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Don't Be Afraid to Ask

Feb 13 2014
Sometimes, women need to set aside false selflessness.

This awareness of interdependence is wise and beautiful. Taken too much to heart, it can also be foolish and crippling.

Consider two widows Jesus describes in Luke. The one in Luke 21:1-4 puts her two mites, all the money she has to live on, in the temple treasury. Jesus praises her selfless generosity. The widow in Luke 18:1-8, by contrast, isn't so selfless. She begs and begs a hard-hearted judge for justice, and he finally gives it to her, simply to shut her up. Jesus tells this story as a parable about prayer, teaching that if a cruel judge will eventually respond to an insistent request, surely God will grant the petitions of his people.

The model of the generous widow is seductively easy to follow, at least as an internal monologue. It prompts the voice inside your head to say, "If I just keep giving, with no thought of myself, God will be happy with me." I'm not suggesting that this is the right application of the passage, or that most people wouldn't do well to be more financially generous. But I think both the familiarity and the dangers of this mantra are obvious. How often have you said "yes" to a request when your weary mind screamed "no"? How often have you skipped yoga, or a cup of coffee, or whatever regenerates you in order to squeeze in another load of laundry, another beyond-the-job-description task at work? How often have you done these things just today?

The model of the begging widow, on the other hand, hardly seems like it ought to be followed. Hers is often called the parable of the "importunate" widow, a word meaning persistent to the point of annoyance. I certainly don't want anyone to think of me that way! But, what does this widow actually do wrong? Her cause is just. She asks for what she deserves and won't take a snub for an answer. The judge only finds her annoying because he's a jerk, a man "who neither feared God nor cared about men." Maybe she's not such a bad model after all.

Now, what's missing from both of these stories is the village, the rest of the social network in which these widows were embedded. Widows in Jesus' day were often cut off from society, which is why they, and orphans, received special concern from the early church. Those of us who don't share their plight should be grateful—but we also shouldn't hesitate to be women who ask, for fear that someone in our network might be inconvenienced.

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