A homily to be preached at the Mothers’ Union service at St. George’s, Upper Cam on Tuesday 15th July 2014. Based on Luke 18: 1-8, scroll to the bottom of this post to read the parable.
Could you tell a story in six words or less? It might seem impossible, how can you fit a whole plot into one short sentence? But Trevor Peacock, the actor who plays Jim Trott in the Vicar of Dibley, suggested the story: “Go west, old man, go west”.
If the mark of a successful writer is to pack as much meaning into as few words as possible, while still keeping the story simple and easy to follow, Jesus is a masterful storyteller. In this parable He certainly doesn’t go into any unnecessary detail, just think how little He tells us about the central character. We don’t know anything about the woman other than that she is a widow, and is seeking justice against her opponent. We don’t know the situation, we don’t know who the opponent is, and we can’t decide for ourselves whether she’s justified or not. Jesus doesn’t want us to be distracted – He gets straight to the point.
Still, I rather love the widow and the image of her constantly bothering the judge. My Bible suggests an alternative translation at one point and has the judge saying: “I will grant her justice, so that she may not finally come and slap me in the face.”, which I think I prefer because it suggests real, passionate fire for justice in her heart – so much so that the judge doesn’t think it can be contained.
And her persistence pays off – the judge is so fed up, and perhaps slightly frightened, of her that he defies the odds and grants justice. And maybe that would seem like the moral of the story – that we mustn’t be scared to stand up for what we believe in, and that justice will find those who are persistent in their fight for it.
It rather surprises me that this isn’t one of Jesus’ better known parables. 2000 years on it’s still a very modern story, the image of one unlikely hero taking on a powerful adversary is the subject of countless books and films.
But, of course, in the books and films this is the ending and the simple moral message – the idea that one person can make a difference. But Jesus wants us to think further than that. He doesn’t let the story end there – He says “Listen to what the unjust judge says.”.
If it’s possible that an unjust judge will do the right thing if a good person bothers them enough, just think how much our loving God will do when we bother him. I recently sent a message to some friends to pray for me before an important meeting, and a few minutes later one of them replied with a text message that simply read: “God bothering for you.” [blog note: thank you @ric_the_vic https://twitter.com/ric_the_vic/status/486640344512339968].
And in a way, that is what prayer is. Every second of every minute of every day God is receiving petitions from people across the globe. Of course, that’s the idea behind the Mother’s Union ‘Wave of Prayer’ at midday each day, the combined voices of thousands of people asking: “Grant me justice against my opponent.”. But in the case of the Mothers’ Union the opponent is not an individual or group, but the very sorrows of poverty, the bereaved, and those in need. And the recipient of the pleas of the Mothers’ Union is not an unjust judge, but our loving God. If this one, lowly widow could be granted justice by a hard-hearted man, think what Mothers’ Union is achieving through its prayers.
And yet, even when He’s already packed so much meaning into such a short, simple story, Jesus still leaves us with one last question: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”. I’m sure we’ve all seen the effects of prayer at work, and God has promised us so much, and yet we still lack faith, we still question the way God works, and we still wonder why an all-loving God doesn’t just grant an end to suffering once and for all.
But if we give up on God and stop seeking justice through him, if we doubt his love of justice and think we can achieve more on our own, we lose the greatest ally we have in our fight for what’s right. God might not grant justice overnight, or even in the way we expect, but He will grant justice – and quickly once we’ve asked for it.
The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
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?’