Persist… Instead of a Black Eye!Pentecost
Jeremiah the prophet wrote to people who were in despair of their life and faith. Their nation and their temple had been destroyed and with it any hope that God remembered them.
Once again, we hear what was said to Jeremiah the very first time God called him, “Today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” God’s promise to reinforce, to build and to plant would be accomplished through the establishment of a new covenant with them.
Jeremiah alluded to the old covenant, the commandments, that had been written on tablets of stone or stitched in fabric and worn around their waist or on their foreheads. In fact, they had forgotten God and any promises they had previously made to God, but God had not forgotten them.
Jeremiah reassures the Hebrew people that hope was soon to come, a new covenant would be written in their hearts where they were sure to remember it and keep it close to their lives. The new Torah, meaning teaching, direction, or guidance, would become a living, breathing part of them like a second nature. God is in the business of initiating new and restored relationships.
The new covenant represents a move from commandments to conversation, from rules to relationship. The Hebrew exiles had shuffled across Babylon carrying the burdens of guilt of their broken relationship with God. But God holds no grudge and doesn’t keep score over past wrongs. God has not abandoned them, and God has not abandoned us. God’s solution was a grace-filled gift. “I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more!”
Walter Brueggemann suggests that “this newness is possible because God has forgiven, and this forgiveness offers a place of new possibility. Forgiveness opens the way for a new freedom to live in relationships once broken, because it welcomes the offending partners whose offenses have become in their minds an insurmountable barrier to relationship.” God continues to be about this new covenant, free of the sins of the past and complete with the promises of a new beginning.
Just as the Hebrew exiles had been distressed and discouraged, that also may be the story of the persistent widow who keeps knocking at the door of a powerful judge. The widow is relentless.
Jesus tells the parable of the widow as a lesson to his disciples. Under Jewish law, a widow could not inherit her dead husband’s estate. It would have gone to her son’s or her brothers-in-law, but she would have been allowed to live off of it. Apparently she is being cheated. The text indicates that the widow kept coming to the judge and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” Actually the Greek says that she does not ask for justice, but rather asks that she be avenged. It has the connotation of being vindicated or setting things right.
The widow models persistence in her repeated visits to the judge said to be one who “neither feared God nor had respect for people.” The judge reasons with himself that he needs to grant the widow’s request else she wear him out by her continual coming to him. The term in Greek, “wear him out” is a boxing term which actually means “give him a black eye.” This tough judge would not have wanted to leave the courtroom with a black eye and be forced to live with the reputation that a widow had gotten the best of him.
The powerless widow persisted in her plea for justice. But, persistence is often a challenge, especially when God doesn’t seem to hear us. If we want anything from God, do we have to badger, beg and wear God down? No, we do not have to beg God for anything. But unlike this woman, we do not persist in our praying. We are fond of instant messaging that gives us an immediate response.
When we persevere in prayer, our relationship with God becomes a living breathing expression of God’s identity in us. How do we deal with our expectations, when we don’t see or hear answers? How does persistent prayer become part of us like a second nature?
We are called to active hope. Persistence is trusting and believing that despite the silence we hear, after knocking there will be a response because God is listening.
Joe was my tough as nails boss whose perception was that I was not the employee who had the skill to do the job he needed to be done. He was relentless in his criticism, unbending in his distrust of me, and impatient that I had anything worthwhile to offer.
And yet, I was determined to show Joe that I was competent, committed to being a lifelong learner, and able to perform my job with greater efficiency. Instead of monthly meetings, I pressed for bi-monthly meetings. Instead of verbal reports, I supplied detailed descriptions of my work and the challenges we faced.
Joe eventually saw that I would not give up on my job and we formed a collegial relationship that would make a profound difference in our being able to relate more effectively. It took months, but I think Joe and I came to develop an appreciation for our differences, but more significantly, we learned what we could do together for the good of the organization. Persistence changed our relationship.
Walter Brueggeman writes about this parable, “I hope you find this story as stunning and surprising as I do. You see,we are too romantic about prayer, thinking it is a happy little time between friends. Or we are too cynical about prayer, because we do not believe anything happens anyway, so we go through the empty motions. But both romanticism and cynicism miss the point, that everything from God depends upon the resolve and staying power of the widow woman.”
What if our relationship with God was formed through our persistence? What if we kept coming back to God, knowing that what is being formed is happening in our heart rather than expecting a change in our external circumstances?