Two Judges and a Widow
Scripture Readings: Psalm 22:1-5; Luke 18:1-8 (text)
January 11, 2015 â€¢ Pasig Covenant Reformed Church â€¢ Trinity Covenant Reformed Church (Imus) â€¢ Download this sermon (PDF)
Congregation of Christ: Today, as we continue our series on the Parables of Jesus, we will study what is popularly known as the Parable of the Persistent Widow. The title I chose is different, â€œTwo Judges and a Widow,â€ and we will see why this title also fits.
Last October 2014, there were two prisoners, a woman and a man, who were falsely imprisoned. The woman, from Gardena, California was convicted and imprisoned for 17 years for a murder that was later overturned. After she was released, she recounted that she cried every night and prayed that â€œone day God would bring truth to the light and some day bring me an angel who would believe in meâ€¦ I did it with God. His grace and his love and I knew he loved me and he would get me through.â€ So she thanked God, â€œI feel like I just have the greatest miracle ever.â€ The other convict was a man named who spent 15 years in prison. He was wrongfully convicted of a double murder in 1982. After his release, he said, â€œI was praying every day, asking God to shine down upon me.â€
I don’t know if these two people are really Christians, but they expressed their faith in God and in persistent prayer. But the story that most of us remember when talking about wrongful imprisonment is that of Joseph. He was in prison for two years after the wife of his master Potiphar wrongfully accused him of sexual advances against her. We know that Joseph is a godly man, so we can safely assume that he also prayed for justice daily while in prison.
Our text this afternoon is about two judges, not one, and a widow who was persistent in her pleas to one of the judges. So our theme this afternoon is â€œTwo Judges and a Widow,â€ under three headings: (1) The Unjust Judge; (2) The Persistent Widow; and (3) The Merciful Judge.
The Unjust Judge
This parable has two main characters: a judge and a widow. The description of the judge by Jesus was of a self-centered man who could not care less about God or others, â€œI neither fear God nor respect man.â€ This is why Jesus calls him an â€œunrighteousâ€ or unjust judge. There is a play on words in the original Greek, because the words for â€œjustâ€ and righteousâ€ come from the same root. This judge has a very bad reputation, for he has no morals or scruples and has no regard for justice. How can a â€œjudgeâ€ be â€œunjustâ€?
He did not â€œfear God,â€ which means that he was an unbeliever. If he was a Jewish commuÂnity judge, he would have some fear of God. Paul’s description of totally depraved mankind is, â€œThere is no fear of God before their eyesâ€ (Rom 3:18). In contrast to unbelievers, Psalm 66:16, our song of praise, invites all believers, â€œCome and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.â€ Do you who fear God take joy in continually hearing and telling how he has saved your soul in the preaching of the Word and in your daily meditations?
He also has no â€œrespectâ€ for others. In the Parable of the Wicked Tenants in Luke 13:9-18, the owner of the vineyard sent his servants to collect his due from the tenants, but they beat the servants. So the owner thought, â€œI will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.â€ This time, the tenants did not just beat up the son, but they killed him. They had no â€œrespectâ€ for the son. In the same way, this unbelieving judge had no â€œrespectâ€ for anyone.
Since he has no regard for justice, he ignored the repeated pleas of the widow for â€œjustice against my adversaryâ€ or enemy. He has no time for a poor, insignificant widow. She was merely a nuisance, even a pest, to him. He has many other important business to attend to.
The Persistent Widow
Facing seemingly insurmountable odds against this unjust judge, did the widow give up in her quest for justice? No, she did not. She kept coming and coming, so much so that the judge says, â€œthis widow keeps bothering me.â€ Jesus used the same word â€œbotherâ€ in the Parable of the Friend at Midnight for a man who â€œbotheredâ€ his neighbor by waking him up at midnight to ask him for bread. We will study this parable next Lord’s Day.
The widow’s persistence was â€œbeating downâ€ the judge, which literally means, â€œgiving a black eyeâ€ to him. The widow’s persistence will â€œwear him outâ€ (KJV), drain him, or even give him a bad reputation (although he already has) among the community.
In those days, girls were customarily married at 13 or 14, so this widow might be very young, and even have a few children. Her â€œadversaryâ€ or enemy is mentioned only in passing, so he/she is not important in the story. Often, widows have money problems, so it might be that her enemy owes her money that he does want to pay back. The widow, poor and not being able to afford a lawyer, goes directly to the judge, which is out of the ordinary. Then she literally asks the judge, â€œTake up my case, please.â€
Jesus’ use of a widow in this parable indicates his concern for the poor and the oppressed in society. This is why in the Old Testament, God enacted many laws in defense of the widow, the orphan, and the poor: â€œHe executes justice for the fatherless and the widowâ€ (Deut 10:18); God is the â€œfather of the fatherless and protector of widowsâ€ (Psa 68:5). A man who is unjust to the widow is accursed (Deut 27:19). But even with these protection laws, widows were often unjustly mistreated. Isaiah indicts this injustice, â€œThey do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before themâ€ (Isa 1:23). And the LORD executes swift justice against those who oppress widows and orphans (Mal 3:5).
So the widow has no other way out of her plight but to go to the judge, who is unjust, repeatedly. Finally, out of aggravation, the judge took up her case and granted her justice, not because he was just or merciful, but because he wanted to get rid of her from his courtroom.
The Merciful Judge
But in verse 6, we read that Jesus told his disciples to pay attention to the unjust judge, â€œHear what the unrighteous judge says.â€ Why? Because he wanted them to clearly see the contrast between the unjust earthly judge and the just and merciful heavenly Judge. This parable is one of a comparison between a â€œlesserâ€ to a â€œgreater.â€ Usually this is in the form of, â€œIf someone who is ‘lesser’ is true, then someone who is ‘greater’ is much more or better. In this parable, if the unrighteous judge can give justice to the widow, how much more just and merciful is the heavenly Father towards his â€œchosen onesâ€?
Jesus used the widow’s persistent pleas to the unrighteous judge to instruct us about our need for persistent prayer. And this is the purpose of the parable in verse 1, â€œ And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.â€ If an earthly judge who is unrighteous and shows no mercy in deciding his cases can grant justice, how much more will an infinitely righteous, just and merciful God be willing to grant justice and mercy to his people, â€œwho cry to him day and nightâ€? The psalmists frequently wrote about pleading to God continually day and night with their prayers: Psalm 88:1: â€œO Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you.â€ Psalm 22:2: â€œO my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.â€
If the unrighteous judge, after repeatedly rejecting and delaying the widow’s appeals, finally grants her justice, how much speedier and without delay will God answer the prayers of his people who are persistent in their prayers? Jesus says in verse 8, â€œI tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.â€
The overarching teaching of the parable is clear: the persistent prayers of God’s chosen ones will be granted by God, â€œaccording to his willâ€ (1 John 5:14). Often for us, it seems like forever before our prayers are granted, or our prayers will never be granted. But for God, a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day, so his justice is swift, not slow.
But when we look beyond these eight verses in Luke 18, we see a more comprehensive purpose of this parable. In the preceding chapter, Luke 17:20-37, we read of a long discourse by Jesus about his Second Coming. And then in verses 7-8 of our parable, Jesus promises, â€œWill he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.â€ This means that Jesus was not teaching his disciples not just about persistent prayer in general, but about persistent prayer for his Second Coming. Because when he returns, he will vindicate his chosen ones. He will grant all heavenly blessings to his people who are persecuted and oppressed by their enemies. And he will execute his wrathful judgment against the enemies of his people.
The phrase â€œWill he delay long over them?â€ can also be translated â€œAnd he is patient over themâ€ (similar to KJV). Peter encourages us when we are losing heart because of the long wait for answers to our prayers, â€œwith the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you…â€ (2 Pet 3:8-9).
So in verse 8, Jesus asks rhetorically, â€œNevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?â€ Not that he will not find his elect faithful to him when he returns. These words are a challenge to them to be patient, faithful and waiting for his coming. To be faithÂful and â€œnot lose heartâ€ in their prayers while they wait, even in suffering and persecution.
Dear Friends in Christ: When we pray, let us be patient in waiting for God. Maybe God is telling us the same thing that he tells the martyrs in heaven, â€œO Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?â€ They have been pleading to God to avenge their persecution and death. But the Lord tells them â€œto rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete.â€ When the fullness of time comes, Christ is sure to return!
While we wait, let us remember to be faithful in our prayers not only for ourselves, but for our church, and for the universal church in the midst of sufferings and persecutions. Daily, we read about our brothers and sisters in Christ being persecuted and martyred in many nations. Our desire must be for God to pour out his righteous wrath and vengeance on his enemies. Our response to violence by God’s enemies must be to pray for comfort, protection and strength of faith for our brethren in Christ, not for exacting our own violent vengeance against them.
And Christ has given us many instructions about prayer. Pray that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. â€œPray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for youâ€ (1 Thess 5:17-18). Pray persistently day and night, and give thanks whatever your plight may be. Pray â€œthat the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honoredâ€ (2 Thess 3:1).
Like the poor widow who had no other recourse except to plead continually with the unrighteous judge, let us acknowledge our helplessness and dependence on God by praying without ceasing. We have nowhere to turn, except to Christ. We have no other guide in our Christian walk, except the Holy Spirit.
And because Christ promised, â€œSurely, I am coming soon,â€ pray for Christ’s speedy return, â€œYour kingdom come! Come, Lord Jesus!â€