Imagine you were all alone with no one to help you. Imagine you had no one to watch out for you or protect you. Imagine you were at the mercy of everyone around you, not knowing who you could trust. Imagine you had nothing and no one.
This was the situation of widows in Jesus’ time. Without a husband, they had no legal standing in the community. They could not serve as witnesses in trials. They were left with no rights at all. They had to trust in others to help them. They had no one to provide for them, support them or defend them when they were wronged.
This explains the behavior of the widow in today’s parable. She was seeking justice and no one was willing to give it to her. The judge who was hearing her case was corrupt so he would render a verdict in favor of the side that offered him the biggest bribe. However, this widow had no money to give him. She could not even afford a lawyer to represent her. All she had was her persistence. If all else failed she could pester the judge until he ruled in her favor. And that is exactly what happened.
Jesus holds this widow up as an example to us. She has something to teach us about prayer and our relationship to God.
Like the widow in the gospel, we are all poor. When we go before God, we really have nothing to offer Him. There is nothing we have that He has not given us. There is nothing we can do for Him which He could not do for Himself. There is no way of bribing God. We may sometimes try to bargain with Him, promising that if He does something for us we’ll start going to church more often or spend more time praying. But all that really means nothing to Him.
When we approach God, we can only do so empty handed. The only gift we have to offer Him is the faith in our heart. Just as the widow was at the mercy of the judge, so we are at the mercy of our God. However, He is not a corrupt judge. Rather He is a judge who can read the secrets of our hearts. Moreover, He is a judge who loves us and wants us to love Him back. He is a loving Father who wants to provide for all our needs. If we go to God with our hands full of half-hearted promises, lists of the all the good things we’ve done or reasons why we deserve to have Him answer our prayers, we will not be able to receive all the blessings He has prepared for us. Rather, like the widow we have to approach God in poverty. Then He can bless us with His mercy.
Like the widow in the gospel, we often find ourselves in desperate circumstances. We may be facing illness, the loss of a job or problems with our children that overwhelm us and for which we have no answer. Like the widow, we feel as though we are alone with no one to help us. Our burden can feel so heavy that we do not know how we are going to get through the day.
All of us experience these trying circumstances at least once in our lives. However, if we are honest with ourselves, our lives are much more precarious than we would like to admit. We may feel that we have enough money to get by, but all that could change with illness or a change in the economy. We all might be feeling healthy and agile, but an accident could change all that in a heartbeat. No matter how secure we may feel our lives are, we are really standing on shaky ground which could be pulled out from under us at any minute.
The fact is, we need God more than we would like to admit. We depend on Him more than we can ever realize. Every breath we draw is His gift to us. We are kept alive and healthy because He wills it. Everything we have and are is because of His continued generosity. Like the widow, we have to rely on someone else to provide for us and defend us. That someone else is God Himself.
Therefore, like the widow, not only are we poor and desperate, but all our hope is in God. There is no one else we can turn to who can provide for us when we are poor, who can protect us when we are alone and who can comfort us when we are in mourning. Just as the widow had only the judge to turn to for justice, so we have only our God to turn to for all our needs and desires.
When, through God’s grace, we can recognize how much we are like the widow - how poor, desperate and needy we really are - then we will persist in prayer. Once we realize that only God can provide for us, then we will seek Him with all our hearts. Once we realize that we must go to Him empty-handed, we will never cease to lift our hands up to Him until He fills them. Once we realize how desperate we are, will continually pursue God to give us security and peace. We will be persistent because we know that God loves us and that, eventually, He will answer us. Besides, we know that we really have nowhere else to go.
We gather here today in the presence of God, our just, loving Judge. We bring our needs to Him with faith. We lift up our hands to Him in praise. We sing to Him with confidence that He will hear and answer us. Trusting in Him, we are persistent in seeking to know Him more and more. Then we will come to find true riches, true security and true peace in the arms of our Heavenly Father.