Luke 18:1-8 1Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I titled today’s message “Unjust,” first of all because of the unjust judge in today’s parable. I’ve always very much disliked this parable, and I didn’t know exactly why. I thought it was because Jesus speaks of a judge who is unjust, but finally relents to the widows pleading, and then speaks of God as the one to whom we plead with a promise that God will be better at answering than that horrible judge who provides relief only to serve himself. I tried to tell myself I disliked this parable because it seems to put God in the same position as the judge who is unjust, and who delays responding to the widow’s pleas. I’ve realized that’s not the reason this parable rankles for me, though.
This parable is not an allegory even though it sometimes feels like one. God is not like the unjust judge, but we’re encouraged to pray always like the widow who always goes back to that unjust judge until he grants her plea.
For what does she plead? The story says that she asks for justice. What is that?
Today, when we hear the word justice, we might think of the people who march in the streets and advocate in the capitol and beg for support and donations. Social justice has become for us a political term that often splits along party lines. One advocates for governmental control of all finances, with distributions unrelated to one’s contribution to society. Another defines justice as what one deserves because of what one is able to earn or amass. Still another leaves some room for individual achievement, while recognizing societal factors that create what might be an unfair playing field. Just yesterday I read of a school district that refused a donation from a retired businessman local to its area intended to wipe out all the debts of the lunch program for its students. The district claims that simply erasing the debt does not address the many families with financial means who have simply chosen not to pay what is owed. We end up punishing the students for the errors of the parents…
Maybe I’ve gotten a bit off track. What is justice?
What is justice at its root, without any of the political trappings?
The basic meaning of justice is rightness. It’s actually a word that describes God.
So, when this widow comes the judge, she is basically saying, “Do what is right. Do the right thing.”
How often does that happen? How often do we even know how to determine what is right?
We live in a world that seems with many people just like the judge in our story. Tyrannical rulers and religious leaders subjugate people by seemingly random criteria like gender, or race, or hair color… what’s up with that?
I read an article the other day that questioned whether white people could sing songs that included the N-word, and the conclusion was no, that white people can never use that word, even when singing along with a song that has it in its lyrics. What’s person supposed to do? Sing “bleep, bleep”?
It’s unjust, but using that word is also unjust.
So, where do we go from here?
The parable is told, we read, in order to encourage us to pray always, and not to lost heart. What is it that causes us to lose heart? We lose heart when things happen that strike us as wrong, and we feel helpless to do anything about it.
I felt that way when my mother died of cancer. It felt wrong to me, because I was young, and certain that God and the doctors would wipe it away and she’d be fine. I believed that good people are not supposed to die so young. And when it happens, we start comparing all the good people who die with the people we judge as less good who seem to enjoy all the perks… Is it because the good people don’t pray enough, or that the worse people pray more?!?!?!
That’s what this story seems to say, and that’s what rankles, because that understanding is not good news, it puts all of the onus on us, if we only pray enough.
But this parable is about something more than getting what we want, or getting what we believe we need. This parable is about not losing heart. It’s about faith.
Sometimes, we lose sight of the bigger picture. We pray for things like winning over against others who would then need to lose. We pray for advantage over others. We pray differently than the widow of the story. We don’t usually ask for justice, we ask for favor. We want preferential treatment.
God knows this about us, and is gracious. Sometimes we do receive things that others do not. The real grace, though, comes in the forgiveness we receive when we have acted unjustly, when we have done the wrong thing, when we have disgraced another in order to ingratiate ourselves.
Sometimes, we neglect to do what is right just like that horrible judge from our story. Sometimes, we need to be pestered by someone like the widow seeking justice until we finally relent and do the right thing. Then again, sometimes nothing is quite the right thing in a world so dominated by the unjust.
Jesus encourages us to pray always, and not to lose heart. Maybe that’s about seeing God’s grace for us. Maybe praying to God for justice, for what is right, will help us to discern what is right in complicated situations, and to act on it.
Justice is not a matter of partisanship, it’s a matter of what is loving. Finally, the judge in our story did do what was right, even though it may have been for all the wrong reasons. The widow received what was right, whatever the reason. And we? We trust in God’s grace, while we live in an unjust world. We can sing of amazing grace, and give thanks and praise to the one who grants us mercy. We celebrate today in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and savior. Amen