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THE CASE OF THE PERSISTENT WIDOW PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 05 December 2004

Christ taught that Christians ought always to pray persistently for economic justice against arrogant, powerful people who use the judicial system to deny justice to the poor.

By Jim Jordal

Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times we ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, "There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God, and did not respect man. And there was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ And for a while he was unwilling but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God or respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, lest by continually coming she wear me out.’ And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now shall not God bring about justice for His elect, who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?"

Luke 18:1-8 (NASB)

In His parables Jesus used stories containing various forms of symbolism to illustrate moral and ethical points. In this parable Jesus offers a vital lesson regarding the importance of tenacious prayer as a powerful weapon against entrenched economic injustice and oppression.

His first instruction is that Christians ought always to pray and not lose heart, no matter how hopelessly oppressed and voiceless they may seem to be. Scripture clearly declares that "the needy shall not always be forgotten; the expectation of the poor shall not perish forever" (Ps. 9:18). So we need to understand God’s promise that the forces of evil so entrenched in society today are still subject to the His will, and can disappear overnight if He so chooses, as He soon will.

We often focus on the power of the "system" to endure through all efforts at change. We in effect "lose heart," as did the author of Ecclesiastes when he mourned, "On the side of their oppressors there is power, but they [the poor] have no comforter" (Ecc. 4:1b). We tend to accept evil as permanent, even though we know better. But the powers of evil are limited to the present age, after which they become subject to the rulership of Christ in His kingdom.

I think of the tortured prayers of American slaves as their families were separated and "sent down the river," never to be together again. What agony must have been expressed in these prayers, seemingly without result. But God did hear as He stirred a moral awakening in several Christian groups culminating in the Abolitionist movement and the eventual end of American slavery.

I think also of the suffering of the Jewish captives in Babylon, illustrated by the lament of an unknown author: "How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! If I do not remember you, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth—if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy" (Ps. 137:4-8).

A second symbolic teaching of this parable concerns the reality of long-term economic oppression and exploitation, in this case characterized by the imploring widow, representing the poor and marginalized of society. She prays for justice from a judge who fears neither God nor man, symbolizing an oppressive power structure manipulating a compliant judiciary into denying needy petitioners the justice they deserve.

Third is the fact that, as the widow finally gains justice by endlessly imploring the judge, so will the continuing cries of the poor, oppressed, exploited masses of the world soon be answered. Jesus used the widow’s success as an encouragement for Christians to in effect "wear out" God until He grants their wishes for economic justice.

We might remember the biblical account of Israelite king Jehosaphat, threatened with annihilation by the hordes of Ammon and Moab. His reaction to the threat of impending destruction or slavery was to assemble the people before God, exalt Him as sovereign ruler over all kingdoms and nations, reiterate past instances of God’s intervention and deliverance, and then to utter these words of complete dependence: "O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do; but our eyes are upon You" (2 Chron. 20:12)

Perhaps the most vital lesson we could learn from this parable is that we truly have little power against entrenched, intransigent, morally obtuse, heartless evil. We can provide food for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and even jobs for the unemployed; but the root of evil continues creating the needy faster than we can hope to provide charity. Only God can conquer these forces, as the parable explains. Our trust must be in Him, even as we pray faithfully and work to do what we can about poverty and economic injustice.

Fourth, and most frightening, is Jesus’ statement, "…when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" True faith in God’s promises of deliverance will become a rare thing as evil seemingly overwhelms the earth. But the Lord always has a remnant that remains faithful. Let us covenant to be part of that remnant.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 20 November 2005 )