Once, Jesus told a story about a widow who pesters a corrupt judge until he gives her justice. Jesus did this to show his disciples, “that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1).
“Therefore,” the preacher concludes, “this parable teaches us that God is like that corrupt judge. If he does not answer, just be like the widow, pray harder, and eventually God will give you what you want!”
My heart sinks: that does not sound like Good News at all! I came to church to hear more about what Jesus has done for us; I leave church wondering if I’m praying hard enough to qualify.
Discouraged, I look back at the text. But what’s this, right here in verse 7? “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?” Jesus says God answers our prayers quickly, not slowly and reluctantly!
What a relief: God is actually the opposite of that corrupt judge!
But then…what does this parable actually teach us about God and prayer?
I take another look at the text. I realize Jesus uses the word “justice” four times. So justice must be a central concept. Then I notice that the protagonist in the story is a widow. I do a quick word-search: “widow”. Ninety-six (96!) scripture references pop up. When I scan through the references, I find a very strong biblical connection between “widows” and “justice”, like: “[God] defends the cause of the widow” (Deuteronomy 10:18), and “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees…making widows their prey” (Isaiah 10:1-2).
The parable begins to make sense: the corrupt judge is actually under God’s curse. The widow knows this. That is why she keeps bothering the judge so boldly and persistently: she understands from God’s Word that God is on her side! She knows that, one way or another, God is going to make sure she gets justice!
Reading through the parable again, I realize the corrupt judge figures this out in verse 4: “Even though I don’t fear God or people, I’m gonna give this widow her justice so she won’t eventually come and attack me!” The judge is not afraid of anyone’s judgement. But the widow is so bold and persistent he starts to wonder if she is more powerful than she seems. Perhaps she has a rich relative who has gone away on a long trip, and when that relative gets back and finds out how the judge treated her he will rally all his wealth and power and have that judge removed? So he gives in.
The judge can only speculate in earthly terms — but his thinking is spiritually correct. Jesus confirms this in verse 6: “Listen to what the unjust judge says!” Pay attention: the judge is right! This widow is actually far more powerful than she seems! Why? Because God is on her side.
To test my interpretation, I look at the larger context. Sure enough, in the moments just before Jesus told this parable, he told his disciples that he would be going away for a long time, that they would suffer while he was gone, but that he would return suddenly and destroy everyone who “tries to keep their life” (Luke 17:33) — especially at the expense of the poor and the helpless. Then, to illustrate his teaching, Jesus tells a parable about a judge who tries to keep his life at the expense of a poor, helpless widow. What is Jesus’ point? He tells us in verse 7: “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones?…I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.”
Then he finishes with, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
So what is this parable actually about? It is about praying faithfully for Jesus’ return! It is about speaking up boldly and persistently against earthly injustice, knowing that God has promised to give us justice, and quickly. Does this parable mean Jesus guarantees us justice in earthly courts? No. That is earthly thinking. In fact, Jesus tells his disciples they will often be executed by earthly courts (Luke 21:16)! But Jesus has guaranteed us justice in God’s court — and on the Day of his return.
Therefore, like the widow, we pray. And we speak up boldly and persistently against earthly injustice, knowing that — even as we suffer the earthly consequences — we are the beloved children of the One who is “coming soon” (Revelation 22:20) to destroy all injustice and make all things new.
Now that sounds like the kind of Good News I’d want to hear!