Summary: if you want something bad enough, you need to have faith, pray and never give up
Welcome once again to the Parable Parade.
In Year C of the Episcopal Liturgical Calendar, we read a lot of scripture from Luke. And Luke LOVED to relate Jesus’ parables. For those of you who are tired of trying to figure out the real meaning, you will be happy to know that we are almost out of Year C.
In this parable Jesus, as he is oft to do, disturbs the comfortable and comforts the disturbed. As we listen to the parable, we go ‘Aha – I know where He is going with this’. In this and other parables, he seems to point to a logical conclusion only to suddenly add a twist that gives us an unexpected ending. All the sudden we are somewhere we didn’t expect.
The parable in today’s Gospel is often called the Parable of the Persistent Widow or the Parable of the Unjust Judge. It is one of the few parables that states the point at the very beginning: Pray and do not lose heart.
But there is another theme in this parable: the desire for change.
According to the customs of the day, a marriage contract stated a husband's obligations to his wife, and on his death she had a right to be supported out of his estate as specified in the contract. The widow had no legal right to inherit. Normally a husband's estate would take care of a widow's needs. But the normal condition was by no means universal. Many widows and their children were left destitute. So common was this state of affairs that "widow" came to mean not simply a woman whose husband was dead but also one who had no means of financial support and thus needed special protection.
The poor widow in this parable wants retribution for a wrong done her so that she can improve her own life. She represents poverty and vulnerability – a victim of exploitation and the abuse of power. However, instead of being paralyzed by the injustice, this widow cries out long and hard with hope. I am sure she figured if she became such a thorn in the judge’s side, he would eventually relent . . . just as he did. Not because:
· it was the right thing to do,
· not because he took pity on her,
· not because her cause was just,
· but simply because he got tired of her harping.
The widow, by constantly haranguing the judge, eventually gets her retribution. Not because the judge saw that it was the right thing to do, but rather to just get her to be quiet and stop bothering him. He readily admitted that he was not a godly man or even had much use for people; he just wanted her to shut up! He didn’t even consider the merits of her case.
Sometimes people feel that God is just a little too much like the judge; not really caring enough to respond right away, but needing to be irritated by constant prayers before answering. If we feel this way, we create an image of God that is aloof and cold. That in order to get his attention, we think we need to pray unceasingly until He perhaps gets tired of hearing from us and decides to answer the prayer so we will shut up.
But is God really like the unjust judge?
Or, perhaps, are we the unjust judge?
Are we not dominated by our own egos?
Are we just looking for what is in it for us?
We neither fear God nor respect other people. Just like the widow, we want what is due us, no matter whether it might be wrong or unjust. The widow not only wanted a righteous judgment, but she wanted revenge. She was shouting ‘I have been wronged and I deserve better than this!’ She wanted to be heard for who and what she was, a person wronged. She did not simply want justice done, she wanted to be avenged.
But if there is vengeance to be given, it will be given by the Lord, not by humans. We may want to have the final say, but that belongs to God in God’s time.
I believe the judge in our parable represents the world, which has no sense of justice or place before God. It is that world that ensures ‘Life is not Fair’. In many ways, I think the widow represents Christianity; Jesus associated with the poor, the outcast, those with disease. The widow represents all three – widows are often homeless, therefore beggars, attacked by thieves, ignored by a disdainful public. Ejected from Jewish synagogues as heretics and hated by the pagan population as Jews disloyal to the Roman Empire, Christians also were alone, poor and outcasts.
We, as Christians, are called to be there with those in pain; to be in touch with the struggles, poverty and all things that make people cry out in our world. But we also must live into the affirmation that God cares, even though the answering of the prayers may not come speedily. We need to build sustaining communities where people can be supported in their crying out and not lose heart, communities where we do not tune one another out, but live in hope and the faith that our prayers WILL be answered by God. We need communities where we do not need to shoulder the burden alone, where we have others who will help us see a glint of hope in the situation. Even in the most corrupt environment, there is the possibility of hope and faith if we just band together to support each other.