The Unjust Judge

Scriptures: Deuteronomy 24:17-21; Luke 18:1-8

Before we get into the parable today, I want to touch on the passage in Deuteronomy. Because I noted something when I was reading it and looking at it as a secondary study object, and that is, there is something that is repeated throughout that passage.

Remember, in Hebrew, repetition is the way they indicated something was more important. They didn’t have words like good, better, best. So for instance in Isaiah’s vision, where the angels were saying “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty,” that meant that basically God is as holy as can be. So they said things repetitiously in order to show their importance.

In the verses in Deuteronomy you keep seeing “it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.” God was speaking to His chosen people, and yet He is reminding them that He is the God of all people. He is the God of even those that we don’t think are important, the God of those that we might think don’t have any value, the ones that we might overlook and forget.

He is a faithful God, and we see that in the parable today. It was noted by the liturgist that the widow was poor, there’s no doubt about that. She also was alone. No family. She had no man to advocate for here.

I know that in our day and age, that’s seen as disgusting, that she needed one, but the fact is, in those days, women were second-class citizens, their witness and testimony didn’t count as much as a man’s, and if they were going to take a case to court, then they needed to have somebody, a male member of the family usually, advocate for them.

So apparently she not only had no husband, she had no son, she had no parents that were alive, she had no male siblings that were willing to speak for her. So she was alone. And unlike someone like Dorcas who had her own business, she was definitely poor.

The judge was most likely Roman or Greek. We see that in two ways. One is that Jesus said he didn’t fear God or care about men. The judges or elders in the Jewish community would at least give an outward show of fear of God, because that was part of what their status rested on.

Second, the Jews had different ways of handling things. If the widow had an issue with her opponent, then she could have gone before one of the elders at the gate and asked for justice. If he decided it was too big to handle alone, then they would immediately form a tribunal.

That tribunal would consist of one who was picked by the plaintiff, one who is picked by the defendant, and then a third who comes from the Sanhedrin, the leaders in the community, and he supposedly would be impartial. So they listed to cases there, at the gate or the court of the Sanhedrin.

This judge apparently had his own house, and he would hear people that came in. And she couldn’t even get inside. So apparently she didn’t have the connections, she didn’t have the money to, as we say, grease the wheels, so that she could get in to see him. He was going to ignore her entirely.

That’s not all that different from today. If you look in most of the world, it seems like bribery and corruption are the norm. The amount of bribe you have determines how fast you are heard.

And even in our society, we have this prevailing attitude of “What’s in it for me?” We tend not to think about doing something for someone else unless we get something from it. If it doesn’t advance us and our cause, then why waste our time and energy on it? So I don’t know that we have any reason to sit in judgment on the judge, as it were.

So we have these two people in this story. And Jesus notes that this is a parable about persistence in prayer. But I’m actually not going to talk about that much, because I’ve preached on that several times. It will be involved, but mostly I wanted to focus on the judge, our relationship with the judge, and justice.

What Jesus does, in those last three verses, is he contrasts God with the uncaring judge. He contrasts the Judge of all creation, the Judge of all things, with this uncaring judge. He says, if an uncaring human judge acts like this, how much more responsive is a loving heavenly Father who cares for His children?

He will never put you off. He cares for you. You will get a quick answer and you will receive justice. But remember, this involves continuing to pray day and night. And your definition of quick may not equal God’s definition. His time is not our time. His thoughts are above our thoughts.

People tend to stop praying whenever they go to the Lord with a problem or a need and He doesn’t answer them in what we consider a speedy manner. “I’ve come to You, Lord, for days, or weeks, or months about this problem, and there seems to be no solution,” they say. They might even say, “I’ve come for years, but there seems to be no provision” for this illness or this situation.

“So why pray?” they finally say. They stop praying altogether, failing to understand that, because they are created in the image of God, they are composed of three parts—body, soul, and spirit—and it is the spirit that is most powerfully impacted by prayer.

The second thing that causes problems with our praying, or continuing to pray, and get an answer from God, is that what we really need is rarely that for which we pray. Because what we need is the Lord Himself.

A man named S Courson wrote:

Prayer is not to get the goods. It is to enjoy the One who is good.
Prayer is not to get the gifts. It is to have fellowship with the Giver of all gifts.
Prayer is not to claim the promises. It is to embrace the Person.
Everything you crave is found in the Person of Jesus Christ—and you will discover that to be true if you pray and don’t faint.

Now on the surface, Jesus seems to be saying some strange things in this parable, teaching the disciples about prayer in a strange way. Is he saying it will be tough to get God’s attention when we pray? Do we pray as beggars before a cold-hearted God? Are our prayers a bother to God? (I’m going to come back to that one, because I think often we think they are, and so we’re hesitant to pray.)

The disciples of Jesus have been asking questions about prayer, and Jesus has already given them the “Lord’s Prayer.” They have seen Jesus spend early mornings, and late nights, and even all night in prayer. They even know some of his favorite places to pray.

But I imagine, as the twelve listen to this parable, they are confused. What is Jesus saying about his Father? Is God like that unjust judge? Is He cruel ? Is He corrupt? Are my prayers a bother to Him? How does He see me?

The issue, Jesus notes, is not “Will God grant justice?” The question is, will we pray? I think sometimes we hesitate because we do think of God as an unjust judge, in many ways. I know that, for myself, when I was younger, and they say this is a certain part of theological progression and maturing, but I tended to think of God as the great Thou-shalt-not in the sky. You know, the one with the thunderbolt on his fingertip, the cosmic cop, and if you did something wrong, Zap!

We even made jokes about it. One of my best friends, when he came to my wedding, he stepped across the threshold of the church, and he looked up the sky to make sure he didn’t get struck by lightning, because he didn’t come to church.

Is that how we approach prayer? We don’t want to admit that we may think poorly of God. Do we think, “Am I bothering God when I pray?” Is prayer an attempt to twist God’s arm, hoping He will do something, even if reluctantly? Is it only by sheer belligerence that we make progress in prayer?

There is a certain phrase that talks about “breaking down the doors of heaven,” which really irritates the heck out of me, because you know what? Heaven’s gates are open wide for those who believe in Jesus Christ. He himself tore down the veil between us, so that we could come to the Father with our prayers.

And yet, it’s almost like we have this image of the gates of heaven being barricaded, and God’s only going to send His help if we somehow manage to break it open, to break open what God has created, the all-powerful, almighty God.

Is that why we fast and pray – to persuade God to do something on our terms or see things our way, to change His mind by what we do? Is this widow modeling how to pray?

She certainly is giving us a model. Augustine said, in his letter on prayer, “we must count ourselves desolate in this world; however great the prosperity of your lot may be.” We’re all poor and desolate, before the glory and power and might of God. None of us deserves to be there. None of us deserves a hearing. And yet through Jesus Christ we gain exactly that. Not only do we gain a hearing, we are assured of no condemnation and are chosen as His children.

Jesus turns the parable from analogy to reality, and it’s no longer about a hypothetical judge. It’s about God himself. Jesus poses two questions:

• Will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones?
• Will He (also) keep putting them off?

I’m reading a book about the psalms of lament, and the author likes to use this phrase, “inhabiting the psalms.” At one point he talks about the gritty requests for vengeance, the way they describe some pretty graphic things.

But he notes that the psalmist always leaves such vengeance up to God. He understood the sovereignty of God, and his (that is, the psalmist’s) place as a chosen one of God. No matter what he may want, he leaves it at the table. He comes before God, giving his anger, giving his pain, giving his perspective to God, knowing that God can handle it, trusting that God will respond.

“I tell you,” says Jesus, “he will see that they get justice – and quickly!” Then he asks another question, that almost seems like a throwaway at the end, but it’s very important. “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

When it comes to prayer, Jesus says you don’t ever have to worry about God’s character and compassion. You don’t ever have to worry about a cold-hearted God. God, the ultimate Judge, is the absolute opposite to the unjust judge of this parable. The question isn’t “Will God dispense justice.” The question is “Will He find His people to be a people of prayer?”

This parable doesn’t guarantee that God will answer all of our prayers as we’d like, “and that right quickly.” I know you’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating. Sometimes, when we ask outside of God’s will, the answer form God is “No.” Sometimes even if what we’re asking is in God’s will, the timing is not right, and He says “Slow” (that is, wait). And finally, when the timing and the glorification of God is right, He says “Go.” The problem is, we don’t like to hear the first two answers, so we kind of slough them off.

It guarantees, though, that God will answer our prayers, and that ultimate justice and vindication against the many injustices inflicted upon God’s people, including severe persecution, even martyrdom, will come.

Jesus moves the focus of the prayer to the kingdom of God, as so many of the parables are about, and the consummation of the age. The recurring theme of the kingdom of God emerges from this parable. And the question, again, is not “Will God hear and answer?” The question is “Will we, the people of God, be people of prayer?: Will we be faithful in calling upon His name that we might be saved? Will we be faithful in our witness to His gracious acts of mercy and love?

Today we have Communion. A sign and seal of God’s grace, it is a reminder of God’s faithfulness and love. It is an aid to faith that will strengthen us as we serve the Lord, and help us remember to be patient in waiting for His justice.

It gives us the sense of Christ’s presence that enables us to say “Come, Lord Jesus!” with anticipation and even longing, as we see the fulfillment of God’s promises. May our prayers be fervent, continuous, and even, like the widow’s, importunate as we trust in God, and call on His name, know that He shall hear our cries and give us the answer that we need, so that when we get it we might glorify God and give praise to His name.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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