Summary: Jesus asks, "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" The parable of the widow and the unjust judge shows the kind of persistent faith that Christ would hope to find in each of us.
We have a tendency to think that parables teach one lesson and one lesson only. The parable of the Good Samaritan is about helping your neighbor in need. The parable of the Rich Ruler is about the total sacrifice required to follow Jesus. And we could certainly say that this parable of the widow and the unjust judge is about being persistent in prayer, especially since Luke prefaces the parable with this statement, “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” Is this parable about persistent prayer? Absolutely! But there’s many other lessons we could learn from this parable as well. So, we’re going to tackle prayer next week, and this week we are going to look at a different lesson from this parable. Rather than thinking of this parable in terms of Luke’s statement at the beginning, I want us to reflect on the parable this morning based on Jesus’ question at the end, “[W]hen the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? What do you think? We have two metaphors for faith in this parable; one in the widow and one in the unjust judge. I think if we believe that Christians in the world today are showing the faith of the persistent widow, then we can affirm that when the Son of Man comes, he will indeed find faith on earth. But if there are those who are more like the unjust judge, who have to be prodded and coaxed, that might something to be concerned about.
Let me explain what I mean. The widow and the orphan were two of the most helpless class of people in the society of Jesus’ day. A woman without a husband, particularly a woman whose husband had died, was without any resources. You see, inheritances were passed through the male lines of the family. If there were no children, a man’s inheritance would go to his brother or perhaps nephew, but never to his wife or daughter. Likewise, the husband was the voice of the family. If the husband died, the woman had no way to be represented in her community. The same was true of children without parents. Children were not a valued part of society to begin with at that time as they are now, and to be without parents to speak on one’s behalf left a child completely helpless. Thus, widows and orphans in particular were dependent on the care of their neighbors and community to get through life. That’s why James says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress….”
So we have this clear charge before us; an indisputable lesson from Jesus Christ himself that we are to care for our neighbor in need, and especially those who have no means to care for themselves, like the widows and orphans. Yet this widow comes before a judge seeking justice, and he gives her none. Over and over and over again the unjust judge ignores the plea of the helpless woman. We don’t need Jesus to tell us that he “neither feared God nor cared about men.” That’s quite obvious in his actions! Here is a man who carries the title of judge, and yet brings no justice to one who needs it most! Are we Christians who carry that title and yet do not show faith in action? When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
I think it’s a sad truth of Christianity today that a lot of us carry a title that we can’t back up with any significant action, like the judge who would not act with justice. And this shows a lack of faith. It’s not that we don’t believe, certainly to profess Christianity, there has to be belief in Jesus Christ. But it’s that we’re not so good at following that belief up with our actions. When the widow comes to us with a need, it’s a lot easier to just ignore her than to get up and do something to help her. When it’s time to say our prayers, it’s much more tempting to just climb under the covers and go to sleep. When the offering plate comes around, it’s much easier to drop a $5 bill in than a twenty. You get the picture. This is not faith! This is not what Christ wants to find when he comes to earth. Christ calls us to devotion, to sacrifice. Christ calls us to commitment and to action. Christ calls us to be like the widow.
This widow is something else, isn’t she? I mean, not only does she have faith that she will get the justice she deserves, but she is absolutely 100% persistent in pursuing that justice. She’s like a Mack Truck; nothing is going to get in her way! What’s interesting to me is that this woman is pursuing justice before the judge, even though there is no man to speak for her. And it’s not that she just goes meekly before the judge, head bowed, hands cringed, feet shuffling, and in a barely audible voice asks, “Grant me justice against my adversary.” No, no. This woman keeps appearing; in his courtroom, in his chambers, at his doorstep. She just keeps asking, pestering, and hounding the judge. Other people at this time would have bribed the judge to get what they wanted. But you have to remember that this is a widow with no resources, no money for anything, much less bribing a corrupt judge. All she has is her persistence, and so persists she does. Until, we are told, the judge at last gives in, saying, “Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!”