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“Pray always and do not lose heart”

This morning I received the following message from KAIROS, an organization that is supported by the congregation of Newtonbrook United Church and the United Church of Canada.

Dear KAIROS Companions and Communities,  

Please find below a special reflection by KAIROS CompanionEsther Epp-Tiessen on the power of prayer and perseverance.  We hope that you enjoy it as much as we did.

In peace,

Caroline

“Pray always and do not lose heart”

In Luke 18:1-8 we read Jesus’ parable about a judge and a widow.  The widow has suffered some injustice, and so she goes to the judge to seek redress. The judge is not a God-fearing man and has little respect for others, so he refuses her.  But the widow is persistent and returns to him, again and again, asking for justice. Finally, the judge gives in and grants her request, not because he is compassionate, but to stop her from pestering him. Jesus’ interpretation of the story is – if such an unmerciful judge will eventually grant justice, how much more so will God grant justice to those who call on him.

Jesus’ parable about the persistent widow has much to teach those of us engaged in the work of public justice and advocacy.

1. Jesus’ parable teaches that it is good and right to seek justice where injustice has been committed.  Scripture insists that God is a God of justice; God longs to offer justice to the victims of injustice. As God’s people, we are called to be about the work of justice too.

2. The parable demonstrates that seeking justice is ultimately about people.  The focus of the parable is not the injustice committed – we do not even know what wrong was done.  The focus is on the widow, a particularly vulnerable person in her society. Justice-making is not about an abstract concept or theory, or even the latest burning issue. Recently, I helped to organize a seminar on global justice with university students from across Canada.  We talked at length about many troubling issues.  Later on, one student reflected that the most significant experience of the seminar was not the presentations and discussions, but sharing lunch with a destitute man that he met on the street.  Jesus’ parable reminds us that our advocacy for justice must be rooted in relationships with real people who are hurting.

3. The parable calls justice-seekers to persistence.  When I think of the persistence of the widow, I am reminded of a U.S. colleague of mine, Titus Peachey. Thirty years ago Titus and his partner Linda were serving with MCC in Laos.  They learned of the millions of cluster bombs dropped by U.S. bombers on Laos in the 1970s, and how the bombie fragments continued to kill and harm the Lao people years later.  Titus made cluster bombs his cause and began to work doggedly and persistently with others to eradicate cluster bombs. In 2008 an international cluster bomb convention was signed and in 2010 it came into force.  The work is not over – right now Titus is working to get the U.S. to sign on to the convention.  But much has been accomplished through the persistence of folks like Titus.

4. The parable invites justice-seekers to humility and confession. I suspect that, if we could place ourselves into the story, most of us would like to become advocates for the widow.  But I think at times we are more like the uncaring judge. Perhaps because our lives are so removed from the poor, we have lost true compassion for those who suffer. Perhaps because we think we know what justice looks like, we forget to listen to others. Perhaps because we are complicit in systems that oppress some people while enriching others, we are more of the problem than the solution.  The parable invites us to self-reflection, to humility and to confession.

5. The parable reminds us to pray always and not lose heart.  Seeking justice is a daunting task.  The inequities of our world are so staggering and the structures of oppression so entrenched, that true change seems impossible.  We grow weary, we lose heart and we are tempted to give up. A woman in a displaced persons camp in eastern Congo recently said to a colleague of mine, “We are weeping tears.  We are afraid the church will get tired of helping us.”

In such a context Jesus reminds us to pray.  When we live prayerfully we become centred on God, and we are reminded that justice-making is not about us but about God’s own persistent patient way of redemption.  As God’s children, we are called to seek justice and to act justly, but it is Godwho will ultimately redeem all creation.  When we pray always, we learn to entrust all of life to the One who is truth, compassion, mercy and justice.  When we live our lives in that prayerful spirit, we will not lose heart.

Esther Epp-Tiessen

December 2, 2010

KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives310 Dupont St., #200Toronto, ONM5R-1V9
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