To Plant

“To Plant”

Jeremiah 31:27-34              Luke 18:1-8


          Three years ago when I traveled through Indiana…Illinois…and Iowa I was reminded of the importance of planting…and the uncertainty of the result in harvest.  Farmers plant in anticipation and hope…but they know that factors beyond their control might intervene.  God plants…God knows the outcome…but…is it always what God had intended?

          Jeremiah told the people that God would plant new people in Israel and Judah…and that he would plant a new covenant on their hearts.  With just a few words Jesus told the disciple about a major part of their half of that covenant…a part that we too often neglect.

Jesus’ parable made a clear distinction between two very different characters…the judge and the widow.

The judge admitted that he did not fear God or care about people.  He failed a major qualification for a judge and apparently recognized no universal ethic outside his own self-interest.  And…his own mistaken belief that he would not stand for God’s judgment made him feel he didn’t have to render just decisions.  Some of history’s worst villains professed their love for humanity.  But…not this man.  He was truly incapable of rendering justice.

As we watch the current political campaigns and read the reports of the actions of some business leaders do we see others…like the judge…who are unaware of God’s idea of justice…or who are unwilling to grant God’s idea of justice?

Life had given the widow a bitter blow…just like Naomi in the book of Ruth.  Widows were among the most defenseless in Hebrew society.  The Old Testament tells us they were oppressed and taken advantage of.  Widows were also victims of laws and traditions we would consider unjust today…as was the case for this poor woman.  It’s quite possible she was one of those that Luke later described as victims of men who devour widows’ houses.  The poor woman didn’t want vengeance.  She just wanted justice…justice that restores.

There were few options for receiving justice or redress from a judge like the man Jesus described.  Perhaps the widow should have resorted to a bribe or a threat.  But her only recourse was a constant plea.  And plead she did.

Every day she begged the judge to help her.  The words used in the original scripture suggest that she confronted the judge everywhere…not just in the court.  She pleaded with him in front of his colleagues.  She confronted him on the street.  She pestered him in the market.  She called out to him at his home.  Her chances were slim with this godless…hardened…cynical man…but it was the only thing she could do.  Some of us might say…”the poor woman…this evil judge is not going to budge.  Sometimes there is no justice.”

For a time the judge remained unmoved, but eventually, despite his cynical resolution…he finally said to himself…”Even though I don’t fear God or care about men…because this widow keeps bothering me I will see that she gets justice so that she won’t eventually wear me out.”  Her persistence had probably embarrassed him publicly…given his reputation a black eye.

The lesson of this parable has often been misunderstood.  Many think that feverish begging in prayer is a virtue.  Many sermons have used this text to teach that we must frantically beg God to answer our prayers.  That’s part of what it’s about.

Here’s the rest of the story.  The parable of the unjust judge and the pestering widow is a story of contrast.  The real lesson is that God is not like the judge.  God is good and gracious.  And…we are not like the nameless widow for we are God’s chosen ones.  A distressed bugging of God is in fact inadequate prayer.

The judge was unloving…evil…ungracious… merciless…and unjust.  God is loving…good… gracious…merciful and just.  There’s no limit to God’s love…graciousness…mercy…or justice.

In the parable the woman was an insignificant nobody.  But…in life…as Christians we are God’s chosen people…created in his image and redeemed by Jesus…his son.  Because of who God is and who we are…there is no reason to frantically knock on his door or nag him for a response.

Some Christians think this parable tells us that our fervent prayers will begin to create a critical mass that God cannot ignore.   This imagines that God is something like the unjust judge.

Twenty-eight years ago C. Samuel Storms asked some relevant questions in his book…”Reaching God’s Ear”.  Let’s ask them…and do some evaluating of our prayer lives.

Do we repeat a request because we think that the quality of a prayer is dependent on the quantity of words?  Real prayer is simply an honest conversation with God.

Do we repeat a request because we think that God is ignorant and needs to be informed, or if not ignorant at least he is unconcerned and therefore needs to be aroused?  God knows and wants to know that you know.

Do we repeat our prayers because we believe that God is unwilling to answer and we must prevail upon him, somehow transforming a hardhearted God into a compassionate and loving one?

Do we repeat a petition because we think that God will be swayed in his decision by our putting on a show of zeal and piety, as if God cannot see through the thin veil of hypocrisy?

This doesn’t mean we should never engage God in fervent…begging prayer.  The parable teaches us that we must continue in our prayers…even when there seems to be no answer…because God…unlike the unjust judge…is loving…good…and gracious.  We persist in prayer not because we have not yet gotten God’s attention…but because we know he cares and will hear us.

Paul engaged in this kind of prayer three times…asking God to remove the thorn in his flesh.  In the end…the thorn was still there…but God gave him something more…more grace.

Over the centuries…and maybe in our own lives… many believers have struggled with the seeming silence of God to their prayers.  In this parable Jesus says that God answers all pleas for justice and does so quickly.  Jesus means that when God acts it will be quick.  It will occur on God’s timing…not ours. But…it will be speedy action when it comes.

We need to learn that in the seeming silence our loving God is answering…whether we see Him working or not.  God delights in answering his children’s prayers.

Sometimes the silence means that God’s answer is a loving no. Maybe we asked in the wrong way…or even though the request was good a better way is coming.  Sometimes the silence means that God has a bigger answer in store than we could ever have dreamed of or asked for.

Further…sometimes the silence of God is meant to instill dependence upon him.  Paul was left with his thorn so that he would lean entirely on God.  We are so interested in independence that if God granted some of our requests we would become self-sufficient…proud…and independent.  There can be no better way to cultivate a sense of dependence upon God than the need for persistent prayer.

With his closing question…”When the Son of Man comes…will he find faith on earth?”  Jesus was saying that continual prayer until he comes again is not only the evidence of faith.  It’s also the means of building faith until his return.  The God to whom we pray is not like the unjust judge who could only be badgered into responding…for our God is loving and gracious.  And…we are not like the nameless widow…for we are chosen ones.  Because of this…he delights to hear and quickly answer our prayers until he comes.

When the Son of Man comes…he will find faith planted…and growing…in us…if we have learned to live a life of constant prayer…prayer to a loving and gracious God.

God…who said, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”