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Luke 18:1-8

October 9, 2022
Topic: Hope , justice , Luke , persistence

There once was a town.

It had a municipal hall with a clock. Its Main Street was lined with little shops—the butcher, the baker, the shoemaker. The people bustled about on their business. Market day was lively, full of buying and selling, petty thieving, and drinking with friends.

The town had a dingy courthouse where the local magistrate settled disputes. And the local magistrate… well, let’s just say that he was lacking. He didn’t care about God, and he didn’t respect people. But the people put up with him. Mostly because his uncle’s cousin’s sister-in-law was married to the mayor, and everyone knew that’s why he got the job and how he kept it.

On the days that he bothered to show up, he would spend his time reviewing his household accounts or just staring out the window, slack jawed. When the townspeople would present their cases, he rolled his eyes at their problems. Granted, these were ordinary problems. “My neighbour moved the stones marking the border of our fields.” “Her ox got lose, gored my sheep and it died.” “That spice trader put her thumb on the scale.”

The worst of it wasn’t that his decisions were not fair; no, it was that he rarely even made decisions. People never got their claims settled; they just remained open, like a sore that wouldn’t heal. And the judge just didn’t care.

But there was this widow. And you know, of course, that we need to protect widows. This one didn’t need much protection. She did ok; she had a good piece of land and workers to look after it. And she didn’t exactly invite kindness. She had the sharpest tongue you would ever hear. Ouch, the things she would say about some people in the town… but she could be generous too, and her workers would never hear a bad word about her.

One day she came before the magistrate. I don’t remember now what her case was, but she demanded justice. “Justice?” thought the magistrate. “More like vengeance. She’s calling it justice, but it’s all the same.” “Grant me justice against my opponent!” she demanded. He just looked at his fingernails, pushed back the cuticles, and dismissed her.

Next day, she came back again. He looked out the window, dug around in his ear with his pinky finger, and dismissed her.

Next day, she came back when he was going through the inventory of his wine cellar; he didn’t even let her speak.

She came back, day after day, sharp tongued, insisting on a hearing, demanding justice.

Finally, the magistrate said to himself, “I really don’t care that God tells us to look after widows, and I really don’t have any respect for this one, but I’m tired of her. Her arguments are like a punch in the eye. I’ll give her justice, just to get rid of her.”

So the widow went on her way. She was too bad tempered by nature to ever be completely happy, but at least she got what she came for.

***

This story is supposed to illustrate two big ideas and a wondering:

  • we need to pray always and not lose hope
  • God will grant God’s people justice, and will do it quickly;
  • and that at some point when the Son of Man comes, Jesus wonders whether he will find “the faith” on earth.

The widow shows us a person who persists, even when she’s getting nowhere.

The magistrate shows us a person who does the right thing, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.

They both live in a time and place—a certain city, Anytown—that is fundamentally lacking in justice. For the original audience, that time and place was their time and place, where in their daily lives justice was for other people, if it existed at all.

So Jesus tells them this story, in which even a rotten magistrate eventually grants justice. And if a rotten magistrate can do it, then how much more will God, who loves us, help God’s people. We need to persist in prayer, we need to be like the widow coming back day after day. Persist, and justice will come. Justice will come quickly.

But the problem is that we—in our time and place—don’t seem to get to the bit where justice comes, for us or for anyone else. My bike was stolen two weeks ago, so I went to East Hastings to see if I could recover it. Which I did, amazingly enough. But the loss of my bike, distressing as it was, was nothing compared to the suffering and injustice that I walked through on those long blocks between Carrall and Main Street. And it’s not getting better. The BC Coroner’s Service has just released the figures on deaths of people experiencing homelessness throughout the province. In 2021, 247 people living rough died. Compare that to 2012, when 31 people experiencing homelessness died.

So where is the hope in this passage, or in our world? Where is the good news? I think that we need to hear this story alongside a couple of other stories from Luke’s gospel.

One is the story of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-13). In this story, Jesus urges his followers to do their best to live with integrity even though they are surrounded by greed and dishonesty. In today’s story, Jesus urges his followers to persist in their search for justice, to continue to trust in God’s love and justice, even though they are surrounded by injustice. And the search, the trust, is enough; persisting is enough. In fact, it’s all that we can do. Justice is not ours to grant. Our role is to pray always and not lose heart. Our role is to follow The Way.

The other story comes just before this one. It’s two short verses: “Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20-21)

There is this tension in the gospels about when God’s kingdom, God’s way of justice and peace, is going to happen. In some Scripture passages, it’s going to happen at some point in the future. In other Scripture passages, it’s already happened. It’s both already and not yet. Our reading today falls into the “not yet”: “When the Son of Man comes…” But Jesus has just talked about the “already”: “In fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

There is hope in both these ways of understanding of God’s kingdom of justice and peace. If it is already among us, then simply persisting in seeking justice is itself an act of justice. In praying always and not losing heart, we are enacting the kingdom now, in our time and place. And in the face of ongoing suffering and injustice, there is great hope and comfort in knowing that this is not the end: that streams of living justice will flow down upon the earth.

So here’s the invitation: In the face of injustice, we are invited to persist; to pray always and not lose heart. And in doing so, we are part of the inbreaking of God’s way, God’s kingdom of justice and peace. We are part of bringing God’s justice to everyone, including ourselves.