When it comes right down to it, there are a lot of stories and parables used by Jesus that make our 21st century American ears uncomfortable. A few weeks back, Jesus used slave imagery to teach about our place in the Kingdom of God. During this interminable Season after Pentecost, we’ve heard Jesus admonish would be followers who wanted to say good-bye to their families or bury their dads, and there was the pesky, “hate your family” deal. This week, we parable that Jesus tells is another unpopular one, the parable of the unjust judge, or conversely, the parable of the persistent widow. 100% of the clergy on staff at St. John’s in Decatur, AL don’t like this story (read Evan’s thoughts here and Seth’s here). It does pose a difficult problem given that Jesus uses the story in a “how much more” sort of way.
The unjust judge, the one who self-identifies as one who “has no fear of God and no respect for anyone” is seemingly likened to God in a simple turn of phrase, “”Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?” It leaves us feeling theologically icky as we wonder, is God really like this unjust judge?
Over at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, a service of Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, their Sermon Starters page shared a sermon by the incomparable preacher and teacher, Tom Long. Tom preaches for 21 minutes, telling story after story, anecdote after anecdote, funny non sequitur after funny non sequitur. When it is all said and done, I felt kind of like Evan and Seth about Jesus’ parable, wondering, “did that accomplish what he wanted it to?” As I sat there, staring at the black screen from which the sermon had just come, I realized that maybe we shock the system in order to ensure meaning is found. I think maybe it is called hyperbole.
I also think Luke understood what this parable would do to his readers. They’d finish hearing it, scratch their heads and say, “Huh. I wonder what that was all about.” To preempt that, Luke, writing a generation after Jesus, to a church enduring persecution and awaiting the imminent return of the Savior, told them what they should hear in the forth coming parable.
“Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”
Sometimes it feels like God is an unjust judge, sitting in heaven striking down our friends and family with cancer, addiction, accidents and heartache. Sometimes it feels like the whole world is against us, as in the last 2 weeks when many on both sides of the political aisle have felt like nothing more than pawns in somebody else’s grand game. Sometimes I wish that Jesus would just come back already and fix this mess. Jesus knew we’d feel that way, so he told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not lose heart.
To be honest, I don’t like the parable Jesus chose to convey his point either, but that doesn’t matter much. What matters is that we are to take heart, to have courage, and to persevere. Or, as Luke put it, “to pray always and not to lose heart.”