So, I know this attorney……and he represented a client once who was feisty. Her life had been hard and she struggled to keep afloat financially. Her mobile home was in poor shape, barely keeping the cold out. Her youngest daughter had significant medical issues that kept her out of school for long stretches of time. The woman herself came to the attorney seeking Social Security Disability status so that she could be released from the grind of physically taxing jobs that her body could no longer do. In addition to her social security claim, the woman had purchased a car from someone that was a lemon. She spouted off angrily about the money she had paid for the vehicle and how much she had spent in repairs within the first six months of owning it. “This is not right,” she pronounced repeatedly to the attorney. He went to bat for her and she refused the settlement terms the first couple rounds of negotiations. “For all I’ve gone through with this car, that’s not enough!” She had learned from her hard-scrabble life to stand up for herself. The opposing attorney complained about her to her attorney but he explained, 1) She’s been through a lot. 2) That’s who and how she is, and 3) The car was justifiably a lemon. A final deal was struck with the car dealer stating, “Part of this settlement agreement stipulates that, upon receipt of these funds, she may never come to us again with any complaint.” Her badgering was effective in winning for her a greater settlement than a meeker person would have received. It also sealed the deal in the opposing side stating to her attorney that they never wanted to have to cross paths with her again!
Jesus told a parable about a widow who presented her case relentlessly to a judge who was known to lack compassion. In fact, it sounds like he didn’t even like people. That’s an interesting trait for a man put in charge of other people’s well-being! The word “bothering” in Greek translates as “causes me trouble.” The judge worried that she would “wear him out”, which can be interpreted “give me a black eye…). This widow could stand her own ground and the judge realized that!
In this parable that Jesus tells, the woman’s laudatory trait is her persistence. Standing before a heartless judge, Jesus makes it clear that the poor are to be defended. According to Jewish law, widows are to be cared for by the community so he is under moral obligation to settle her case fairly so that her difficult lot in life can be eased. It’s a story that is unique to Luke’s Gospel which isn’t surprising since he is known as the social justice advocate of the four gospel writers. Fairness in our human interactions is a chief concern of Luke’s Jesus so a Godless, heartless judge would immediately be seen as the enemy. Garrett travels the state presenting the case of individuals who are looking for social security disability or worker’s compensation benefits. He knows going into the courtroom what that particular judge’s record is for favorable decisions. There is one judge who only decides in favor of the plaintiff 15% of the time—no matter how compelling their hardship! Garrett feels pessimistic before he even opens up his mouth because he knows that this judge is not moved by how difficult life can be for some folks. He has to be honest with his client before the hearing that their odds of winning are not good simply because of what judge was assigned to their case. This is the judge you do not want to get for your case!
Jesus tells parables to hit home a point. Margit Ernst-Habib writes, “…the widow…represents not only the need to pray always, as Luke puts it, but also the Spirit’s incessant work of encouraging us to pray, the Spirit’s nagging persistence and unrelenting perseverance.” If an unjust judge can grant justice in response to a badgering, scrappy widow, then how much more will a God who loves us heed our cries? The parable tells us how to face injustice as believers. Notice it never suggests that we will be able to avoid injustice in our lives. The key to our survival in a dog-eat-dog world is to persevere in prayer and to have courage! Jesus calls for our faith to carry us forward over the long haul.
At the end of the sporting event, what do we expect to hear from at least one of the interviewed winners? Very often they thank God for giving them the victory. I don’t even mind that they say that. At least someone in the winner’s circle is invoking God’s name without profaning it! But what would impress me even more is if one of the losing team members, in their interview, thanked God for being with them in their losing match. I can’t ever remember hearing that! This parable challenges us to examine that for which we pray and how we pray. Do we wear God down by repeatedly asking for God to use our own witness to the faith in powerful ways? Or are we usually sidetracked in our praying by focusing on the ways our body is failing us and the brokenness we face in our own relationships? Kimberly Bracken Long offers this insight into the passage: “Jesus makes it clear that faith is actively hoping, eagerly anticipating the coming reign of God, never ceasing in our prayers for others, for the world, even for ourselves.”
In his first letter, Peter defines the life of the believers in an interesting way: “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul.” Do you ever feel like you don’t fit into this world? Do you feel alone in some crowds, noticing how differently you interpret events from others? Do you read the signs of the times in a way that brings scoffing, even ridicule, from others? That’s because we are not of this earthly realm, Peter tells us. We are the aliens, the E.T.s in our own neighborhoods, precincts, national census! When we look at the context of this parable we see that it is preceded by a conversation Jesus has with the Pharisees. In Luke 17:20 they ask Jesus when the kingdom of God is coming. He answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”
One of the ways that we are separated from non-Christians is our understanding that our world is coming to an end—in some way and at some undetermined future time. Jesus goes on in chapter 17 to talk about the end times and warns the Pharisees that the way God breaks into our earthly history will be as in the time of Noah, when people were carousing and going about their everyday life with nary a concern about their spiritual well-being. Then God’s judgment swept in, taking a Godless generation by surprise. So our passage in chapter 18 follows upon this conversation. We hear Jesus give a summary statement in verse 8 when he warns, “And yet, when the Son of Many comes, will he find faith on earth?”
I wonder: Is our world at all like the world they prayed for in Jesus’ time? Or are we still experiencing life as it was in the days of Noah, when no one gave a thought for their accountability to enter into each day as a gift from God to be spent shining a light on the presence of Jesus. In this parable about the unjust judge and a badgering women, we are urged to choose wisely when it comes to the things of God because it is by these choices that we will be graded. Jesus teaches that we must pray unceasingly and watch for God to multiply our efforts at making peace. We tend to reject the image of a judging God who punishes or rewards based on our feeble efforts. But stripping God of judging capacity makes as much sense as it does to do away with our traffic signals. Have you ever tried to drive a car in a country where everyone does their own thing? Have you ever tried to find a location in an area that didn’t have good signage and no clear directional signals? We highly value our system of laws and established order and we hold folks accountable based on our accepted laws. A God of judgment is really a God of accountability. It is our choice how we live in response to God’s overwhelming goodness but we face consequences when we decide to go rogue and live by our own set of rules.
So Jesus urges us to navigate our course carefully so that we can finish the marathon that stretches before us. The way that we will survive as faithful Christians is by persistent prayer. We know all too well what it is to hear someone make a bold-faced lie. But, in this story, we meet someone who isn’t afraid to repeatedly offer a bold-faced prayer. John Buchanan describes it in this way: “The scene must be something like a hall of justice, a judge seated on the dais, throngs of petitioners gathered about, some represented by lawyers, others just shouting their requests from the crowd. The woman is in that crowd every day when the court convenes. She wants ‘vindication’ against an unnamed adversary. Every day she asks for justice, shouts for justice. Every day the judge ignores her. Maybe she follows him home and repeats her request nightly and the first thing in the morning. She nags and badgers; she is relentless. Finally, realizing that he is encountering some kind of primal force, that she is not going to give up, the judge relents and renders a favorable judgment. ‘Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?’ Jesus asks.”
Are you pestering God to show up in force and shape this world into some likeness of heaven? Are you holding on for dear life in your prayer discipline trusting that God is in control even if you haven’t experienced any God-sightings lately? Jesus was not trying to resolve the mystery of answered or unanswered prayer in this lesson with the disciples. He gave them the best survival tips He could for surviving the injustices here while keeping our sights set heavenward: Be a bold-faced pray-er. Pray without ceasing. Persevere. Have courage. Amen.