Then Yeshua told his disciples a parable, in order to impress on them that they must always keep praying and not lose heart. 2 “In a certain town, there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected other people. 3 There was also in that town a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me a judgment against the man who is trying to ruin me.’ 4 For a long time he refused; but after awhile, he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God, and I don’t respect other people; 5 but because this widow is such a scold , I will see to it that she gets justice — otherwise, she’ll keep coming and pestering me till she wears me out!’”
6 Then the Lord commented, “Notice what this corrupt judge says. 7 Now won’t God grant justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Is he delaying long over them? 8 I tell you that he will judge in their favor, and quickly! But when the Son of Man comes, will he find this trust on the earth at all?”
Ah, this parable is like a tight spring, whose meaning uncoils with shocking force.
The story exhibits Jesus’ characteristic humour. His tales are not edifying, often recounting disreputable actions by disreputable characters. Here the judge is corrupt and the widow, although she has a just cause, is given the well-known role of female nag. The audience knows both these characters and wonders what Jesus is going to do with them. But he doesn’t really do much; he has no elaborate plot. Instead he opts for the least likely outcome: the crooked judge will opt for the path of least resistance as even he is apprehensive about the nagging power of this old lady! It’s a master stroke, because it is both realistic and comic.
So that’s the narrative spring wound tight. Now Jesus lets it unwind with savage speed.
He compares God to the crooked judge! Yes, the point of comparison is that if even a crooked judge will give in to repeated complaint how much more will God listen to the repeated prayers of his people, but the use of the comparison flirts with the suspicion of many faithful people that something’s wrong with the divine administration of the world. There’s no doubt that the story raises the issue of God’s justice. Why has God permitted faithful Israel to be ruled by Gentiles, and the blameless poor to be ripped off by the rich?
Jesus answer is shocking: keep shouting, he says. Keep demonstrating against the unjust status quo, because that expresses your trust in the justice of God. Pious people come up with all sorts of excuses for God. Jesus does not do so, but rather accepts that there is cause for complaint. He trusts in the justice of God and therefore keeps knocking at heaven’s door. When he can in his ministry, he rights the wrongs on God’s behalf, but he expects that God himself will soon show his hand. In this parable he teaches his disciples to do the same. They are to be rebels against God’s permissiveness to injustice.
The parable is a very precise expression of Jesus’ disgraceful radicalism. His trust in God is not an opiate, for him or his followers. Trust in God expects his justice and shouts for it. Part of this expectation means doing God’s goodness where possible, but stops short of exercising God’s judgement on evil, as the Jewish jihadis thought they should do. The passionate, peaceful radicalism of Martin Luther King is a good example the way in which the chosen people should cry out. If and when it looks as if the judge of all the earth is unjust, his chosen people must take to nagging as forcefully as they can.
But isn’t Jesus saying that the divine judge is not unjust and that nagging is unnecessary ? Well, yes, he is saying that God is just and will act, but no, he is encouraging rather than ruling out the ‘day and night prayers.’
But he says that God will act quickly! Surely that is not true? Indeed, by the time Luke was presenting this parable, it would have been evident to his audience that the world was much the same as it had been in Jesus’ time and that God’s timetable was a bit different from theirs. But Luke lets the word stand because he wants to affirm the trustful frustration of faithful people.
Luke places this parable within Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Perhaps he understood that God’s action in the suffering and death of Jesus, was his “quick judgement” in a favour of his suffering people?