Scripture for this Sunday:
Jeremiah 31.27–34; Psalm 119.97–104; 2 Timothy 3.14—4.5; Luke 18.1–8
Many people would contend that one of the primary goals of Christianity is to uphold and fulfil Jesus’ message of justice. But what exactly do we mean by justice? For many of us, justice means a sort of ‘quid pro quo,’ or an expectation that people (not usually us!) would get their just desserts, as it were. If we are honest, that attitude places us in a position of judging – but if we hold up a mirror to ourselves, we must ask where we enable justice and where we obstruct it, willingly or unwillingly.
The parable of the widow and the judge (and was he just or unjust?) invites us to examine our attitudes and actions (or lack thereof) towards justice.
The widow represents the vulnerable, and in today’s world she represents the hidden providers of the goods and services that we are relentlessly encouraged to consume. Obsessed by price, we seldom ask, “What price is paid by the providers of what I consume?”
The judge represents all those whose lives are lived for selfish ends, indifferent to the plight of others, to the big questions of God, our purpose in creation, and judgement for justice. The separate worlds that these two figures represent prevent any proper understanding of justice, and can only be opened up to each other through prayer. The widow cries out continually: a prayer for justice. Her hidden voice eventually touches the Judge – he cannot be comfortable once the sound of such suffering begins to be heard. He listens. He is changed from selfish priorities to a concern to share freedom with the widow.
The message of the gospel is that God grants justice to those who call out. How do we seek to support and be supported in justice? One of the five Marks of Mission is: ‘To seek to transform the unjust structures of society.’ This can be costly, in places where living as a Christian may be difficult or dangerous.
Jesus poses a nagging question: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Will he find people who are like the judge, whose title is applied to one who is supposed to administer justice, yet who seems to have no interest in justice at all, just in a comfortable life; like people who will sacrifice principle for convenience? Or will he find people who ignore status, or the limitations imposed on them by the conventions and expectations of their culture, or the apathy and disinterest of the world around them, and who press on regardless, fuelled by prayer and persistent faith?
So how does our justice measure up against Jesus’ justice? Perhaps Luke is hinting that Jesus is also unjust, because Jesus hears the prayers of righteous and unrighteous alike. Perhaps Luke is implying that Jesus’ justice is based not on the merits of the case but on his expansive, explosive, inexplicable love and mercy for sinners. Is it just to forgive sinners who will sin again, to feed those who will hunger again, to heal those who will be sick again, to raise those who will die again? In some quarters, Jesus’ kindnesses would be deemed not only unjust, but foolish. Quid pro quo means (loosely) something for something. What Jesus offers is something for nothing.
For us, there are three challenges in this parable (at least!).
There’s the challenge to look at the world with eyes open, to see where injustice prevails, and ears open, to hear the cries of those who protest against injustice.
There’s the challenge to overcome the temptation to apathy or passivity, to just let things be as they are. To let our own hearts be touched, and to encourage others to do the same. And don’t skimp on justice!
And there’s the challenge to discern prayerfully what it is that we can and should do in our own lives to promote justice. Perhaps that is the area where we need persistence most of all.