Are you giving God a black eye?
Sorry, you cannot answer “no.” One way or another, every child of God does it. The only question is: which way will you administer it? We either give him a black eye in the way he pleads with us to do it, or in a way that disgraces his name before the world. Which is it for you?
In Sunday’s gospel (Luke 18), we have another curious, unique-to-Luke parable much like Luke 16. In Luke 16 we were challenged by how to emulate a scheming steward. Now the one standing in God’s spot is a compassionless judge.
Jesus’s parable shows us a judge who neither “feared God nor cared about men.” Coming before him is a widow who, because of her lack of 1st century social clout, would have trouble getting justice in any court. But coming before the aforementioned judge, this is “case dismissed” with no hope.
But such wasn’t to be the case. With relentless determination, each dismissal only fuels her fire for justice. Finally, the judge admits his defeat! She’s worn him out. He compares her incessant entreaties to repeated punches to his eye. Even as he reads into his private record that he still neither fears God nor cares about people, tired of the pounding he’s taken from her, he grants her justice.
Obviously, Jesus is arguing from the lesser to the greater. God is no unjust judge devoid of fear for himself or care about mankind. He’s not unsympathetic to our cries for justice against whomever or whatever threatens us. Yet, by the parable’s preamble, Jesus does urge us to imitate the widow as we approach our heavenly Father. He urges us to give him a black eye, to “always pray and not give up.”
But the need to speak this parable to disciples then and now lays bare the reality that I do not always pray and I do give up. While it is perfectly clear that Jesus is not telling us to think of God as an unjust judge who doesn’t care about us unless we pummel him into submission, yet the wickedly ironic reality is that I often treat God as if he were that judge while simultaneously refusing to persist like the widow!
How hard it is for my sinful nature to bow its proud head enough to acknowledge that I might, in fact, need some help in carrying the weight of the world (or the church…or my family). Then when I do pray, how quickly the whole process breaks down when I don’t see God acting according to my predetermined schedule and blueprint. As my heart fusses about justice denied, my prayers become cold recitation or silent altogether.
And by that I give God a black eye. No, not in the sense of what Jesus is actually encouraging in the parable, but in a distorted way as before the world I treat God as if he were an unjust judge who neither honors his own promises nor cares about us.
But Jesus didn’t tell this parable to highlight our skill at always praying and not giving up. He told this parable to win us to always pray and not give up by inviting us to ponder all the ways our Father is unlike this unjust judge – not to mention how much more valued we are in his sight than a 1st century widow in their judicial system.
The God whom you approach in prayer is the God who always honors his promises to hear and answer every plea you bring. He cares about mankind, enough to clothe his own Son in our flesh and blood. He cares about mankind enough to provide us with the perfect Substitute’s record of praying to his Father night and day and refusing to give up – even crying out from the darkness of hell itself! He cares about mankind enough to allow his Son to suffer unaided as if he (instead of me) had wickedly given him the black eye both of failing to pray and then giving up so quickly when I do.
All of this underlines also that you are no widow at the mercy of a 1st century court. You are his elect. You have the standing in Jesus of being known by name from eternity as his child and heir – and conspicuous by its absence is any record of giving him a black eye by our faint or failing prayers!
So how do we respond to that? Well, give him a black eye in return. No, not in the sinful sense, but in the sense that Jesus was indeed urging in the parable. Just as the widow kept on pummeling that unjust judge until she received justice, so we – by his own command and promise! – keep on pummeling our heavenly Father before his throne as night and day we cry out to him. And we do so not because wearing him out with our prayer punches is the only way to get his unwilling attention, but we do so in faith that he has, does, and will come speedily to our aid.
I know, measured by our stopwatches, God’s quickness to come to our aid often is not readily evident to us. Our hearts want to cry out that round after round our prayer punches seem not to be landing. But though God’s rescue is often hidden deep within his mysterious governance of his world, it is not in our Father’s nature to ignore any cries of his dear elect ones. Each prayer punch is landing squarely, and your Father delights that you keep at it!
So, pummel away! In these gray and latter days of injustice in a world running rogue away from God and headlong toward judgment, cry out for your needs. Cry out for the needs of your family. Cry out for the needs of your congregation. And yes, by all means, cry out for the needs of your country. For those in the United States, that means not wringing our hands about Donald or Hillary. It means folding them double fisted to cry out to God for justice from court house, to state house, to White House.
My brothers, you have no choice but to give God a black eye. Why not do so in the way he urges you to do it? At his gracious promise and at his repeated invitation, always pray and refuse to give up!