Persistence Toward Justice

persistence

Herb Montgomery | October 14, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


No effort invested in working toward a safe, compassionate, just world that is home for everyone is in vain. We never know what new concession from those who wield power is just around the next corner.


Our reading this week continues from the gospel of Luke:

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, Grant me justice against my adversary.

For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, Even though I dont fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she wont eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)

Historical Jesus scholars attribute this week’s parable to the Jewish Jesus although they also allow for the possibility that the author of Luke created the story given the overall focus of the gospel of Luke. The story only appears here in Luke’s version of the Jesus story. And the message encourages persistence.

The widow in the story demands justice. In the patriarchal culture of Jesus’ society, a widow had a fragile economic status, and the justice tradition of Judaism had ways of addressing that.

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in God’s holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5)

“The Most High watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but the Most High frustrates the ways of the wicked.” (Psalms 146:9)

“The Most High tears down the house of the proud, but the Most High sets the widows boundary stones in place.” (Proverbs 15:25)

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)

“Your rulers are rebels, partners with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widows case does not come before them.” (Isaiah 1:23)

“…To deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” (Isaiah 10:2)

“…If you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm . . .” (Jeremiah 7:6)

“This is what the Most High says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3)

“In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the foreigner and mistreated the fatherless and the widow.” (Ezekiel 22:7)

“Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” (Zechariah 7:10)

“‘So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,’ says the Most High, the Almighty.” (Malachi 3:5)

I share this lengthy collection of passages so that we can begin to get the cultural context for our parable: what we would today describe as Jesus’ concern for social justice. Working for social justice is at the heart of what it means to follow the Jesus of synoptic gospels. It is a central theme of the Hebrew prophets’ justice tradition, and it is to this tradition that Luke’s version of the Jesus story adds its voice.

It strikes me as very odd today when I hear Jesus followers making fun of or speaking derisively of those who work for  social, political and economic justice in our time. The Jesus of our stories was speaking throughout Galilee’s villages to communities whose entire social fabric was being impacted by Roman imperialism. This impact enriched the elite at the expense of the masses. In Jesus’ audience, then, there would have been widows who knew this story by experience. Jesus wasn’t giving them a spiritual focus on post mortem bliss to pacify them while they continued to suffer. Jesus’s story would have inspired them to continue, to persist, to keep on going in their striving for concrete, temporal justice. They would also have prayed for God to match their persistent efforts by making a way for them. This parable is about prayer for sure, but it’s not only about prayer. The phrase we read in the introduction is to “always pray and not give up.”

If you are working toward justice and you find yourself feeling as if  you are swimming upstream against our society’s strong currents, don’t give up!

Also noteworthy is the unjust judge’s motive in this story.

His motive is not fidelity to God or concern for what people may think of him. The judge in the story is concerned that this widow may “eventually come and attack me.” The language for attack here would have been used to describe slapping someone in the face or giving them a black eye. So the judge acquiesces to the widow’s demand for justice for fear of her demands might turn violent. This reminds me of the political motives that lead to partial victories of the civil rights movement during the Johnson presidency. Faced with the demands of the King’s nonviolent movement versus the potential violence of other movements if changes weren’t made, the government partially heeded demands for change. Nearly 60 years later, we still have a long way to go to repair the harm born from our national sin of racism.

The author of Luke ends this section with a reference to the “Son of Man” and a question about where faith can be found. Again, this language is not concerned with post-mortem bliss but with present world realities. The title “Son of Man” comes from Jewish apocalyptic literature, specifically Daniel 7. In Daniel 7, world empires are depicted as monstrous beasts that will one day stand trial before the throne of justice to face judgment for their atrocities. In the end, the son of Man comes and gives liberation to the people.

“But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High.” (Daniel 7:26-27)

So, from start to finish, the entire context of our story is  of establishing justice on Earth, ending violence, and restoring what oppression has stolen.

Lastly the question is asked, when the son of Man comes, will there be faith on the earth?

My challenge this week is not to switch tracks at the end and hear faith in terms of religious or metaphysical claims. Contextually, given the focus of our story, faith is synonymous with persistence in praying for and working toward justice here on our earth. It’s about concrete change in our present systems. It’s about persistence in our reordering this present world.

This week’s story moves me to do two things. In matters where I, like the judge in this week’s story, have the power to change things and make our world a safer, just place, this week’s story moves me to do so. In matters where, like the widow, I don’t have the power to change things myself, this week’s story moves me to make those with the power continually uncomfortable until they do.

I don’t know about you, but there are seasons when I get tired swimming against the various currents of injustice and voices that perpetuate them in our society, both inside of and outside of Christianity. I do believe it’s okay to rest sometimes, and we can accomplish more in the long run if we take time to rest today.

There is also a time to persist rather than to quit. My mother used to remind me when I felt like giving up, “It’s always darkest just before the dawn.” This week’s reading encourages Jesus followers not to give up. No effort invested in working toward a safe, compassionate, just world that is home for everyone is in vain. We never know what new concession from those who wield power is just around the next corner. Keep going!

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. What are some ways that you balance rest and persistence in your own justice work? Share some of these with your group.

3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

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The Pain of Unanswered Prayer 

hands folded in prayer

Herb Montgomery | July 22, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


“When we dont directly face the anguish caused because some of our most desperately wanted prayers are unanswered, the reality puts us in a state of torment. The conflict between what we think we are supposed to believe and the way things are causes a deep need for resolution that many never find. Some choose to simply live with the torment, and some of them are haunted by it. Others challenge what they have been taught to believe, and find rest.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, When you pray, say:

  ‘Father,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

  Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

And lead us not into temptation.’

Then Jesus said to them, Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.And suppose the one inside answers, Dont bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I cant get up and give you anything.I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:1-13)

For many people, this week’s reading brings up painful memories and deep questions about unanswered prayers.

The first portion of the prayer is believed to have come from the same source as Matthew’s version:

“Father, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come.”

Here, within his own cultural setting, Jesus is praying for a world where resources are justly distributed to all. Where everyone has what they need to thrive. In that patriarchal culture, the father was the householder who had the responsibility of maintaining a just distribution of resources for all within the household. No one was to have too much while others didn’t have enough. (For more on this see God the Father, Exclusive Othering, and a Distributive Justice for All)

I know the language of kingdom is also problematic, being both patriarchal and undemocratic.  Today, we live in different social contexts from the audiences for which the gospels were originally written. In our social contexts, we can use better language to describe a just world where everyone has what they need to thrive.

Nonetheless, what this language is attempting to describe is a just world order. This prayer is a patient expression of longing for some other iteration of our present world. It is a prayer that this world, with all its injustice, violence, and hurt, will be put right.

This context helps explain the next phrase that both Matthew’s and Luke’s versions have in common—that we will together all have our daily bread. This means that we will have what we need, not simply to survive but also to thrive. It is not a spiritual prayer but a physical one. It is concerned with the concrete needs of people living their daily lives in the here and now.

From time to time I hear pastors say that saving souls for the afterlife is to be our mission as followers of Jesus. They denounce being concerned with matters of justice and rights and equality in this life and so reveal their own privileged social locations here. Jesus’ prayer calls that gross other-world focus squarely into question.

Luke’s version changes the third prayer request from the debt cancelation Matthew’s version includes to forgiveness for sins. This might represent a shift taking place in the Jesus movement away from calls for economic justice to forgiving sins in general. I’ve written before on my preference for Matthew’s version and why in our context today Matthew’s call for economic justice and plea for reduced inequality and the year of Jubilee is more life-giving. (For more on this, see A Prayer for Debts Cancelled.)

After the prayer, Jesus and the disciples share an anecdote intended to emphasize the importance of persistence in prayer. The story is rooted in Mediterranean shame/honor cultural expectations and the social tensions connected to them. In that region it would be shameful not to show hospitality to a friend who arrives late from a journey, and it would also be shameful for someone to approach their neighbor to help show hospitality very late at night. The person in the story chooses to risk the shame of going to their neighbor late at night over risking the shame of not being hospitable to their unexpected guest.

It’s difficult for us in our contexts today to understand how deep these social expectations of hospitality were in this culture and how strong the sense of shame would be if someone failed to meet them. A host cannot bring themselves to deny sustenance to their guest and must thus ask for help, despite the inconvenience hour. Luke adds that the neighbor finally decides to help because of the host’s persistence.

It’s awkward to use a story about hospitality to teach a different value, persistence in prayer. But Luke’s gospel attempts it nonetheless.

That’s how this reading becomes problematic. Presuming that God is good and that goodness is the only variable in prayers being answered, Luke’s Jesus uses some troublesome absolute language:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

If only it were that simple. If only answered prayers were solely dependent on the variable of an all powerful, good Divine being. Absolutes like this have produced atheists when reality doesn’t line up with the teaching.

Because everyone who asks doesn’t receive.

Sometimes those who seek don’t find.

Sometimes the door remains closed in spite of our persistent knocking.

And it’s okay to admit this!

I don’t claim to know how God, the universe, or prayer work. What I do know is that absolute language like this, used by the author of Luke’s version of the Jesus story, has proven to be more troublesome than helpful when people experience bad things in their lives and the prayers we need answered are not.

In this month’s recommended reading from Renewed Heart Ministries, Nancy Eiesland quotes Nancy Mairs’ book, Carnal Acts: Essays:

The bodies we inhabit and the lives those bodies carry on need not be perfect to have value. Bad things do happen, we know—to bad and good people alike—but so do good things. Life’s curses, like life’s blessings are always mixed.” (In The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability, p. 13)

I find the expectation that some prayers may not be answered or are even unanswerable to be more life-giving in my own work of endeavoring to shape our world into a safer, more just, more compassionate home for everyone.

I never see the Jesus of the gospels waxing eloquent in Hellenistic philosophical fashion to explain why bad things happen and why some prayers go unanswered. What I do find is a Jesus who calls his followers to keep doing what they have the capacity to do to be the answer to other people’s prayers. Being someone else’s answer is something I can often do (not always). I’m going to have to accept that is enough.

Not all prayers are answered. And they are not all answered for a multitude of reasons.

Yes, we can say that. We must, because it’s true.

When we dont directly face the anguish caused because some of our most desperately wanted prayers are unanswered, the reality puts us in a state of torment. The conflict between what we think we are supposed to believe and the way things are causes a deep need for resolution that many never find. Some choose to simply live with the torment, and some of them are haunted by it. Others challenge what they have been taught to believe, and find rest.

I believe there is wisdom in facing this pain rather than living in denial.

It is in facing our disappointments that we begin to grieve and in the end our spirits are released.

Believing that everyone who asks receives can impact our personal well-being when we don’t receive. This doesn’t even begin to address how believing the absolutes about answered prayer can often relieve us of our own responsibilities to take action on behalf of others and sometimes even ourselves.

But I believe the path of healing begins not with believing that the door is always opened for those who just knock long enough, nor even with the belief that all prayers are answered, but instead with coming to terms with the reality that, for whatever reason makes the most sense to you and is most life-giving for you, sometimes we pray, and don’t receive.

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. If you feel comfortable, please share with your group a story of how you had to come to terms with a prayer that went unanswered, and how you processed that experience.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

Free Sign-Up at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp