The world is not as it should be. We are called to persistently call out to God, who is justice, to make things right.
Through this lesson, students should:
1. Seek to identify the things that are not right in the world.
2. Be encouraged to pray to God persistently about the things that are not right in this world.
3. Be inspired to discover how they might participate in making the world right.
Catching Up on the Story
As we have been journeying with Jesus toward Jerusalem and his ultimate death, we’ve witnessed quite a few interactions between him and his disciples and the Pharisees. Jesus has done some remarkable things. He’s also gotten himself into some trouble.
The Pharisees are out to get him and will use any excuse to try and shame Jesus. The Pharisees are out to get Jesus b he’s because he has been revealing to the world the nature of the new world order, or the Kingdom of God. Remember that we’ve said that Luke is telling this story from an apocalyptic perspective, a perspective that means to reveal what God is doing to heal, restore, and redeem his created order.
By all accounts, the Pharisees should be excited that Jesus, as God’s Messiah, has come and is revealing this new order, but they are not. They are too tied to the old order to see clearly. You could say that they benefit from it.
In the passage directly preceding the one we will look at today, Jesus begins to encourage his disciples to be ready for the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom. While Jesus has brought the beginning of the Kingdom, its final fulfillment will come one day. But its coming will be sudden.
Before it comes, people will long to see Jesus coming back to make all things right. Jesus’ followers will long for that day because they know things should and can be better, but they aren’t just yet.
It’s like when you’ve got a stomach bug l night. Desperately you long for the morning to come, and perhaps with that a cessation of your sickness. You can feel it in your body that things should and could be better. But you don’t know when things will finally be right, but you long for it. In the meantime, the only thing you can do is hope.
Today’s passage responds to the disciples wanting to know when and where they might observe the Kingdom of God arriving. In response, Jesus tells a parable. Remember, a parable is a story that compares what is known to the audience to what is not known. The setting, the nature of the characters in the story, and how they behave are well known to Jesus’ followers. The same is not always true for us.
Intro – Luke 18:1
Luke tells us that Jesus tells his disciples this parable because they need to be encouraged not to lose heart. The translation, “lose heart,” might be a bit misleading. Jesus means much more than just becoming discouraged. Instead, Jesus tells this story so that his followers do not give up our belief in the coming of God’s Kingdom and its fulfillment.
Jesus wishes that, when we find ourselves surrounded by all the markers of the old age, the old, broken, violent, sick, and unjust way of the world, we will not abandon the whole project, giving up our faith in God.
The world is broken. We know it. God knows it, and God has done and is doing something about it, but a lot of the time, we fail to see any progress towards its restoration.
Jesus begins his story by telling us that a widow lived in a town somewhere. Right off the bat, we might assume that as a widow, she is an older lady. When someone is talking about a widow, my first mental image is a kindly old lady with gray or white hair. But this isn’t necessarily the case.
The life expectancy of people in Jesus’ day was nowhere near as it is today. That, coupled with the fact that young girls were often married off to older men, there is a good chance that this widow isn’t all that old.
Nevertheless, she is a widow, and in Jesus’ day, widows symbolize the ultimate state of vulnerability. The world belonged to men, and if you were a woman who was not attached to a man, a father, brother, or husband, you had no advocate.
We learn that this widow has had some wrong perpetrated against her. Jesus does not tell us what that wrong is, though perhaps someone has taken advantage of her financially. Whatever the case may be, she is seeking justice. She hopes that the harm will be made right, so she takes her case to the judge.
Another difference between the world of this parable and our own is the court system. In our own time, if someone wrongs us, we can report it to the authorities, and they will investigate, seeking to prosecute the individual responsible for the crime. We often don’t have to pay for the service; it just happens.
In the world of this parable, our current criminal justice system is unimaginable. No one will investigate and seek justice on behalf of the widow. If the widow wants justice, she must seek it out on her own. And with no man to advocate for her, this would not be easy.
We meet the second character in this story through the widow's actions. Desperate for justice, the widow goes to the local judge for help. If the widow is a symbol of vulnerability, the judge symbolizes stability and privilege.
He is likely a high-standing man within the community appointed to mediate between people. There were no juries here. A victim would make a case against an opponent, and the judge would render a verdict.
The character of the judge is less than righteous, Jesus tells us. Later, the judge echoes that he neither fears God nor has any respect for people. We might assume that this speaks to the man’s impartiality, not taking sides in an argument but seeing things for what they are. That is not what Jesus means.
As a Jewish man, there were things expected of him. To be righteous was to fear God. In this sense, fearing God is about respect, honor, and obedience, not fear in the sense of terror. In this context, to not fear God was to have no respect for God or God’s laws.
The judge’s lack of fear of God leads him to a lack of respect for people. He does not care for all of the things about which he should care. He does not care for the poor, the widow, and the vulnerable, as Israel was supposed to care. He only cared about himself. We are to understand from this picture that Jesus paints that this man only cares about himself. Likely, his decisions were based not on the truth but on the material advantage his decision could bring himself or his friends. This judge is a corrupt scoundrel.
The Judge and the Widow
Jesus tells us that the widow goes to the judge to seek justice. The judge turns the widow away. We don’t know why. Perhaps the person the widow, has accused is a supporter of the judge. Or maybe he’s been approached by the offender and offered a bribe. Either way, because he cares only for himself, the judge has no motivation to help the widow.
Undaunted, the widow keeps coming to plead her case before the judge. Day after day, she goes to the judge for justice. She is relentless, ceasing to give up hope that justice will be served.
Finally, her persistence pays off. Still not concerned with justice, the judge says, “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.”
A better translation for “so that she may not wear me out” would be “so that she may not give me a black eye.” The judge is concerned that the widow will assault him! So, the judge gives in.
In parables, one of the characters is often thought to represent God. This isn’t the case in this parable. The judge is not a stand-in for God. The reality is that the judge is meant to be a contrast, a comparison with God.
Jesus ends the parable by saying, “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night?” In other words, if this judge will grant the widow justice when she is so persistent, how much more readily will God give justice when we cry out to him? God is nothing like the judge because God’s character is love and justice.
A lot of people will make this story about persistent prayer. And, to a certain extent, it is. But it is about our hope that God will bring justice here and now.
This parable assumes that we have been praying for God’s Kingdom to come here and now as it is in heaven. We look around and see injustice everywhere. The world looks nothing like God’s Kingdom come on earth. Yet, our hope is that this will be the case one day.
But we wait. Jesus knows that we will wait. Jesus knows that it will be difficult to see the new order, the Kingdom of God, is breaking into the world. I think this passage is more about us continuing our prayer for God’s Kingdom to come and our belief that it will, even when it doesn’t look like it.
We can do this because Jesus is telling us that God's nature is nothing like humanity's. God is good, always concerned with the plight of his creation. And because of this, even though it may seem a long time to us,
it will not be long until God, as the good and faithful judge, will bring about justice.
Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
Who are the main characters in the story? What are they doing?
What doesn’t make sense to you in this story?
What are some ways in which the world is not right? What are some injustices that we see from day to day?
Around the world, what are some injustices that we see Christians facing? What should be our attitudes toward these injustices?
As Christians, what are the values that the world holds that we might criticize? How might we be on the receiving end of injustice because of those criticisms?
How might we be the answer to the prayer of someone seeking vindication in the face of injustice? How can we do this here at home and abroad?