Sunday, October 16, 2016


Luke 18:1-8
October 16, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

As we continue in Luke’s gospel with today’s reading, we hear yet another of Jesus’ parables. Jesus is still on the road to Jerusalem in this chapter, but we aren’t certain exactly where it is that he tells this story. This section of Luke deals with Jesus’ teaching about the rich and poor, the privileged and the disadvantaged, the oppressed and the tyrant.

In this particular parable, Jesus has been teaching the disciples about faith and prayer, and it seems at first that this story concerns that. But there is more to this parable than meets the eye, as usual. What starts as a simple story about prayer turns out to be a complex teaching about faith, persistence, and a Christian ethic of active resistance to injustice. Let’s listen together for God’s word in Luke 18: 1-8

1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.
2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?
8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

A river cuts through rock.
Water drips on a stone until there is a hole, then a split, then a canyon.
This woman! what an annoyance to this judge!
Like water on stone, drip, drip, drip, drip.

Imagine, she kept coming and knocking on his door, day after day after day.
I wonder if sometimes he pretended nobody was home.
Knock knock. Nobody home!
Knock knock. Who’s there?
Grant me justice against my opponent!

It would be funny if it weren’t so serious.
It would be funny like the Youtube videos of little kids trying to persuade their parents to give them a donut, or a cupcake, trying to make a case for themselves:

“Mom, mom, mom, mom.”
“I’m hungry. I din’t have no donuts. I only had rice and beans.”
“Listen, Linda, listen to me. Linda, honey, listen” a toddler goes on and on.
He is relentless.

Mateo Wants a Cupcake

But this is a serious matter.

The judge is unfit for his office.
The widow is seeking justice against her opponent.
Maybe her opponent has denied that the widow even has a claim.
Maybe he said she was lying.
Maybe he accused her of making it all up to discredit him.
The judge just wants her to go away.

But she will. Not. Stop.

The writer James Michener said
“Character is what you do on the third and forth tries.”
The widow in this story keeps trying.
She won’t be intimidated.
She won’t be denied.
She will have justice.

For most of us, a story about a judge and justice conjures up images of courtrooms and juries and lawyers and witness stands. This story, however, is set in a time when the judge was bound not by the laws of the land but by the law of Moses. Judges are instructed in Deuteronomy 1:

"Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God's" (Deut 1:16-17 NRSV).

The judge's solemn duty was to declare God’s judgment and to establish just dealings among people in the covenant community. It was common for there to be disputes involving widows, since a widow could not inherit her husband’s estate. When her husband died, his wealth or property or other assets would pass to the man’s sons or brothers. The book of Deuteronomy also sets out the duty of all the people to care for the widow and the orphan, to provide for those most in need.

That kind of compassion for those who were poor, or alone, was crucial in a time when there were no government programs: no Social Security, no pensions, no Medicare or Medicaid. The social safety net relied entirely on the compassion of God’s people who fulfilled their duty to God by treating the most vulnerable with mercy. If a widow were being mistreated, she would naturally go to a judge, and while we don’t know what this widow’s complaint might have been, we can assume that her adversary was not obeying God’s command.

Her opponent was not just or fair or merciful. Neither was the judge. But this woman is not going to silently accept her plight; she is nothing if not persistent. Her constant pleas eventually wear the judge down, until at last he grants the widow justice – not because it is the right thing to do, but simply because he is tired of hearing from her! She wins her suit because she has hounded and badgered the judge.

It may be hard to imagine such a scene in our world, where the court system is thoroughly defined and regulated. Maybe it is important with this parable to attend to the larger issue – not a judge and a court, but the issue of persistence in seeking justice, insistence on justice.

So, what is Jesus saying?

Are we supposed to badger God with incessant prayers until we get what we want?
It is certainly true that the scriptures tell us to pray without ceasing.
And if God is indeed a good judge, whose grace and mercy endure,
then certainly God will hear our prayers and grant us justice.

But somehow the idea of praying to simply wear God down
doesn’t really seem to be Jesus’ point.

Or maybe Jesus means to contrast the good and just God, our heavenly judge, with this bad and unjust earthly judge, a selfish man who even grants justice only because he is thinking of himself!

But God’s justice restores and redeems. God’s grace means that we don’t get what is fair. 
Because of grace, we don’t get what we deserve, but something far better.

So what if by the time Jesus gets to the end of this parable, he’s put that little twist in the story that takes away our easy answers? What if this parable has layers of meaning that make us really think, that lead us to not only think, but also to speak, to act?

It would be JUST LIKE JESUS to do that, wouldn’t it?

Jesus told this parable so that we would not lose heart.
Yes, it is an encouragement to pray.
Yes, it is a comparison of divine justice to earthly justice.
And yes, it is a push to stand up and take action for justice.

According to scripture, God’s justice is equated with God’s righteousness. Even in cases where there is punishment for wrongdoing, “the goal of the punishment is not to maintain some abstract cosmic balance, but to put right what has gone wrong, to protect the community, and to restore the integrity of its life and its relationship with God. Justice is satisfied by the restoration of peace to relationships, not by the pain of punishment per se.”[1]

To restore peace, to restore integrity, to restore relationship… imagine the pursuit of justice that involves restoration! This is not just holding hands and singing kum-by-yah – this is an approach that starts with accountability, taking responsibility, and acting in ways that bring about the restoration of peace, integrity, relationship. This will require both persistence and resistance.

As Christians, we start with prayer – not simply begging or badgering God, but listening for God to speak to us, to lead us, to guide us. As one person said, “keep praying until your baptism is complete.”

As we pray, we listen, too, for the voices of those who have suffered, as our Brief Statement of Faith says, “In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.”

Having heard those voices, we, like the persistent widow, can pray, listen,
and then stand and work for justice.

In 1942, Ralph Lazo was a student at Belmont High School. When he heard that his Japanese American friends were being forcibly relocated to an internment camp at Manzanar for the duration of World War II, this Mexican American teenager joined them on the train platform. And then he went with them.

And stayed.
For two years.
He was seventeen years old.

For two years, Ralph Lazo literally took a stand against injustice. He was the only non-Japanese American, not a spouse or family member, who voluntarily relocated to the internment camps. He stayed until he was inducted into the US Army, where he won the bronze star for bravery and helped to liberate the Philippines.

That’s the kind of persistence we are talking about.
That’s the kind of resistance to injustice Jesus was talking about.

Admittedly, this parable challenges us to ask ourselves some hard questions. This parable may make us uncomfortable, in the same way that the current political climate makes us uncomfortable. As Christians, whatever our politics, we are called to resist injustice. But we do not stand alone, even if we feel alone. We are the recipients of a legacy of hopeful courage, a gift from God, that helps us to not only pray, but also to listen, to speak and to act on behalf of those who, like the widow, are victims of injustice.

Too often, their voices have been silenced.
Too often, children who have been victimized
have been threatened with violence if they speak up.
Too often, people of color have been dismissed
when they have pointed out the devastating impact of racism.
Too often, women who are victims of sexual assault
have been disregarded when they told their stories,
or frightened into silence not only during the assault but afterward.
Too often, people who have been rejected, disregarded, and mistreated
because of a perceived difference – sexual orientation, politics, national origin, religion –
have also had their troubles ignored because they are so different, so foreign, so “not like us.”

Because we have not experienced that kind of rejection, or because we have not personally observed it, we don’t really want to hear it. It’s easier to dismiss the claims, to close our ears and our hearts. It’s easier to turn away, easier to pretend we aren’t home, easier to pretend we don’t hear the knocking on our door.

People of God, restorative justice asks us to respond – not like this unjust judge, who grudgingly gives in, although that is better than nothing! Restorative justice asks us to listen, to repent where it is called for, to pray without ceasing, and then to stand up and speak up.

Jesus asks us to listen to that knock-knock on the doors of our lives, listen, 
and answer, “Who’s there?”

When the hungry cry out for food,
when the lonely ask for friendship,
when the victim asks for help,
when the downtrodden cry out for justice,
Jesus calls us, you and me, to go to the door and answer.

He’s there at the door with them.

He wants to know the answer to his question:
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

May God quickly grant justice,
and may we persist in listening and responding
to that insistent knock-knock on the doors of our hearts.


[1]Chris Marshall “Divine Justice as Restorative Justice,” Baylor University Center for Christian Ethics

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