Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” – Luke 18:1-8
The most determined people I know are three-year-olds. When they want something, they do not give up. They’re unburdened by such considerations as prudence, politeness, or perspective. Persistence and determination propel them to get what they want or throw an ear-shattering tantrum in the middle of Target trying.
The persistent widow in Luke 18 knew a thing or two about determination, even imprudent and reckless determination. Faced with a judge who admitted to himself that he cared nothing for God or humans, she was determined. She would not desist until she received her justice.
Some days, when I consider the immensity of injustice in the world, I don’t feel determined; I feel overwhelmed. I look at all the problems, all the unjust leaders, all the systems of oppression, and I doubt that I can do anything to move toward justice. Even if I narrow the focus to one area of problems— whether it’s racism, human trafficking, accessible healthcare, hunger, abusive relationships, climate change, drug addiction, or something else— well, those are all pretty big problems all by themselves. Is being determined really going to make a difference?
When I think of the persistent widows and toddlers, though, I realize that determined people accomplish more than I usually give them credit for. It takes determination to get the job done, whether the job is organizing a canned food drive or passing anti-trafficking laws. What if we called on each other to be determined to be antiracist, whether or not it’s polite and prudent? What if we were determined to make sure every person has a safe place to sleep at night? A determined person— or better yet, group of people— can make a difference.
Being determined isn’t comfortable or easy, though. Think of that widow in Jesus’ story. What must it have felt like the third time she went to the judge for justice and was turned away? The tenth time? The twentieth? How many appeals did it take? Did she perhaps begin to experience what Martin Luther King, Jr. so clearly expressed: “Justice too long delayed is justice denied”? Did it take weeks or months or even years to wear down the unjust judge? Determination is in it for the long haul.
Do you and I act like we believe this? Do we persist when it’s inconvenient? Are we recklessly determined to resist evil and work for justice? When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? Or will we simply have given up on “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” to bide our time until someone else fixes things? Worse yet, will we trade in our determination for complacence?
When God’s people are determined, following God as we’ve been called, justice happens. When we persist, like three-year-olds or like the widow in Jesus’ story, justice happens.
God, give us holy determination, that we might persist toward justice. When we falter, forgive us. Encourage us to be determined in following you until justice is real for all people. Amen.