Scripture Text: Luke 18:1-8
Preacher: Kelvin Mulembe
What an excellent and captivating story. A poor, powerless and vulnerable widow finally gets justice from a powerful and corrupt judge. This parable tells us of the kind of thing that could happen to us, and often did happen in Jesus’ time. Jesus loved to teach using parables. A parable is a story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus and his contemporaries. We see two characters in it:
a) The Judge, obviously not a Jewish judge. We know from historical records that Jews had a different system for resolving disputes. All ordinary Jewish disputes were taken before the elders, and not into the courts. Under the Jewish law, matters were taken for arbitration before a panel of three judges. One chosen by the plaintiff, one chosen by the defendant, and one independently appointed. Cases where not decided by just one judge, but by a two third majority.
b) This Judge is likely one of the paid magistrates appointed by Herod or the Romans. Such judges were notorious and very corrupt. Plaintiffs had to be persons of influence or money to bribe their way to a favorable verdict or they had no hope of ever getting their case settled. Poor people had no chance of even having their cases heard by these gangster Judges. In fact, they were famously nicknamed robber judges. Judges of prohibition or punishment.
c) The widow, thus, represented all those who were poor, marginalized, and defenseless. Those whom theologian Howard Thurman calls the disinherited. It is likely she was an immigrant woman who could not go before the Jewish elders. Being poor and broke meant that she did not have any chance of receiving justice from such a judge. Her only resource was persistence. She never gave up. I could envision her showing up everywhere the judge went. At his house, at the grocery store, showed up as he was walking his dog, and at the night club. It is possible that she pestered him so much that the Judge began to fear for his physical safety as well as his position. The word translated here as, lest she wears me out with her constant request, can literary be translated as, “lest she gives me a black eye” or blemish. He’s not giving her justice because he has finally come to his senses, but because the pressure is heating up, and he’s getting scared of being exposed.
This parable has been preached multiple times by prominent preachers, but often from the perspective of the widow’s perseverance. That she never gave up, and this is why she got her justice. That is only partially true. This parable is not about the widow as much as it is about God. This woman was risking her life and she could have ended up in prison or worse. She got her justice yes, but not because of her perseverance alone. Instead, her perseverance helped her to witness God’s faithfulness for her vindication. It is amazing what God’s grace can do for us. God can use the wicked to bless us. The parable’s main purpose is to reveal the nature and image of God. It contrasts God’s righteousness from the character of the unjust and wicked Judge.
i) God is just whereas this judge in unjust. God is Faithful, this judge is unfaithful. God is Loving and Cares about people. This wicked Judge does not care about people, or about God. And God is always present with us, pleading our case. This Judge doesn’t want to be bothered. God’s grace is enduring while human commitment wears off.
ii) I am not saying that God does not desire and expect us to persevere in prayer. Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season you will reap harvest, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).” To persevere is to continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success. To carry on. To not give up. To persevere in prayer is to maintain our faith and hope in God’s provision. His intervention. His Breakthrough. Yes, things are messy right now. And they may be messy for a while. You don’t even have a clue of how your situation will ever change. I came to let you know that God will come through for you according to God’s word.
iii) It is God’s hope and request that we teach our children and grandchildren to pray and persevere. That we remind each other to pray and be courageous. God desires that the church be a praying church, a persevering church. The church cannot rightfully represent God and carryout God’s mission of making disciples and transforming the world without engaging in constant prayer and perseverance.
I learned at an early age the importance of prayer and how to pray from my grandmother. Grandma Eka was my mom’s mom. She embodied a life of constant prayer. As far as I can remember, she only owned one book that she could read over and over. I remember asking her, “Grandma, why do you always read the same book?” Her response was that every time she read it, she heard something new. She never went a week without reading the Bible. Now I know what she meant. God’s word is living. It is active. It’s powerful.
But was more remarkable about her is how often she brought God and her faith into every aspect of her life. Grandma loved gardening. And she would make us work. Off course you have to if want to taste any of her fresh carrots. We would be working in the garden, sweating, and complaining, but she would burst out in a song about the beauty of the sky, sunshine, the wind, and the trees and how life was an amazing gift from God. You kidding me? Her favorite phrase was “in God’s time.” God makes all things beautiful.
Now that I am older, I understand.
a) To pray is to enter into dialogue with God. Three conditions are required:
a. To experience one’s life story as God’s word addressed to one-self;
b. To understand that God is really present in your actual life story – past, present, and future; (Luke 15:31) – as a free and undeserved gift of himself to us
c. To accept freely one’s life story as the word of God in which God promises his word to us through Christ (Matthew 28:20) “I am with you always, to the end of the world”)
To persist in prayer and not give up does mean endless repetitions or painfully long prayer sessions. Constant prayer means putting our requests continually before God as we live for him day by day, believing God will answer. Living by faith means we don’t give up. God’s answer may seem delayed, but we must always believe that there is good reason for that. As we persist in prayer, we grow in character, faith, and hope.
b) Let me caution here, that many of us have more in common with the wicked judge than with the widow. We are not that poor. We have a tendency of not caring about other people’s struggles. We always want to see what is in it for us. We do not want to be bothered. The unrighteous judge did not care about people or about God. Selfishness sometimes masquerades as self-care. Greed comes naturally. We are a fallen people. With warped desires and a twisted sense of justice. Only God’s grace can redeem us. We need the Holy Spirit to transform us.
c) The widow’s resource is not power or property but legal persistence. The question is not whether God will vindicate the persecuted, but whether the persecuted or oppressed will persevere until they receive vindication.
It reminds me of the old Negro spiritual “We shall overcome someday”:
i. We shall overcome, we shall overcome
We shall overcome some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We shall overcome some day
ii. The Lord will see us through, the Lord will see us through
The lord will see us through some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
The Lord will see us some day
iii. We’re on to victory, we’re on to victory
We’re on to victory someday
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We’re on to victory some day
In many instances, we are like Jesus’s audience. We are living in a time of great injustice. A society in which poor people tend to receive longer and unfair prison sentences compared to those who have resources or belong to a particular class even when convicted of the same or more serious crime. Today, social justice is just another cool slogan. Something to add to our resume. Or to make us feel good about ourselves.
When the concept of justice has no universal definition or enforcement, the reputation of our courts becomes highly suspect. A justice system that clearly works for one class of people but not others is no justice at all. It is similar to a kangaroo court. If you can acquit someone without allowing evidence or witnesses. That’s a kangaroo court. Its concern is more about wrapping up cases than about justice.
It is unfortunate that the highest court of the land – the Supreme Court is an openly politicized institution. It has become common to predict verdicts almost with precision depending on who is being charged. That is an example of a perverted justice system.
Fortunately, God’s justice is different. God’s justice does not depend on the influence of those with the power or resources. If anything, God’s justice looks out for those who are weak, and vulnerable. The poor, the homeless. The immigrants. Those whom society has given up on.
God’s justice is guaranteed. God cares about people and cares about God’s word. God cares about you and me. No matter how insignificant your concerns may be to others. God says, “my word shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish the purpose for which it was sent.”
You may be broke, busted and disgusted. You shall overcome. You may be addicted and evicted. You shall overcome. You may be divorced and lonely. Or married and still lonely. You shall overcome. You may be fired, or enduring in a dead-end job, or searching for a job, you shall overcome.
We as a people of faith, as a united Methodist church, as Arlington Temple, we shall overcome.
As the widow persisted until she was vindicated, let us persist in prayer and not lose heart.
Deep in your heart believe that you shall overcome. The Lord will see you through. Yes, you are onto victory and you shall not be afraid. You shall overcome. And in the words of my grandmother, “in God’s time. God makes all things beautiful.