The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Luke 18:1-8

 

THE POSITION OF A JUDGE WAS VERY IMPORTANT IN THE CULTURE OF ISRAEL. THERE WAS A TIME WHEN THE ONLY FORM OF GOVERNMENT WAS THE JUDGE WHO SAT IN THE GATE OF THE CITY AND DISPENSED JUSTICE AND ALSO LED THE NATION. YOU CAN READ ABOUT THIS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT BOOK OF JUDGES. BY THE TIME OF THE ROMAN OCCUPATION, HOWEVER, THE JUDGES WERE EITHER POLITICAL APPOINTEES OR WERE THOSE WHO BOUGHT THEIR POSITIONS. IT WAS A LUCRATIVE JOB BECAUSE THEY COULD EXTRACT BRIBES FROM BOTH PARTIES IN A DISPUTE AND RULE IN FAVOR OF THE ONE WHO MADE THE BIGGER BRIBE.

WIDOWS ON THE OTHER HAND WERE THE MOST VULNERABLE OF THE POPULATION. THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE GIVEN SPECIAL PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW, AS WERE ORPHANS AND ALIENS. IF ONE WERE WIDOWED UNDER THE AGE OF SIXTY, THE EXPECTATION WAS THAT SHE WOULD REMARRY, USUALLY TO THE BROTHER OF HER DEAD HUSBAND. WHILE A WIDOW COULD INHERIT THE PROPERTY OF HER DEAD HUSBAND, HANGING ON TO IT WAS A PROBLEM. ANY MALE RELATIVE OF HER DEAD HUSBAND COULD CLAIM THE PROPERTY FOR HIMSELF.

SO, IN THIS LITTLE PARABLE, WE HAVE AN UNJUST JUDGE AND A WIDOW WHO HAS NO MALE TO SPEAK UP FOR HER; A SMUG SELF-SATISFIED JUDGE AND A HELPLESS AND VULNERABLE WIDOW. SHE BADGERS THE JUDGE OVER AND OVER TO GET JUSTICE. WHAT THE JUDGE SAYS TO HIMSELF IN THE GREEK IS THAT, “THIS WIDOW IS GIVING ME A BLACK EYE BY CONTINUALLY COMING TO ME.” HER CONSTANT PLEAS FOR JUSTICE ARE MAKING HIM LOOK BAD, SO HE GRANTS HER JUSTICE JUST TO GET HER TO STOP. THE WIDOW’S DEMANDS RISK THE PUBLIC EMBARRASSMENT OF THE JUDGE, SO HE GRANTS HER JUSTICE, NOT BECAUSE HE HAS HAD A CHANGE OF HEART, BUT TO SAVE HIS REPUTATION.

THE SIMPLE INTERPRETATION OF THE PARABLE IS TO CONTRAST THE MOTIVATION OF THE UNJUST JUDGE WITH THAT OF THE TRUE JUSTICE OF GOD. THE PURPOSE OF JESUS’ TELLING THIS PARABLE IS TO ENCOURAGE HIS FOLLOWERS IN THE NEED TO PRAY ALWAYS AND NOT LOSE HEART. WHATEVER THE ORIGINAL CONTEXT OF THE PARABLE, ITS INCLUSION IN THE GOSPEL OF LUKE IS SET IN THE CONTEXT OF BOTH THE UNEXPECTED DELAY IN THE RETURN OF JESUS AND THE INCREASING DIFFICULTIES EXPERIENCED BY THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY. THE CHRISTIANS OF THAT TIME WERE EXPECTING JESUS TO RETURN IN GLORY IN THEIR LIFETIME, AND WHEN WHOLE GENERATIONS BEGAN TO DIE OFF THEIR TRUST IN THE PROMISES OF JESUS BEGAN TO WANE. YET, JESUS AFFIRMS THAT GOD WILL, “GRANT JUSTICE TO HIS CHOSEN ONES WHO CRY TO HIM DAY AND NIGHT.” THE CHALLENGE FOR THE BELIEVERS OF THE FIRST AND SECOND CENTURIES, AND FOR ALL THE FOLLOWERS OF THE CHRIST TODAY, IS TO MAINTAIN THAT TRUST IN THE PROMISE OF THE JUSTICE OF GOD WHILE WE WAIT FOR THE RETURN OF THE SON OF MAN. WHAT WE ARE CALLED TO DO IS TO PRAY ALWAYS AND NOT TO LOSE HEART. HOW THEN SHALL WE LIVE WHILE WAITING FOR THE RETURN OF OUR LORD IN A WORLD FULL OF INJUSTICE AND CORRUPTION? PERHAPS THE ANSWER LIES IN THE EXAMPLE OF THE WIDOW.

SHE PERSISTENTLY BADGERS THE UNJUST JUDGE UNTIL HE, OUT OF EMBARRASSMENT, FINALLY GIVES HER JUSTICE. THE HOLY SCRIPTURES ARE CONSISTENT IN THEIR DEMAND TO CARE FOR THOSE MOST VULNERABLE IN SOCIETY. WHILE THE WIDOW HAD NO ONE TO SPEAK FOR HER, THE VULNERABLE IN OUR SOCIETY HAVE A LOT OF VOICES TO SPEAK UP FOR THEM. THOSE VOICES BELONG TO THE MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST; THOSE VOICES BELONG TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD HERE IN THIS CONGREGATION. WE EFFECT CHANGE BY SPEAKING OUT; BY HOLDING THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR INJUSTICE ACCOUNTABLE. SOME OF THE PRECEPTS I USED IN TRAINING CHAPLAINS FOR THE ARMY IS TO TELL THEM THAT, REGARDLESS OF THEIR DENOMINATION, THEIR ROLE WAS TO SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER, AND IN SO DOING COMFORT THE AFFLICTED AND AFFLICT THE COMFORTABLE. THIS IS A SCARY THING TO DO IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, BUT ESPECIALLY IN AN ORGANIZATION WHERE YOUR BOSS CAN SEND YOU TO LEAVENWORTH. IT IS A SCARY THING TO DO EVEN HERE WHERE WE LIVE, YET WE ARE THE VOICE OF THE JUSTICE OF GOD; WE ARE THE HANDS AND FEET OF THE JUSTICE OF GOD; WE ARE THE INSTRUMENTS OF GOD’S JUSTICE HERE ON EARTH.

“WHEN THE SON OF MAN COMES, WILL HE FIND FAITH ON EARTH?” HE WILL IF WE PRAY ALWAYS AND DON’T LOSE HEART. HE WILL IF OUR VOICES AND OUR ACTIONS PROVIDE PROTECTION AND COMFORT FOR THE MOST VULNERABLE IN OUR SOCIETY. HE WILL IF WE, THE CHURCH, ARE INSTRUMENTAL IN CALLING OUT THE ACTORS AND ORGANIZATIONS OF INJUSTICE AND HOLDING UP BEFORE THEM THE STANDARD OF THE JUSTICE OF GOD. THIS IS THE CALLING AND THE LIFE OF THE SAVED OF GOD, HIS CHOSEN ONES; THE FOLLOWERS OF THE CHRIST OF GOD. THIS IS NOT WORKS RIGHTEOUSNESS; IT IS RATHER THE RIGHTEOUS WORK OF THE SAINTS OF GOD. AMEN