October 16, 2016 - The Persistent Widow

Jesus told his disciples a parable
about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.
He said, “There was a judge in a certain town
who neither feared God nor respected any human being.
And a widow in that town used to come to him and say,
‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’
For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought,
‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being,
because this widow keeps bothering me
I shall deliver a just decision for her
lest she finally come and strike me.’”
The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.
Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones
who call out to him day and night?
Will he be slow to answer them?
I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.
But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Luke 18:1-8

I have an aversion to reflexively reading Scripture in terms of the magical and moral, and this blog is a symptom of that aversion.  Today’s reading gives us ample reason to believe this is a proverb about the good effects of praying persistently for what you want.  The author of Luke says as much in the opening line.  But this represents a problem for Christians and challenges some of our most foundational assumptions about God. It implies God is less concerned about the justice of our plea and more concerned with the form and frequency of it.  But there are clues that this passage really isn’t an exhortation to pray a lot. 

If the judge is a metaphor for God, why is he described as fearing neither God nor human being?  Why is he depicted as such a jerk: eventually finding in favor of the woman to stop her from bother him and potentially assaulting him.  Jesus bluntly describes him as “dishonest”.   Finally, in what we are led to believe is a proverb about persistence, rather than asking us to look at the widow’s persistence, Jesus tells us to pay close attention to what the judge says.  

As usual, this story may not be a description of the moral code we are supposed to follow, but describes the moral code God follows:  If even a dishonest, nasty, lazy, cowardly judge will eventually be attentive to the supplicant, then we can be sure God, who is honest, benevolent and sovereign, will rush to be attentive to us, regardless of our persistence.