Scripture: Luke 18:1-18
Key verses: (2-3) “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him . . .”
Reflection: One commentator has written: “No expression of faithfulness to God is more deeply rooted than the duty to care for widows, orphans, and the powerless and homeless in our midst.” (NIB, p. 339, volume VIII) There is a woman at the center of today’s parable. Not only is she a woman, but she is a widow – someone who has no rights in the ancient world without a father, husband, brother, son or uncle to stand up for her. She is on her own – she is helpless – except for her persistence and determination. We don’t know what case she is bringing before the judge to adjudicate. But, she is seeking justice. Her situation so dire, she has nothing to lose. Without any laws to protect her – except God’s law – she stands before a judge who doesn’t fear God and doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him. In his eyes, she is nothing to him, so her chances of finding justice or compassion for her situation are slim to none. He wants her out of his courtroom. When he finally rules on her case it’s because she is annoying him. She refused to give up.
This parable is part of a “series of scenes” in scripture that focus on the contrasts between the “poor and the privileged.” Everyone hearing Jesus’ parable knew how God felt about the widow, the orphan and the homeless person. There were specific “religious duties” involved in caring for those on the margins of society. This was enough for the good judges of Israel to make their rulings wisely. The judge in our story isn’t a good judge. He didn’t care about God or about other people. Yet, the widow in persistent. So, Jesus concludes: Remember that God does hear your cry for justice and will not delay to help you. God is not an unjust judge.
What is Jesus teaching us? If we follow the thread of the first verse of our passage – we could conclude that this parable is about persistence in prayer. Don’t lose heart Jesus says, let me tell you about a persistent widow. Or if we follow the thread at the end of the parable, we conclude that God is not like the unjust judge, but hears our cries for justice and offers us compassion. Both of these elements are in the parable. Both are an important part of faith. Instead of focusing solely on the persistence of our prayers, the parable also reminds us of a compassionate God who hears our cries. How often have we forgotten this and heaped up prayer after prayer as if God didn’t hear or couldn’t hear unless we really made a lot of noise? God doesn’t need to be badgered, yet we often approach God that way. God hears our prayers and our cries for justice because God is compassionate. In fact, our prayer life and God’s compassion are inextricably linked. Justice and compassion can’t be separated. They go together. As the body of Christ, we are called to embody this essential teaching. Jesus concludes by saying God is not like this judge. God is just. God hears the cries of God’s people. God will not delay in bringing about justice. However, when the Messiah appears – will he find faith? Will there be anyone who perseveres in prayer clinging to a loving and living God? No matter what. Will we seek justice on behalf of another allowing the compassionate God to work through us?
Prayer: Loving God, forgive us for turning away from those in need. Help us to work for justice and live by your command to love mercy and seek justice for those who are not heard. Make us instruments of your loving activity in the world that others might know you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Author: Deborah Conner
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].