If we think of the Bible as the store of humanity’s redemption, we should probably pause and think about what we are being redeemed from. There are some pat Sunday School answers that can help with that, “sin” and “immorality,” spring quickly to mind. Yes, but what are those? What does the Bible see as our consistent sins? If we think of Adam and Eve, our original sinners, there’s was a desire to be like God, to put themselves in the place of the divine. If we jump to Cain and Able, inventors of violent crime, it’s jealously fractiousness. Those two keep coming up. The Tower of Babel? They too wanted to be like God. Noah’s contemporaries? They seem pretty fractious. Move a little deeper in though, and a new consistent challenge pops up – an unwillingness to preserve. God gives a promise, but humanity cannot hold onto until the promise comes true.

Abraham and Sarah get this tradition started pretty early. They both left their child bearing years long ago, but God tells them that they’re going to have so much progeny, it will out number the starts. This sounds great to them, but it still doesn’t happen immediately. Their impatience kicks in, and Sarah arranges a “deal” between her servant Hagar and Abraham that produces Ishmael. They all bear the brunt of this lack of perseverance, but unfortunately, the most suffering for it is carried by the people not actually at fault – Hagar and Ishmael. This could have been avoided if Abraham and Sarah would have held on until the promise came true.

Exodus abounds in God’s people lacking perseverance. The Golden Calf gains the most prominence among these. The Prophet, Moses, goes up the mountain to do exactly what a prophet does: communicate with God. They have a lot to talk about. God and Moses need to lay the ground work for an entire nation, the Ten Commandments, the Law, etc. Their conversation took too long for the people down below. They convinced Aaron to help them fashion a golden calf out of their various golden objects and begin a religious ritual around this around this calf statue. They do all of this after seeing God bring down the plagues on Egypt, guide them in a pillar of fire, part the Red Sea, and provide them with miraculous food. Even after seeing that, they failed to persevere. It cost them. They end up wandering in the desert far longer than they needed to and often subjecting God and Moses to the refrain, “Why did you lead us out of Egypt just to die here in the desert?”

I could keep going. Moses doesn’t see the promised land because he has his own moment of impatience. David gets the same way about wanting to build God’s Temple. The Books of Kings and the books of the prophets that go along with them show constant cycles of this. God promises something. It takes too long for the fragile human mind. The humans then create more trouble for themselves. It is quite literally a tale as old as time.

Our parable from the beginning of Luke 18 speaks into this sordid history. Here Christ himself warns us that it will be this way sometimes and to not lose sight of the innate goodness and trustworthiness of God. There’s a particular detail that stands out to me that we lose in the English translation. The righteous judge gets worn down by the persistent woman seeking justice. As he capitulates in verse 5, he says, “yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” (Luke 18:5 NRSV) The translation here uses mild words of, “bothering” and “wearing me out.” In the original Greek, these are much stronger words more akin to “beat me up” or “give me a black eye.” Apparently, this was one insistent woman. She wasn’t sending kindly worded reminders. She was getting in this guy’s face.

I don’t think threatening God is the answer to our lack of perseverance, but this tenacity is instructive. Jesus understands that holding on for God’s promise isn’t always for the faint of heart. Part of the powerful witness of Christ’s earthly life is the image of him running up against how hard staying true to God can be and manage persevere time and time again. He knows that it takes grit, and so, he gives us this image of a gritty woman having the strength even to wear down an unjust and godless judge.

The good news is that our judge isn’t unjust or godless. Our judge is God, who is loving, just, and righteous. God keeps God’s promises – even when humans don’t. We can believe that no matter how things look from our human perspective, God will come through. In the end, God always wins. That can be hard to see. We can look at our world, our lives, our sense of the arch of history and easily lose all perspective – rushing to melt that gold for a calf of our own. May we find the strength in God to preserve, to find the tenacity to be like a woman willing to give an unjust judge a black eye.