The Parable of the Persistent Widow

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Reading: Luke 18: 1-8

1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

WE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO FEAR GOD AND CARE FOR PEOPLE

I have adapted one line from this reading which we need repeat from time to time, just to remind ourselves of who we are.

It goes like this:

WE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO FEAR GOD AND CARE FOR PEOPLE

What it is that the widow wants- revenge?

Does she want money?

Is she just being awkward and has some personal grudge against the judge?

No. She is demanding JUSTICE.

Lets think about the context here:

She is a widow. This means she is one of the most vulnerable in the society of the day. No widows pension, healthcare or anything. She likely or not has no land and minimal possessions. Unless she had friends or relatives in high places, she would have no power and no voice and nobody to speak for her (that would have been lost with her husband). This was, after all a very patriarchal society.

For someone in her shoes to persist, to make a claim for justice must have taken great courage.

She must also have been so, so VERY fed up with being powerless, unheard, invisible, not valued.

She might as well not even exist. Does she give up?

No, she chose to challenge the unchallengeable. She fought back, questioning the judge’s judgement.

A bit like Oliver Twist asking for more, she was threatening the status quo.

She had nothing to lose but had God and truth on her side.

HOW MANY PEOPLE TODAY ARE IN THIS WIDOW’S POSITION?

HOW MANY ARE EXPLOITED BY OTHERS AND DENIED JUSTICE?

HOW MANY HAVE NO VOICE?

Now, what about the judge?

In biblical times a Judge wielded an extraordinary amount of power. Lives would be spared, advanced, or wasted according to his decision.

He would have no connection with vulnerable people let alone experience or empathy with their plight. In fact you might doubt his suitability, after all it clearly states that “HE NEITHER FEARED GOD NOR CARED ABOUT PEOPLE”

Unlike us who “Fear God and care for People”

It is not entirely unlikely that he was appointed by an old boys’; network on the basis of status rather than suitability.

He clearly had a closed mind and small heart and above all would not make a decision that was not in his personal interest

FAST FORWARD 2000 YEARS – WHAT’S CHANGED? Ok we might say that those appointed to this position have had training and are bound by oaths. However, think about who makes everyday decisions big and small effecting (well, not just ourselves but) swathes of needy people- they might be politicians, captains of industry, shareholders, stockbrokers, multinational corporations, US, YOU, ME.

Are these, are WE the right people to wield the power to make major choices? Who appointed them or us with the right to command such power over life and death?

Are they, are we acting for God’s justice or personal/corporate gain when we make decisions which reverberate around a distant part of our world?

Lots of questions…. And at least by asking these questions we are acknowledging the impact we can have on others.

WHAT DO JUDGES LOOK LIKE THESE DAYS? AREN’T WE JUDGES, MAKING DECISIONS THAT EFFECT PEOPLE? IF SO, WHO INFORMS US? WHO DO WE TAKE ADVICE FROM? WHO INFLUENCES OUR CHOICES- MEDIA? POLITICS? FASHION? ADVERTISING? OLD BOYS’ NETWORK?

WHO CALLS THE SHOTS IN OUR WORLD?

OK getting back to the widow…

She certainly was persistent. Remember she was on a hiding to nothing here and of course once the judge makes the decision she has no right of appeal. Yes, she persisted and as Jesus teaches us that constant prayer reaches God, so it was with the widow’s pleading- God worked through the judge to deliver justice to the widow.

This is all very neat & tidy- the nasty old judge gives in to the oppressed Widow and all is well.

There has to be more to it than that…

How does this relate to us, here, today? How should this inspire us to do the right thing to others? Are WE not the judges affecting so many lives that we are unaware of? How many of OUR decisions can affect millions of people in need?

It’s never too late to change how we make choices..

There is a wealth of biblical guidance which we ignore at our peril- (well actually at the peril of others) which should drive us to seek justice for people we have never met.

People we will never meet, who live in places we might not have heard of and will never go.

People who are individuals with real names that we have never heard and maybe cannot even pronounce.

Nevertheless they are People, just as we are. They have had parents and may have children. Like us. They are part of our family. God’s family. We have a responsibility.

Proverbs 14:31 says

He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honours God

And by NOT caring for others or by ignoring their plight are we not actually saying “it’s ok to be poor. I’m alright Jack”?

No that is not us as ….

WE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO FEAR GOD AND CARE FOR PEOPLE

So, what’s to be done?

Let’s look again at judges and judging.

Unlike the judge in this story, impartiality lies at the core of our justice system, and the same is true of the criminal and social justice system in the Old Testament. Judges are to show no partiality, no bias or prejudice based on social standing. But it is SOCIAL JUSTICE that we’re dealing with here- the widow does not want to get anything out of this other than FAIRNESS.

Here the emphasis is slightly different- this kind of justice – SOCIAL JUSTICE – is not all about legislating and punishing wrong doing but more to do with how wealth and power are distributed in society….AND IMPORTANTLY our desire and will to make things right

Rather than impartiality, scripture demand a most definite bias towards one section of the population. God’s justice requires a special concern for the poor, the widows, the orphans, the immigrants referred to in scripture as “aliens”. In fact the plight of the vulnerable in society should give us a clear measure of how well we follow scripture – the true measure of justice is how we treat the most vulnerable members of the human race, our family.

Exodus 22 v 21-23 says:

Do not ill-treat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or orphan. If you do and they cry out to me I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused and I will kill you with a sword….”

God’s justice is rightly biased in favour of the poor and the oppressed for 2 main reasons:

  1. The poor are more frequently the victims of injustice than others. Their God given rights are more easily trampled on than the rich and powerful
  2. The way the poor are forced to live violates God’s purpose for the world

God is not so much biased IN FAVOUR OF the poor but more is biased AGAINST poverty and oppression and the other things that makes them poor to start with.

God’s perfect world does not involve people lacking basic needs while others- us, you, me, live in opulence and wealth. And that is why in scripture, meeting the needs of the poor is not seen as an act of CHARITY but an act of JUSTICE

Let’s for a minute think about this- meeting the needs of the poor is not an act of CHARITY but an act of JUSTICE.

Charity normally implies giving something and one danger of this is that it creates a dependence on the giver to sort things out because the recipients can’t do this for themselves. In a weird way the giver holds the power over the lives of those in need. This is akin to enslavement!

That’s not to say at all that charity is bad but much better we aim for JUSTICE.

JUSTICE does not enslave, it liberates, as it seeks to empower the weak so they are able to make changes for themselves.

This of course is where Fairtrade comes in- supporting people to lift themselves out of poverty through trade on THEIR terms with THEIR rights and expectations and their HUMANITY respected

So, as Christians, we should be biased in favour of the oppressed, the vulnerable. BUT let’s not think that justice can be achieved by treating everybody the same – that might be termed “Equality” but it is “equity” that we should seek.

Here’s the distinction

A story-

3 people are trying to see over a fence to watch the football match on the other side.

Alison can see easily as she is tallest.

Bob can only just see over the fence if he stands on tiptoes

Christian is too short and can only see the fence

EQUALITY: We give them each a box of the same height to stand on. Bob now can see, Alison never needed the box and Christian still can’t see over but, hey, they all have an equally sized box to stand on

EQUITY: Give them each the right number off boxes to stand on to be able to see over.

We can take this further:

REALITY: Before we do anything, Alison is already standing on lots of boxes and Christian is standing in a hole.

LIBERATION: The fence is removed

AND WHAT WE ARE CALLED TO DO is to provide these boxes to enable everyone to be able to see over the fence.

We just cannot sit back because:

WE ARE PEOPLE WHO FEAR GHOD AND CARE FOR PEOPLE

1 John 3 v 17 has this to say:

If someone who has the riches of this world sees his brother in need and closes his heart, how does the love of God abide in him?

For the millions of vulnerable people in the world today (and the widow is just one example), WE are the judges. WE are making vulnerable people wait for OUR decision to do the right thing.

They wait, hungry

We wait in queues for cheap goods

They wait unheard

We spend time talking about should we spend a little more which might help?

They travel for hours to collect clean water

We wonder is it worth the time driving out of our way to shops that sell things that help

We benefit from cheap food, clothes and other essentials as well as plenty of leisure items which are produced by people in places where justice is a myth and often survival is a dream.

Their lives are controlled by what we decide to spend.

So perhaps it is time that we stopped being the judge who refused to act

Perhaps now is the time to listen to what God asks us to do- no, TELLS US what to do to support and protect the vulnerable

We cannot carry on ignoring cries for justice because..

WE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO FEAR GOD AND CARE FOR PEOPLE

Proverbs 31:8-9 says:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves

Ensure justice for those being crushed

Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless

And see they get justice

One thing you can do is buy stuff with the Fairtrade logo which guarantees the producer/grower/farmer get a fair and guaranteed price, are not working in sweatshops (Includes no child labour), are treated fairly, have a say and a genuine stake in the trade. Additionally, Fairtrade provides a “community premium” to enable the community to fund eg schools, clinics, water supply and more.

Let’s help overcome the injustices in our global system of trade and let’s pray together that we can change our habits and like the unjust judge, sit up and take action.

Let us end in prayer

Almighty God, giver of love and justice

Who commands us, your children, to love our neighbours as ourselves

And who tells us that love must be shown in deeds and not just word.

Help us to hear the cries of the vulnerable and needy

So we might make the right choices in sharing our wealth

And not be like the judge who delays while people suffer

We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord

Amen