"Shameless" was a 1989 hit by Garth Brooks about a man so over the top in love that he has no pride. He is not ashamed to do any thing she wants him to anything at all. You might think this is a strange sermon title, but this is a desperate text. It begins with the Holy Spirit telling us that this parable is to show that we should always pray and never give up. And the text ends with Jesus asking when He returns will He find such nonstop praying faith on earth? He will if shamelessness survives.
The first person in the text we meet that is shameless is the unjust judge. The text says "he neither feared God nor cared about men." The word translated by the insert as "cared" can mean that but in the Greek dictionary that is the 2b use of the word. 1a is "make someone ashamed." 2a is "be put to shame" (BAG, 269). The chairman of the Biblical Department at the Near Eastern School of Theology in Beirut said that English translators went with "cared about" because of the difference between Eastern and Western thought. In America when Johnny does wrong we say, "That is wrong." In the Middle East they say, "That is shameful." Since the Old Syriac Bible translation in the 5th century the Eastern translation has been that the unjust judge "is not ashamed before people" (Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes, 132).
The unjust judge could not be shamed. A poor defenseless widow could plead her case before him and he was not ashamed to turn a deaf ear, to ignore her, to see if perhaps she would offer a bribe. Even in our culture shamelessness is negative. Women shamelessly expose themselves to gain attention. Men shamelessly paint themselves, dress in silly costumes, or shave their heads for their sports team. In regard to a legal setting, the only time I've seen shamelessness is when a person busted for shoplifting raises their voices, cries racism, and makes a scene in an attempt to make the accusing store official turn away as others are doing.
The unjust judge in the parable could not be shamed. The just Judge of all can be. When Abraham intercedes for the debauched, depraved Sodomites in Genesis 18 He says, "Will You sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Far be it from You to do such a thing--to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from You! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" When God wants to destroy Israel for the Golden Calf incident, Moses intercedes, "Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, 'He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'?"
Here's one more example, and it's over the top, that the true God can be shamed. Hebrews 2:11 says, "Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers." Get that? If He is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters, then that means He would be shamed if He didn't. Think of those times you look in the mirror and are disgusted with what you are, have been, or did. At just that moment, Jesus would be ashamed if He didn't call you "My brother," "My sister."
The next shameless person in our text is the widow. She "kept coming to him with the plea, Grant me justice.'" That about captures her shameless persistence. It captures the imperfect that she came day after day after day, but it misses that she kept on saying in his face "Grant me justice." The "face to face" preposition is there along with the present participle for "say" which means continued saying. It's like Bart and Lisa Simpson wearing their father down. All through the day and into the night they say rapidly and repeatedly in his face, "Can we go to Mt. Splashmore? Can we go Mt. Splashmore? Can we go to Mt. Splashmore?"
But the text doesn't say the widow's shamelessness wore the unjust judge down. He does reference her continuing to bother him, but he says she will get justice "so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!" The word being translated "wear me out" only shows up twice in the Bible. It means to "strike under the eye, give a black eye" (BAG, 848). Translations want to treat this as a metaphor for ruin his reputation or annoy greatly. Since we are told from the start he cares nothing for what God or others thinks. He can't be concerned about reputation. He may be annoyed greatly, but it's more likely he thinks such a persistent woman who can't be shamed in the justice of her claim may resort to violence.
In any case God, unlike the unjust judge, can't be bothered. He commands ask, seek and knock. He commands, "Call upon me in the day of trouble." He commands, "Come unto Me all you who are burdened and heavy laden." My mom used to say, "God didn't put me on earth to hear your complaints." No, He put Jesus here to. That's what we sing in "I know that My Redeemer Lives." "He lives to hear my soul's complaint." God sent His beloved Son into the world not only to hear your complaints, prayers, and pleas. He opened a branch office in your neighborhood. He strung a telephone line from His ear to your lips in the Person of His Son.
No matter how often you ask, how frequently you seek, how much you knock, you can't annoy God, and God has no fear of being hurt by you. In fact, God suffered much more than a black eye just so you could freely and frequently bring your soul's complaint to Him. Isaiah says that on the cross Jesus was disfigured beyond human recognition. "There were many who were appalled at Him. His appearance was disfigured beyond that of any man and His form marred beyond human likeness" (Isaiah 52:14). The unjust judge was afraid of taking a beating, so he answered the widows "prayer." The true God is afraid you won't pray, and so the beating His Son took all the way to hell and death will go to waste.
Therefore, God wants you to be shameless in your prayer life. Like the Syrophoenician woman was, like Bartimaeus was, like Abraham and Moses were. He wants you shameless so that you will "not give up." A better translation because it touches the heart would be "lose heart." This is the couple on the road to Emmaus Easter afternoon. Can't you hear their loss of heart when they say, "But we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel." Can't you hear the Psalmist losing heart when he cries, "My soul refused to be comforted" (Psalm 77:2). Or when another asks, "Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide Your face from me" (Psalm 88:13-14)?
Don't lose heart in your prayer life! You are the elect, chosen people of God. This widow meant nothing to the unjust judge. You mean everything to the true God. That's not an overstatement but an understatement. He moved more than heaven and earth to hear every single one of you prayers even the ones that are sighs or no more than tear drops. He sent His Son from heaven to earth to win you the right to call upon Him and be heard by Him. Clothed with Christ by Baptism as Galatians 3 says you are, you stand before God as little Christs. Absolved in Jesus' name your prayers are answered for His sake not yours. Communing with the Body and Blood of Jesus you are in full communication with the Father in heaven.
But you've heard all this before. I know you have because I've said it to you in three sermon series on prayer, in 14 or more Sunday sermons on prayer, and in Bible classes too many to count, yet still our hearts give out in prayer, still we pray with the blasphemous thought "it can't hurt; it might help." And Jesus' worst fears our realized. He returns to us in Word and Sacrament and doesn't find the faith that always prays and doesn't give up.
And that's my fault. I must not be preaching the Gospel clearly enough. Let me try again.
The insert translates "will He keep putting off " His chosen ones? But the ASV has, "He is longsuffering over them," and the KJV translates, "Though He bear long with them." The last two are the proper translations of the Greek here. Every case where this word is applied to God in the New Testament it always has the meaning of setting aside divine wrath (Bailey, 139). Jesus is letting us know not that God won't keep putting off our prayer requests as the insert gives the impression but that God has put off His wrath towards us. His slowness to wrath is an interval of grace not inattention; it's to kindle the faith and prayer that moves mountains (Ibid.).
2 Peter 3:9 is parallel to this. Peter says, "The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." God's judgment should fall today, now, but it doesn't. For the sake of what Jesus did in life and death, God bears with us sinners. Look how long He bore with the pre-Flood world? 120 years. Look how long He bore with the Amorites over 500 years. Look how long He has borne with me, with you. What patience, what suspension of judgment is shown in giving us a daily prayer where even though we pray daily for forgiveness we are also told we can pray daily for His kingdom, our bread, and deliverance from evil.
You be shameless in your prayer life. Pray like a frightened child in the night calling for his parent. He doesn't reason what he should, could, or must pray. He shamelessly cries, "Momma, Momma." Be shameless as one who has been promised that God will answer, open, and be found by you. Be shameless as one who has been promised that in the day of trouble He will deliver you. Be shameless as one who has been promised that you will get justice quickly.
The disciples in the text got justice quickly. The cross was only weeks away. There the disciples saw Jesus get their justice. All the pain, shame, blame, and guilt they brought to the foot of the cross Jesus bore on the cross for them, for you, for all. Any and every reason God had for not hearing a prayer was removed when God accepted Jesus' sacrifice for sins by raising Him from the dead. Since Easter we are better off then Garth Brooks. He sings, "I'm shameless, oh honey, I don't have a prayer." Those in Christ do. In fact they have much more than one. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost (20131020); Luke 18: 1-8