of an empty, closed man. He is also unscrupulous, unethical, without a shred of decency or conscience – does not respect others and does not have the fear of God in him. In a word, he is a sinner.
So who is the judge? We are! We all fit this description at times – sometimes more than other times. How many times do we insist that we have it all figured out – we have all the answers? How often do we allow God to do God's work in our lives? How often do we ask, listen or heed God's voice? Do our lives leave time for God? Room for God? And what of God's "other" children, those who differ from us? We assume that the world revolves around us…how arrogant! Through persistent prayer, God calls us to be disciples… disciples for justice.
The judge then is not God, but all of us. Then who is the persistent widow? The way that the author of Luke writes, we are to believe that she is a poor, powerless woman at the lowest level of first century society. Similar to the widow of Nain, this woman probably had no significant male in her life to uphold her social position. What else do we know of her? Somehow, she had been wronged. She seems to be a virtuous woman, even at the bottom of society. And, she seems to be quite determined and passionately convinced of her right to justice. Whoa – is the widow representing God? A prayerful, constant voice – even nagging -in the judge's ear? Our ear?
God wants us to be in relationship with each other. God wants us to break out of our little limited world and engage with the larger world. God continues to speak to us, to wear us down, sometimes even giving us a black eye. God asks us to step out into the world and proclaim our faith – to take our words of faith and act on them…live faithful lives.
Then the unethical judge is us and the widow is God. God's prayer wears us down, forces us to finally acquiesce and do justice in the greater world…. for others. The widow's voice fervently prays that we look for justice…that we act justly…that we live faithful just lives…that we proclaim our faith through living just lives. That we be disciples for justice.
A wise Worship professor here at LSTC (Dr. Bangert) once said regarding prayer: "Be prepared to be the solution to your prayers". God has given us his only son, Jesus Christ, so that we know God's love through communication, or prayer, with him. Prayer is also God's gift to us, for us and all about us.
Some people admit that they don't know how to pray. I have found great joy in children's prayers. One of my favorite ways to help a child pray is to use the Five Finger Prayer. (show)
Prayer is our dialogue, our attempt to reach outside of ourselves. God doesn't need us to pray, but God has given us the gift of prayer. Unselfishly, with hopes for increasing our faith, improving our understanding. Prayer opens us up to new possibilities – that are outside our normal realm of living. Prayer expresses our desire to access God… to call God up and "logjam"….to be available and listen to God.
The Spirit is the voice of the widow…demanding justice from the unethical judge. This becomes an illustration of the power of prayer as the judge finally breaks down and finally does what is right and just. There is hope that he may do what is right and just again in the future.
Oft times, we hear people say hopefully, somewhat hesitantly, "The only thing that we can do is to pray" –– as if prayer is a weak substitute for meaningful remedies. This parable teaches us that prayer is itself a meaningful remedy –– that it engages God's power and makes everything possible.
The widow was persistent. She was sure that she was due justice. She had nothing to lose. She was even brazen about her cause. Some might even say that she had "hutzpah", like my Jewish mother-in-law. When we decide to "give in" and open up to God, this is the kind of prayer that reaches God. It's not easy. We like to be in control. We like to be accessible to our friends and family. We like to be certain about the questions in life that our children ask us. Many times it's easier to leave God out of our family meetings. We think "God is so busy, surely God has other important things to do". Sometimes we wonder if God hears us. The persistence of prayer will give us access to God just as the widow gained justice from the unethical judge.
The Good News is God intends for us to have a fullness of life through Jesus Christ. With the power of prayer, through Christ, anything is possible. We are given hope through God's Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us about the widow and the judge to encourage us to put prayer into action, live faithfully and do not lose heart. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"
We come to God empty, void of anything within ourselves to offer Christ. But we have been baptized into Christ and partake of his Body and Blood in living out our Christian journey. Baptism and the Eucharist are the gifts that Christ freely gives of himself to live within us and sustain us.
As the "great and powerful Wizard of Oz" finally disclosed to the Scarecrow "You've had it all the time". When we take the time to pray, to open ourselves up to God and listen, we find that we can do anything. When we focus on God and venture outside of our small worlds, we find that there is no place like home.
And many times, God has given us the answers before. Christ is our answer and He has been with us since our Baptism.