October 21, 2007


Luke 18:1-8

1 And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;

2 Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:

3 And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.

4 And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;

5 Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.

6 And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.

7 And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?

8 I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?


People love acronyms. Acronyms are abbreviations formed from the first letter or letters of a word or words. For example, nobody says North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Everybody says NATO. Once upon a time in my deep, dark past, I worked for RCA. Company policy emphasized to all employees that they should only refer to that company by those three letters. RCA was the official name of the company.

We use acronyms all the time. We talk about a.m. and p.m. and b.c. and a.d. Some acronyms are so well used they have become just words—like radar or aids. Our government is composed of alphabet agencies, the CIA, FBI, NSA. We speak of SOP, standard operating procedures, and the old way of describing a horrible situation was fubar, fouled up beyond all recognition. Today the world of computers has gone bonkers with acronyms. You see LOL all the time—laughing out loud. Sometimes you see, ROFLOL, rolling in the floor laughing out loud. How about BB for bye bye or BRB for be right back, IMHO in my humble opinion, or ATIR which is one the kids use for “Adult In The Room.”

Jay Halpern has written a book, called Fame Junkies and he introduces us to yet another acronym: BIRG. BIRG stands for “Basking In Reflected Glory.” Its opposite is CORF — “Cutting Off Responsibility for Failure.” Halpern has hit on something that has been a bug with me for years. Let’s talk about how BIRG and CORF work. As you probably know South Carolina is a football state. I think that is probably because we have such good weather everybody likes to get outside and go to a football game, and our culture has always worshiped physical prowess. But lets not talk about football teams; lets talk about football fans. It does not matter whether the team is Clemson or Carolina or York High or the Panthers., when their team is winning, fans say, “WE are winning.”

I remember an extreme case last year, I have forgotten which game it was, doesn’t matter. His team won, and this fan was telling me in great detail how we blocked and we tackled; we made the crucial interception; we made that last drive to put the game away. Well I did not say anything, but I thought, what is the “we” stuff? You did not block, or tackle or intercept any passes. What was the fan doing? He was BIRGing. He was basking in reflected glory. He identified with his team and received some of their glory.

On the other hand, what happens when our team loses? We no longer BIRG; we CORF—cut of responsibility for failure. When our team is winning, “we” won, but when the team loses, “they” lost. We cut off any personal identity with those losers.

Jay Halpern describes BIRG as a fame junkie behavior. We love to identify with famous people and bask in their glory. Write a story about the “corridor of shame” along I95 in SC, and you will be lucky to make the back page of the newspaper. Write a story about Britney Spears’ poodle having puppies with Al Gore’s beagle, and it will be prominently featured on magazine covers everywhere—because that is what people want to read about.

The acronym BIRG was actually coined by psychologist Robert Cialdini who argues that BIRGing has its roots in social identity theory, which states that people will generally act in ways that boost their self-esteem. Cialdini studied student patterns on Mondays following Saturday football games at six universities. After their teams won, students were more likely to don school accessories — sweatshirts, T-shirts, or hats. They were BIRGing—Basking In Reflected Glory.

We love to share the glory. But we don’t love to share the failure. If something goes wrong, we immediately distance ourselves from the disaster. That is CORF — “Cutting Off Responsibility for Failure.”

Cialdini also describes another type of behavior, which is called “blasting.” We may cope with our team losing by blasting the winning team. I remember several years ago, Clemson played Georgia, at Athens, and lost. I talked to some Clemson fans afterwards, and they were furious at the way they were treated by Georgia fans. They said that Georgia fans were surly and arrogant and just mean people. They never said a word about the game at all. They coped with their loss by blasting not the other team but the other teams fans.

Have you thought about how some verses of scrdipture would sound if we applied these acronyms—BIRG and CORF—to them?

Jesus said to Peter, ‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will CORF me three times.’”

How about the opposition Jesus received after healing on the Sabbath? “When his family heard it, they went out to CORF him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem blasted him.”

Let us have a look at today’s scripture which is a classic tale of the culturally CORFed. She was what we call a marginalized person. She lived on the fringes of society. This widow had no power relationships with which she could BIRG. She had absolutely no cultural advantage to brag about, no strings to pull, no names to speed dial. Nothing.

Women in ancient times tended to marry quite early usually in their teens. Husbands were the figurehead of the ancient Near Eastern power structure, and due to this responsibility, they tended to marry later, in their 20s and 30s. These age gaps meant that eventually many wives ended up as widows, leaving them without power or provision.

Mosaic Law prescribed that the husband’s family and the synagogue were primarily responsible for widows. Jesus’ audience of couse knew this. This is a glaring detail in the parable that would have been immediately obvious to them. Why was there no one but this judge who could help this woman with her opponent? Either she had no other family or community, or they were ignoring her.

The point in the parable is that the woman has only one advocate — the judge. She has only one hope, the judge. So she grabs that one hope with both hands. She latched on like a leech. She dug in like a tic on a dog. And she will not under any circumstances ever let go.

Looking for ourselves in this parable, we, too, have only one true advocate to whom we can turn with life problems. While he may use our family and community to minister to us, he is our only hope. The Judge is all we have.

The parable has a little twist in it. We are all the poor widow and we have only one advocate. But our advocate is not the unjust judge of the parable. Our advocate is Jesus himself. The parable uses the terms of a court. There is a judge, a widow who has a case. But this court scene breaks down when it comes to describing our relationship with Jesus. Jesus is our judge, he hauls us into court and condemns us for our sins, but Jesus is also our advocate, our defender. But then all court terms fail because Jesus pays for our sins, dies for our sins. He saves us, makes us his people adopts us into his family.

Now this parable does not attempt to cover all that. Jesus is just trying to teach us some things about prayer. He uses a classic form of rhetoric— the argument from lesser to greater. His parable starts with the lesser judge. The argument goes, “This judge could not give a rip about spiritual things. He is just a guy with an opinion, answering only to himself. He doesn’t care about people; he does not care about anything.”

If this guy really is her only hope, the widow should feel pretty hopeless. Nonetheless — she prattles on and on, daily waiting for the judge to arrive at his office in the morning, daily being the last face he sees as he leaves for his comfortable home.

She’s not BIRGing; she is badgering. Again and again, she asks him to hear her case. This is justice by irritation. She wears him down until he eventually hears her case to get rid of her.

Now if this hypothetical judge who just does not care will yet grant justice in response to persistence, how much easier is it to have confidence in that Divine Judge who loves us and wants to care for us?

Jesus is talking specifically about prayer. Since disciples then and now can be a bit slow, Jesus says in v1 that the meaning of this parable is their “need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

What jesus is saying is not hard to understand. But it is hard to do. What does he mean “pray always.” Jesus, at the moment he spoke this parable, was not praying. He was teaching. So Jesus did not literally “pray always.” He did not pray every moment. And he does not expect us to pray every moment. But he expects us to pray a lot. He expects us to be known as a people of prayer.

Whenever our hearts and souls are burdened by something that happens to a friend, by something that happens at work, by seeing a TV report from the other side of the globe, we pray.

We pray each time an issue comes to mind. Prayer is like a reflex in the body. When we step on something sharp, we instantly put all our weight on the other foot. It is natural and immediate. Prayer can eventually become like this ... with practice. We don’t have to think, “Well, I ought to pray,” we don’t have to have set times or set motions. We pray as naturally as we breathe or we ought to.

Jesus encourages us not to “lose heart.” Enkakeo. The Greek comes from the roots en, “into” and kakos, “wrong or evil.” To lose our enthusiasm for prayer and become discouraged is to enter into a wrong and evil state of the soul.

When facing evil, brokenness, and injustice, the last thing we need to do is to give up fighting against it. When praying for that sick relative or that pigheaded boss or that desired relationship, our only real option is to rely on the God option.

That is hard. When we are praying about something that we have real attachment to, real emotional connections with, it is hard to say, I will trust God for the answer. If its my marriage I’m praying about or my job or my health, the last thing I want to do is trust God. I want to do something. And sometimes we ought to do something, but first of all we should seek God’s will and God’s answer and trust to the Lord’s help.

And if God does not answer immediately, we should persist in prayer. We should pray always. We should never give up on God.

Trivia question: whose picture is on a five-dollar bill? Abraham Lincoln. He was one of our greatest presidents, but Lincoln’s political career is a lesson is persistence. Early in his career, Lincoln lost his campaign for Speaker of the House of Illinois … then he lost his run for Congress twice … after he did make it to Congress, he lost his re-election bid. In addition, he lost two more runs for Senate, as well as a vice-presidential election. Furthermore, when he ran for president in 1860, everyone said that there was no possibility that he could win, but he did. The lesson is: Never give up. The lesson of our scripture today is never give up on prayer.

This desperate widow grabbed her only hope and refused t let go. We should grab Jesus Christ and refuse to let go. Believe in Jesus and pray like you believe in Jesus.


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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