Reading: Luke 18.1-8
Jesus told the disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’ And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’
Today’s reading is different from many of our other readings because it starts with a statement that tells us exactly what it is about. Today’s reading is about our need to pray always and not to lose heart. Jesus sets this parable in the context of a courtroom. A widow is constantly appearing before a judge, seeking justice. We do not know what sort of justice she is seeking, but we do know that she is not prepared to take no for an answer. We do not know how many times she has brought her case before this unjust judge, but we do know that he has reached the end of his patience, and we know that she wins her case because of her persistence. The unjust judge cannot be bothered, he gives his judgement in order that he might have a quiet life.
To fully understand this scenario we need to understand how the justice system worked in those first century Jewish communities. No matter what the issue, whether it was serious or trivial, cases were brought to court by aggrieved individuals. It was not the job of the police or a state prosecution service. Every case that came before a judge was the action of a person who felt the need for justice. Similarly there was no concept of single jeopardy. If the complainant felt that they had not got justice they could bring their case before the judge time and time again. That is where the widow and the judge are in today’s reading.
We know from scripture that at the end of times there will be a moment of judgement. Christ, we are told, will come again to judge between good and evil. Jesus does not want us to get caught up in the minutiae of human justice, what we believe to be right or wrong. In this parable Jesus is making it clear that God is not an unjust judge. God does not lose patience with us. God will not be blackmailed or nagged into giving us our own way because God really does know what is best for us. The challenge for us is to understand and accept that God’s will, God’s judgement, God’s way of answering our prayers is the only way.
So many times I hear of people questioning the power of prayer. ‘What is the point?’ I am often asked. And yet, when prayer has been answered I hear talk of ‘good luck’, rather than gratitude to God. Today Jesus is asking us never to forget that God wants us to go to him in prayer. God wants us to share our fears and concerns, our joys and celebrations with him. God wants us to come to him time and time and time again. Jesus is also asking us to realize that God, unlike the unjust judge, will never get tired of hearing our voices and our prayers. So, let us never forget our need to pray always, and never let us lose heart.