Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “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 and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Who is God? What images do we have when I speak this word? Do you think of images or words such as Love, spirit, Jesus? Or perhaps you think of images such as a harsh judge, strict rules giver, eternal tormentor? Can God be changed or is God unchangeable? Does your image of God care about the world? Does your image of God act in the world?
Here Jesus uses a parable of rhetorical comparison, a fancy way of saying that Jesus uses a small example to show that God is even greater and more than that example. Jesus says God is not like the unjust judge, withholding and mean, but if even that person can do a good thing won’t God do even better? This rhetorical tool helps us imagine just how good our God is! God listens to us and sees us and is working for us!
In this parable the audience would know well that a widow in that patriarchal and heteronormative society would be legally and socially powerless. The original audience would be familiar with references to widows in the Old Testament and the many, many requirements placed on folx to care for them due to the widows powerless situation. So much so that the word “widow” was often used to describe a whole class of people who were powerless rather than the strict wife who lost a husband. So the original audience would have all of this precedent in scripture of how to care for widows in their mind when Jesus tells this parable. They would be shocked to see a powerless widow turned away by a mean judge (surely I would never do that they think).
But then Jesus flips expectations as he so often does in his parables. The audience assumed this woman was powerless, unable to change her situation, unable to affect the world around her. An assumption that many of us might have of a seemingly powerless person in our society, such as an unhoused person or a child. But Jesus shows us that even the so-called powerless can cause great change in the world in pursuit of justice. This widow faces down a judge, who society has given all the power to determine justice for her and even rejected her, but does she give up? Absolutely not. The widow refuses to believe that justice should be delayed and she fights tirelessly for it.
That is the crux of this story. This is the great irony that Jesus points out. The judge does not fear God or man, which the parable points out twice. But this widowed woman’s persistence causes him fear. The Greek here gives a little more insight into this fear. The NRSV translation which I read earlier and we normally read on Sundays says the judge is concerned she will “wear me out by continually coming.” But the Greek word, “Hypopiazo” has a much more specific meaning. It basically says that “she will wear me out and give me a black eye!”
This widow is the exemplar that we are called to emulate by Jesus, to pray always and not to lose heart. Where in life have we lost hope for justice or change? Where have we given up because the odds seem too great? Pray always, and as demonstrated in this parable that means making our prayers a reality too. The woman desired justice and the way she enacted prayer was by pestering this harsh judge until he caved.
I am reminded of the Old Testament widows who refused to let society dictate their power status and worked for justice for themselves. Tamar in Genesis 38 and Ruth and Naomi, who all take matters into their own hands. I am also reminded of modern day heroes such as Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford demanding and pleading for justice in the face of unjust judges. People are gathering and demanding justice in our world. And in so doing are praying and trusting God with the future. Surely God will listen, Jesus makes this point.
How has this parable shifted who we think God is? Jesus tells us to pray always because God is listening and God will act. God has the power to change. This might sound heretical but it is in fact biblical. How many times does God’s mind change in scripture? How does Jesus change based on his situations in the gospels? God tells us to pray because it affects, not only us and the world, but even God. The gift in this is that God has the power to change, do we?
I believe that each one of us have times where we are the widow, powerless and demeaned, and each one of us have had times where we are the judge, refusing to listen to the voice of the oppressed. Society will give or take away our power depending on its needs. But it is up to us to pray with our feet and hands to make justice a reality. If you are feeling like the widow today, do not lose heart. Keep praying. Work with others and keep demanding justice. God is surely listening. If you are feeling like the judge, open your heart. Start listening to the voices of the oppressed and when you have the power to give justice, be open handed. And then, when the Son of Man comes, perhaps he will find faith on earth. May we make it so.