One of Jesus' most interesting and enigmatic parables (stories) is the parable of the persistent widow. The parable is unique in that the lead character (a nagging, haggling, in your face, side-swiping, jabbing widow), is lifted up as the heroine of the story. And she is admired for one single and particular quality - PERSISTENCE! Not giving up. Here is the parable in case you have forgotten it (I had);
In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. In other words he was a bad law enforcement official. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, "Grant me justice against my adversary". We don't know what justice this woman was asking for, but we know that she kept coming, day in and day out, morning noon and night. In those days, as is the case today, a person never got a second hearing from a judge (that would be double jeopardy), but she kept coming. She was totally annoying. For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, "Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming." I love the honesty of the judge here. He is ready to pull his proverbial hair out. This widow was a down-right pain in the back side. She was relentless, unremitting, in-your-face, a thorn in his side.
And that's it. That's the parable. Jesus finishes with the thought that we should be like this woman in our faith and in our lives. We should keep pushing, keep going, keep moving on, moving through the tough challenges of our lives, and through the tough challenges of our faith.
Now, I don't know what the image you have in your head of this widow is, but for me I have always thought of her as a tiny little Babushka, a hunched over old krone, a toothless angry old woman. But what if that wasn't what she was like at all?
What if she was beautiful? What if she was a fashion goddess? What if the persistent widow was hilarious, a cut-up at any dinner party? What if she was relentless in her ability to cut people down with jokes? What if she preferred the first century's version of Prada instead of black sack-cloth? What if she was more like….brace yourself…Joan Rivers?
As I watched the news this weekend of the late comedian Joan Rivers' funeral, I was struck by one singular and important quality of Joan's life. She too was persistent. She was unrelenting, unremitting, unquenchingly tough. She persisted through many difficult things in her life. As one of the first women comedians of her time, she worked in a purely male dominated world. As a Jewish woman she worked in comedy in a mostly WASPY world. She experienced the back-hand from one of those WASPY comedian men, Johnny Carson, when he never spoke to her again after she began her own TV show. Then, her husband committed suicide (so she really was a widow too!), and she raised her daughter Melissa by herself. Joan experienced poverty, and bankruptcy, and tough times. Doing comedy is one of the hardest ways in the world to make money. If there ever was a quality for a comedian it was persistence. You have to just keep at it, even as your audience is with you, or they are against you.
Now, for those who are reading this blog-post and who are inclined to disagree with the comparison of the persistent widow in Jesus' story to Joan Rivers, let's return to the story. There is nothing about the moral quality of the widow in Jesus' story. There is nothing about the faithfulness in God, or the deep prayer life of the widow. There is nothing about her spirituality. There is only one descriptor - she was persistent.
Once, while being interviewed by Larry King, Joan was asked why she made jokes about all kinds of inappropriate subjects (death, sex, genocide, murder, etc….). She said, "Because, if you can laugh at something, it no longer has power over you. I am Jewish, and I guarantee you that if I was in Auschevitz, the death camp where millions of Jews were put to death, I would have found a way to make a joke about it. You just have to push through things in this life, you have to never give up."
Neither Joan nor the woman in Jesus' story is a perfect character. Far from it, they are both deeply flawed people. And a lot more is required of us in our faith walk than simply persistence. We must have humility, we must know and love Jesus, we must turn our lives to God, and away from ourselves. We must be generous, and thankful and contrite. And there is no indication that either the widow or Joan did these things with their lives (though we do not know). But Jesus, the one who persisted, and still persists with us, would have loved and admired one singular quality about their lives - their persistence!
And he loves it when we persist as well!!
All For Now,