Exodus 18, 8-13 + Psalm 121 + 2 Timothy 3, 14, 4, 2 + Luke 18, 1-8
October 16, 2016 at St Peter the Apostle Naples, FL
There is a lot of stuff going on with this parable! It is almost a challenge to stay on point, and dig for what is being revealed. Take for instance that Judge, who for Jesus almost seems to be the focus. He is a Judge. Justice is his business, yet this judge is a failure because he does not make certain that justice is served for everyone. This is a serious charge against him. It is his responsibility to see that there is justice for all, especially the most vulnerable. This man is a problem. Then there is the widow. She is out of her place. As a widow she is a member of one of the most oppressed classes in Israelite society. It would seem that she is not only widowed but also alone in the world, for the custom of that time and culture was for men to appear before a judge to plead her cause. In contrast to a Judge who does nothing, she is really something!
Since we do not know what her complaint is because there are no details, the complaint itself is not the purpose of the parable. What we have here one injustice coming into conflict with an obstacle or a system that is supposed to provide it. We are not told how long the conflict went on, but it was long enough to wear down the obstacle to justice. Forget about judges and widows with this parable. Jesus is talking about justice and how it is to be achieved.
This Judge, the obstacle to justice does not fear God, says Jesus. Those who do fear God, who keep God’s commandments loving God and neighbor do not allow or maintain a system or a culture of injustice. So first of all the parable prompts us to some reflection on whether or not we are the cause of any injustice. Notice however that the judge has not actually caused nor is he accused of inflicting justice. In other words, this is not about something he has done. On the contrary, it is about what he has not done and simply allowed it to continue by his passive behavior and his dismissal of this injustice until it is right in his face. In other words, until people might start talking about him.
The widow on the other hand is a victim of injustice, and she might just as well represent those who work for justice. Jesus speaks to this as well. He speaks a word of encouragement saying; “Do not sit around thinking that this is just the way it is. Stand up, speak up, and don’t quit. Especially do not let any obstacle get in the way.” Justice, which is one of the hallmarks of the Kingdom of God that Jesus has come to proclaim, is essential; and until it achieved for all, there is no Kingdom of God.
As he winds up this parable, Jesus shifts the focus to faith. Justice and Faith go together. That’s the problem for the judge. He has no faith. When Jesus asks that penetrating and sobering question, he is not asking whether or not he will find devotion, piety, candles and incense. He is asking if he will find justice, and for this we must pray without ceasing, without discouragement.
Prayer is no substitute for action however. It is like a beam thrown from a flashlight before us into the darkness. It helps us to go forward, it encourages us act. Prayer is not an escape from life but a journey into the heart of life. We learn to stand on our own feet before God and the world, and to accept full responsibility for our lives. The main and final purpose of prayer as we see it in the prayerful life of Jesus is to foster our relationship with God. This is the most important thing of all. This is the anchor of our spiritual lives which is not an extra life, but the life of our real selves. This kind of prayer is not asking things of God, but receiving what God wants to give and of shaping us into the people God has made his own, holy, and redeemed. Prayer is its own reward. It enriches us. It enables us to live not only more spiritually, but more deeply, more fully, more justly and therefore more authentically like children of God.