Some of the saddest and hardest things I’ve seen in ministry is people struggling with their faith during hard times. My mother struggled with her faith after my sister died because her grief was so deep. A gentleman in a former church lost his faith after his wife left him; he turned to other women and to working hard to fill his life with good whiskey, fast cars and travelling to protect himself from getting hurt again. Life isn’t always fair.
Jesus tells his followers a parable about a widow who finds out that life is often unfair. But before Jesus tells this parable, he talks about the coming of the kingdom of God, warning that it’s going to come suddenly, so be ready. When asked where this is going to happen, Jesus answers, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.” Where you see things happening that look like God’s kingdom might be breaking into this world, take a look, it might be the Son of Man coming.
Jesus now moves into the story on prayer, about keeping on praying and not giving up, but with echoes of God’s kingdom rattling around in our head. If we don’t keep the idea of God’s kingdom in mind as we hear Jesus’ parable, this parable gets interpreted as, “keep pestering God long enough and he will give you what you’re asking for.” Jesus connects the widow’s persistence to how prayer and faith are tied to a deep trust in God. Jesus is showing his listeners how perseverance in the faith works in times of injustice and hostility. Jesus tells us the story of a widow who goes to a judge looking for justice. Justice is slow in coming, but she keeps showing up. Socially, she’s in a vulnerable situation, having no husband, no one to defend or stand up for her. She’s poor, unable to give a bribe to the judge to get justice. Her only option, other then giving up, is to keep showing up and keep believing in justice.
The judge doesn’t really care about justice, he cares about himself and an easy life. This judge doesn’t care about God, or worry about what God will do to him if he doesn’t give the widow justice, he certainly doesn’t fear God, a God who cares deeply for justice. The Old Testament shows us who God is and what he desires from us: Psalm 88:1, “Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you.” Isaiah 1:17, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Deuteronomy 27:19, “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”
The judge ends up doing what’s right and just, not because God demands it, but because he’s afraid of what the widow might do if she doesn’t get justice, “For some time he refused. But finally, he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’” It’s the judge’s concern for his own safety, Jesus is using a boxing image here to describe why the judge is afraid, that causes the judge to act justly, not because there are rules against injustice, not because God might curse him, but because he cares about himself. He’s afraid the widow is going to attack him if he doesn’t give her what she’s asking for. When you complain about people in the church or your community who don’t follow God’s way; it’s probably because they don’t see how it benefits them. Most of us operate out of a sense of “what’s in it for me.” Could you tell the judge how doing justice benefits him, why having faith in God will help him have a better life, could you explain how a faithful life will benefit him? It’s important for us to know the answers to these questions beside these questions come up again and again from our kids and grandkids, from our neighbours, co-workers and others.
Life isn’t always fair, there will be times of hostility and injustice, when people will be against you, especially if you’re open about following Jesus. How we react during those times is important because it shows who we place our faith in. Do we react out of fear by striking back or running away? Do we get frustrated and take it out on the people around us, the people closest to us? Do we give up and stop caring: do we give up on God, believing that God won’t or can’t do anything to deal with the hostility or injustice? Being committed followers of Jesus will lead to more experiences of injustice as our society is embracing a new morality based on feelings and individual rights. Saying no to this new morality is likely to put you outside the circles of power and influence, taking away the privileges and rights you used to have, or at least think you have. Standing strong in the faith, in Jesus and his call on our lives and hearts, loving even when we’re not loved, turning the other cheek, standing up for what Jesus teaches and who he calls us to be as his followers is going to get more difficult.
The judge ends up doing justice, but he has no faith. It makes me wonder, can there be true justice without faith, can you have faith without a concern for justice? The widow’s persistence comes out of her faith that justice will happen if she’s persistent. Jesus calls us to listen to what the judge says, “because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me.” Jesus then goes on to compare God to the unjust judge, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.”
God is a God of justice, this is why Jesus came to earth from heaven, why he left the beauty and wonder of heaven where there is no injustice or hostility, no suffering, a place where there is no doubt or fear. Jesus came to bear God’s anger at our sin, at the injustice that is so common because of sin, becoming fully human while remaining completely God so that we are made right with God. Jesus’ sacrifice changes our hearts and souls and we can experience God’s forgiveness, grace and love, and have eternal life through the cross. Justice demanded that the punishment of death that God warned Adam about for disobedience, is carried out, but in God’s grace, knowing that even our death does not make things right again, that we need more to be made right with God again, Jesus came to carry all our sin and to restore us so that we might be witnesses of God’s great grace. Faith gets connected to justice in that we are called to have faith in God kingdom there is justice, forgiveness and reconciliation and we are called to be people who fight for justice for those who need justice but cannot find it as a glimpse of God’s kingdom.
Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we can be confident in God’s justice. This parable is not about pestering God until he gives you what you want, it’s about standing firm in the faith, faith in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, no matter what situation you’re in because God is justice and filled with compassion for his people. It’s about trusting in Jesus in the hard times, standing firm in Jesus’ Way in spite of circumstances, confident in Jesus’ return and committed to bringing in God’s kingdom in small ways by fighting for justice for everyone, not just the rich, powerful and connected. We’ve been given the Holy Spirit to help us trust God and to shape our lives, hearts and church in Jesus’ way.
How do you stand strong and firm in the faith in hard times? In Philippians 4, Paul tells us to, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Back to my mother, she found strength in listening every day for a year to 100 Huntley Street, a Christian TV station where she heard over and over again that Jesus loves us, Jesus will never abandon us, especially in our dark time. She filled her mind and heart with God and Jesus and came through trusting God. Bring everything to God in prayer with confidence, standing strong in your faith in him, knowing you are his beloved children and he will bring justice through Jesus.