Don't Say Uncle
You all know what "say uncle" means. It means you give up, give in, have given out. Some say that expression dates to a joke first told in 1891. Others say it was first found in English in 1918. There are some others who say it dates to Roman times when the defeated child would be made to say, "Uncle, my best Uncle" admitting he had to go to a grownup for help or granting the victor a title of respect. In Rome your uncle on your dad's side was respected nearly as much as your dad. Your uncle on your mom's side was not. The defeated child used the Latin for his dad's brother not his mom's. Regardless of where the expression comes from don't say uncle.
O the text isn't concerned with not saying "uncle" in general but in the particular case of the world ending. Don't say uncle before the end of the world. You don't see this from our text because pericope readings always are out of context. The 17 verses preceding our text deal with Jesus' return to end the world and separate His people from the fallen world. Our text ties to this by beginning, "Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up." That this is what our parable teaches is especially clear if we don't break off the end of verse 8 as our insert does. The complete verse 8 records Jesus saying, "I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?"
The parable shows us that at the end of the world faith is as afflicted as a defenseless widow oppressed by an adversary. This is a classic picture. From the widow's mite, to the widow of Nain, to the widow with her last meal of oil and flour, you know this picture. From those silent movies with the sinister villain and the forlorn widow with her hand to her head, to that Great Depression photo of a woman with a baby in her lap and toddlers clinging to both shoulders, you know this desperation. But remember the widow is a figure in a parable; she stands for something else. She stands for the faith that is oppressed and helpless and on the verge of saying uncle.
When faith heard that the Episcopalians elected an actively gay bishop and when faith heard that the ELCA okayed actively gay and lesbian pastors, she was that widow woman. When faith hears that the gospel of good feelings can pack stadiums and rock bands are in the chancel, faith groans as a widow helplessly oppressed. When faith sees wrongs aren't righted and right doesn't win but might does she is tempted to despair as a widow who is right but gets no justice.
Remember the widow in the parable is a picture, a symbol, she stands for that faith. The widow in the parable has no friend or advocate in this world. She has been horribly wronged and no one is on her side. Friend, we are in the right. There is only one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is only one Savior, one way to heaven, one Hearer of prayer. It is a sin to deny, change, modify, or ignore any Word from God. Yet the vast majority disagrees, and increasingly we are slapped for even stating our faith.
But faith is even persecuted on the Gospel side of things. Jesus really did come into the world to save sinners; our sins really were on Him as was our obligation to keep God's law. Jesus really does give us a clear conscience by washing us in Baptism, by forgiving us in Absolution, by joining us to Christ's holy Body and Blood in Communion. But we're like the poor widow for whom the landlord keeps upping the rent. Faith is told that unless it goes green, feeds the hungry of the world, thinks like the rest of the world it sins. It's morally culpable. Its conscience ought to feel bad.
The widow can't win. The judges of this world will say black is white, sin is holiness, and tell lie after lie to deny the widow's claims. Yet the parable shows the widow "kept coming to the unjust judge with the plea, Grant me justice against my adversary.'" The widow refuses to say uncle even though it is hopeless, pointless, and depressing. Faith just keeps on coming, keeps on saying, keeps on praying.
Remember the widow isn't a widow but stands for faith and the unjust judge isn't God. He's the opposite of God. God is totally just, and He had such regard for all people that He sent His only beloved Son into the world to redeem them. But here's the point; even though the One that faith cries to day and night is her loving God and Savior, it feels, looks, and even tastes otherwise. Faith feels like a widow before an unjust judge.
Don't you read your Psalms? Don't you hear them crying to God, "Have You forgotten to be merciful?" "Are You sleeping?" "Take Your hand out of Your lap and act on behalf of Your people?" Even though only Jesus was ever forsaken by the Father because of sin, it feels like to us, it looks like to the world, and unbelief says it tastes like, "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?" In the face of this, Jesus says, "Don't say uncle before the end of the world because if you do the Son of Man won't find that faith on earth which hopes for vindication." That's what Jesus says at the end of the parable. He promises that faith will get justice quickly but then says, "However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?"
Jesus doesn't ask will He find "believing" on earth but literally "the faith." Jesus speaks of the faith that prays day and night because it can never be satisfied with injustice reigning, with wrong being called right, with fact being called fiction, and fiction being called reality. This faith is as under siege in this world as POW's in an enemy camp. One of the techniques for breaking POW's is getting them to deny something they know to be true. It's usually something simple. Say red is blue; say there are 4 lights when you see only 3; say that all religions lead to the true God; say that truth can't be known for sure. Jesus paints a picture of the faith that won't say uncle. It keeps on praying, "Come Lord Jesus," and "Thy kingdom come" even when the world says Jesus isn't coming and that there is no kingdom.
But where does faith receive the power to do that? The faith is not the power. If you go down that road it lands in the ditch of the power of positive thinking. You will be stuck thinking your God is only as powerful as you believe Him to be. Jesus shows you the power supply of such faith in His application of the parable. He contrasts the unjust judge who could be worn down to answer the widow to the just Judge who is eager to answer the faith.
The faith is powered by the fact that almighty God is for us in Jesus and He has been for eternity. That's the power of that little phrase, "His chosen ones." "Will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones who cry out to Him day and night?" "Chosen ones" is translated by the ESV as "elect." When the faith gets mired in the wrongs of this world, in the injustices of our time, it loses sight of eternity and heaven. You are wrong if you think your life unfolds before God like is does for you. You are wrong if you think God is surprised like you are when you're wronged in this world. You are wrong if you think God only knows as much as you do about the future.
Ephesians 1 says, "The Father chose us in Jesus before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love the Father predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will." God has chosen you in eternity in love through Jesus. He has chosen, has elected you to be holy and blameless in His sight. You err if you think this says God elected you so you'd better get out there and be holy and blameless in the way you live. That's law. Election is all Gospel. It says God has chosen to see you in Jesus as holy and blameless. You parents know how this is. On a really good day you don't see the wrongs of your kids. They're angels; they're perfect. Of course that's not true; on that day, for whatever reason, you chose to see them that way.
God in eternity chose you. He saw you in the Blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who Scripture says was slain before the foundation of the world. How do I know if He chose me? "Seek your election in the wounds of Christ." Ask yourself, "For which sins did Jesus suffer, sigh, and bleed for? For whom was Jesus nailed to the cross?" Scripture answers, "Not just for some sins but all sins; not just for some sinners but all sinners." God has chosen to see you, even you, as holy and blameless.
This fact supercharges the faith. It draws faith's eyes away from here and now. It widens the picture. No longer is my pain, the injustice, or this hopeless feeling the center of the picture. I now see that God's choice from eternity to save me is front and center. God isn't delaying to help us for no reason as the unjust judge was, but as Jesus says in the Greek, "He is patient over us." God isn't annoyed like the unjust judge by our repeated requests for justice, for help, for mercy, He's pleased like a loving father is when their child calls on them for help.
Also, unlike the unjust judge, God the Father doesn't give in because He's at last worn down by our prayers. Our prayers are not answered by God because of their many words or how fervent they are. Our prayers are answered when they fit God's eternal plans for us. Read your Bibles. Jesus purposely lets the family He loves go through sickness, death, and 4 days of mourning before helping. He purposely lets the disciples fight wind and waves for hours before coming to their aid. He purposely puts Moses between the Red Sea he can't cross and the Egyptian army he can't fight.
Can you see it is consistent with the ways of God to wait to answer prayers even when those prayers are as desperate as that of a widow besieged by an adversary? The strength not to say uncle then can't come from looking at how desperate your situation is. It comes from looking where Jesus points you to: God's eternal choice to save you and His promise that His delay is not unconcern for you but patience over you. If we fallen men seek to never pick a rose before full bloom or a tomato before it's just right, let us not think our holy God and Savior waits needlessly to deliver His people. Don't say uncle; say, "Our Father who art in heaven" Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost (20101024); Luke 18: 1-8