My first understanding of prayer came when I was taught that old childhood bedtime prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep…” It was an asking prayer, not unlike my Christmas letters to Santa Claus, filled with requests, “God bless Mummy and Daddy, etc.” It is a type of praying that was all too common in some Christian circles then, and even now. It seems at first glance to be the kind of prayer Jesus advocates in our story from Luke’s gospel today, where Jesus offers a story about faith and justice and prayer. An Unjust Judge is (non-violently) nagged by a widow into giving justice without the benefit of his usual bribes.
Many of those who have studied this parable have cast God as the judge, and suggested that the lesson one takes away is the encouragement to pray continuously until we get what we want.
But we also have been led to believe that God most definitely is not like the unjust judge of the parable. Rev. Bruce Prewer understood this story as one of the “How much more parables: as in if God will provide for the birds of the air and lilies of the field, how much more will he provide for his children. He said in one of his sermons on today’s text, “If a ‘scumbag’ judge will give in when he tires of a widow’s pleas, then surely a just, merciful, and loving God will be that much swifter to answer our prayers.”
Yet, despite the traditional interpretations and humorous renderings, this take on the story is less-than-satisfying. Remember this story is a parable. And Jesus’ parables are inevitably stories that turn our world upside down. Claiming that this story urges us to pray continually (good advice in itself) or even that nagging or pestering God is a recommended lifestyle, does not make it very world-upending.
Storyteller Megan McKenna suggests that, instead of seeing ourselves as this widow – an old widow, demanding justice, demanding our rights, and God as the judge, slow to act, if at all – let’s suppose that this widow, a young widow, with her persistent and vigorous demands for justice, represents God.
And let’s also suppose that you and I are the unjust judge, who, Scripture tells us, neither fears God nor has respect for people. I think that’s a pretty reasonable interpretation. After all, I know people like that. In my worse moments, I have leaned that way myself.
Such a suggestion turns everything up side down, in true parable fashion, but it is not far from our reality. Face it, you and I are more likely than God to have the attitude represented by the unjust judge
Imagine! God, as widow, is after us, as judges! Continually calling us. Continually asking for something from us. Continually challenging our complacent Christian lives. Looked at in this way, the parable gains some real bite.
We are told in various places in Scripture that God is found in the powerless, in those looking for justice, on the side of the poor and those crying out for justice, but who are not getting it from us, the unjust judges who make daily decisions that support life-denying, unfair and unjust practices and systems by which we benefit and, at the same time, oppress and impoverish others.
You will recall Matthew’s story about Son of Man who comes in judgment saying, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” (Mt. 25:40) The God/Widow is not going to let us get away with our injustice. Her persistent demands upon us for compassionate justice will not let us rest.
In this parable we hear of the Divine yearning for a change in us: to stand with the hurting, and not to collude with the alternatives. It means being in touch with all that makes people cry out in our world, forsaking our resemblance to the unjust judge, and taking on the face of the God who cares for their well being.
We have seen moments in which the Widow/God succeeded: in the recognition of the Australian citizenship of Aboriginal people, in the end of the “White Australia” policy, in the end of Apartheid in South African, in the ordination of women in many Christian churches. So let’s keep looking for more. Finding a glint of God in the grey areas of the various demands of our world is a way of affirming our Christian practice; walking with God, becoming kind and doing justice .
With the nagging Widow/God in our faces every time we turn around, we are called to be building supportive communities where people do not lose heart, where we do not tune out, but live in hope and with a sense of trust that does not make us feel we have to carry the whole world on our shoulders.”