Luke 18.1-8

He told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and never lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him, saying ‘Vindicate me against my adversary!’

“For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor regard man, yet because this woman bothers me, I will vindicate her; or she will wear me out by her continual coming.'”

And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily!

“Nevertheless, when this son of Adam comes, will he find faith on Earth?”

5 responses

  1. There's too much Herzog to quote on this passage. He uses it as an example of 1) Luke's framing: "He told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and never lose heart." 2) Actual parable: "In a certain city…. 'or she will wear me out by her continual coming.'" 3) The church's later interpretation: "And the Lord said, etc."and back to 4) a question Jesus likely did ask.—The treatment of widows & orphans, he says, is a major emphasis in the Torah because they were in such a socially-vulnerable position, and because God's concern for them paralleled His concern for Israel itself, which had been equally helpless under Pharaoh.So, if widows were commonly being left destitute in Jesus' day there was something seriously awry with the system. In this example, a judge who is (probably) waiting for a bribe from her adversary, ie a family with enough wealth to outspend some poor woman with no male kin to speak for her. She wants to have her dowry returned, to escape from a awkward situation under the reluctant care of her deceased husband's family– or if she is already out on the streets, for her literal survival. The judge, unjust as he's said to be, still has to maintain a public image of being a wise and honest interpretor of Torah– and here is this unsavory woman, continually showing up in his courtroom and undermining that image. Sooner or later he has to vindicate her.This does not sound like a useful metaphor for God. While we aren't in a realm where divine justice is a prominent feature– after almost 2000 years– it doesn't seem likely that God is waiting for enough people to complain!It does sound like our own leaders and institutions: promising justice and delivering injustice. And a remedy– he quotes Walter Wink: "When anyone steps out of the system and tells the truth, lives the truth, that enables everyone else to peer behind the curtain too. Anyone who steps out of line therefore denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety… If the main pillar of the system is living a lie, then it is not surprising that the fundamental threat to it is living the truth." But notice: Without this widow, loudly pointing up the contrast between the justice of Torah and the injustice of the judge, injustice would prevail.The place of God, and prayer, in all this? What Julian of Norwich says: that when God is ready to carry out some good purpose, He raises that concern in people's hearts so that they can take part in the process.

  2. Not only is this 'unjust judge' a really bad metaphor for God… but it occurs to me that what we've got here could be an excellent example of Jesus' sarcasm.["The poor you shall always have with you" being probably the best-known, least understood example!]"Do you really believe that God is waiting for you to wear Him out with kvetching before He finally, reluctantly, does the right thing?"

  3. Hi Forrest!I believe "vindicate" in this case actually means "redeem me in the eyes of my adversary." Do you agree?If so, then it sounds in the spirit of the Psalms: crying out to God to make us either look good in the eyes of our enemies, or make us look better than our enemies,…or to destroy our enemies. Olivia

  4. Jesus definitely recommended winning-over adversaries where possible.But the society he lived in was pretty much about winning, over adversaries. He'd needed to be good at that, just to maintain enough status for anyone to hear his message. But actually winning them over was typically impossible; too much of their life would be tied up with maintaining their place in the religious/economic system.He did not appear, after death, to many adversaries. Only one that we know of. As he said in one of his stories, "Even if someone should return from the dead, they would not believe."As for the widow, she's got a dowry. Which she desperately needs. The husband's family is supposed to repay this, unless they can make her welcome in their household.But they are, Herzog says, neglecting to give the judge his 'honest graft.' After all, who will listen to a woman with no man to speak for her? In that society, they can reasonably expect to keep all her money– Except that their neglect gives this shameless woman her opportunity.

  5. What we’re supposed to imitate here… probably isn’t ‘wearing God out by long prayers,’ like the ‘lawyers’ referred to in 20.47.

    The essential quality would be that ‘shamelessness.’ Not being cowed by superior power, but asking for what seems right, prepared to receive it, or to know ‘Why not?’

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