The Gospel reading for next Sunday is one of Jesus’ most provocative parables. Luke 18:1-8 recounts this teaching, which was for the purpose of encouraging them to “pray always and not lose heart.” It is an ironic depiction of perseverance in the face of astonishing resistance.
There was in a certain city a judge “who neither feared God nor had respect for people.” What could be more disqualifying for one who was charged to enact justice? Little good could come from his judicial renderings. Jesus portrays him as a rather despicable character.
A widow from his district kept coming to him, appealing for her rightful legal protection. As a plaintiff she said, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” The judge refused to hear her petition for a good while, but finally her persistence got the best of him.
Out of his self-interest he finally said, “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” (Luke 18:4). Some images come to mind: did she arrive early each day and plant herself in his pathway? Did she carry a big purse or umbrella? [The Greek suggests he is fearful of taking a beating at her hands.] Evidently, she has no other recourse, so she wears him down by her repeated visits and articulation of her cause.
Then the parable takes an interesting twist. Jesus compares the unrighteous judge to the One who is always just. If even the unjust jurist finally responds,
Will not God grant justice to the chosen ones who cry to God both day and night? Will God delay long in helping them? I tell you, God will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Human One comes, will the Human One find faith on earth?” (The New Testament and Psalms, An Inclusive Version)
There is a clear contrast between the unrighteous judge and the faithful God, yet in stunning juxtaposition, Jesus prompts the same sort of perseverance from those in need.
Akin to other biblical texts, we see that an unrighteous person can be an instrument for God’s justice. God is at work even through the corrupt structures humans erect. When we think about the polarization in state and federal governing bodies, it is clear that binary thinking that places all the good on one side in legislation is not prudent. Usually, a politician can only strive to vote for a bill that does more good than bad. And discerning this is daunting.
I fear many of us are tempted to lose heart in the present political chaos, but pray we must. As we cry out to God, we share life with God and participate in God’s redemptive mission. Persevering prayer grants both patience and resolve.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares leaders who seek God, shape churches, and serve the world.