Jesus told them this story to show them that they should always pray and never be discouraged. He said, “Once upon a time, there was a judge who lived in a particular city. He wasn’t afraid of God and he didn’t think very highly of other people. There was also a widow in that city who kept going to him and saying, ‘Hear my case against my adversary and let me have justice!’
“For a long time it appeared that the judge wasn’t going to do anything, but he thought to himself, ‘I’m going to hear this widow’s case and let her have justice because even though I’m not afraid of God, and I don’t think very highly of anyone else, I need to get this woman off my back. Her constant nagging is wearing me out!’
The Lord said, “Pay attention to the words of this corrupt judge! Won’t God grant justice to his chosen people who cry out to him night and day? Will he be slow in helping them? I’m telling all of you that God will quickly grant them justice. But will the Son of Man find anyone on the earth who has faith when he arrives?”
People did not like to be lectured in Jesus’ day any more than they like to be lectured today. When I was a kid, the best way to ensure that I was not going to listen to you was to lecture me – a fact that my parents learned quickly. The way that my parents lectured me was not to speak to me directly, but to talk about me in a manner that I could overhear. When they talked about me, I listened, mostly to make sure they were being accurate, but I listened.
Parables are a way of teaching without lecturing. Parables are always about “others”; they are told in the third person. Parables are familiar enough for a person to plug into and understand, but yet distant enough so that the hearer is not being threatened or spoken to directly. Parables are safer than just saying what you want to say – and Jesus had a lot to say, and he said a lot of it in parables.
Parables are the sermon illustrations that help us to understand the preaching. Parables are the examples used by the teacher to help us understand the lesson. The story about my parents talking about me in order to get me to listen is a parable about what a parable is. It is something that happened to me, but it is something that is probably common enough so that others can relate to it when I tell that story.
The parable of the Gospel today is that of The Widow and the Judge. It is not one of my favorites. When people hear it, it seems obvious who the characters represent. The judge is God and the widow is us. The widow is in need of something that only the judge can give her, but the judge is not giving it to her. He withholds it. Why? Because he is a corrupt judge and justice for him is determined by the bribe he receives. The poor widow has not money, and, therefore, no bribe, so the judge ignores her. But she refuses to let the judge off of the hook. She nags him until he cannot take it anymore, so he decides to give her the justice she seeks.
That is why I do not like this parable. And yes, as a Christian, I am allowed to critique the parable and say to my Lord and my Savior, “I think you’re brilliant, but this isn’t your best work.” If I am going to have a real relationship with God, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, with anyone else, I have to be honest about who I am, what I think, and how I feel. And I feel that this parable, as it is generally understood, does more harm than good.
Now, of course, the point of the parable is: If even this corrupt judge can do the right thing simply because he wants this widow to stop pestering him, how much more will the God who loves us do the right thing whenever we ask. But even though that is the point, it is never said, and it may not actually be as obvious as we try to tell ourselves it is.
This parable simply reinforces a fear that I had most of my life: the fear that God really does not care. Let’s face it, if God is the judge, and the judge does not care, then God does not care. The only way God is going to care is by nagging Him to the point where He decides to do something for no other reason than to shut me up. But He does not do it because He cares about the situation, or even because He cares about me – because the story suggests that He does not care about me at all. I am no closer to God when He finally does what I am asking because the only reason He did it was because I pestered Him. Nobody likes to be pestered, and nobody likes the person who is doing the pestering. So, to me, this parable has always reinforced that little voice inside that says: “God doesn’t care. Prayer is pointless. If you ask God for something, you’ll never get it, and if you do get it, God will resent you for asking.”
I know now that this is not what is being said in the parable, but I only know that after years of study, years of not only learning what the Bible says, but learning who Jesus is, and who God is. The Word of God is the Will of God; Jesus is the He will give me what I need. Jesus makes it clear in other places that God is a loving parent. A loving parent is not going to make a child suffer or go without because he cannot be bothered to take care of his child. So that voice that tells me that God does not care is lie, no matter how much I may sometimes feel it is true. Feelings are not facts!
What if I have been reading the parable wrong all of these years? What if that lifelong, nagging fear that God may not care about me or my circumstances is the result of me misapplying the parable? What if God is not the judge? What if I am not the widow?
What if God is not the judge, but the widow? What if we are not the widow, but the judge? How does that change the story?
We, like the judge, do not care about God or others when we want what we want. We ignore justice for others because it is inconvenient. We are persistent in ignoring the pleas of the poor and the powerless. We do not want to help anyone unless there is something in it for us. We have to be bribed to take care of those in need of our help – and there are a lot of people in need of our help.
Yet God is that persistent widow who will not go away. God refuses to let us forget who we are, and what our responsibilities are. God keeps coming to us, nagging, pleading, pestering. We remind God that we are more than willing to help for a price, but God will not bribe us to do the right thing – to be the people we were made to be.
Perhaps the point of the parable is not that we are to be persistent in nagging God for what we want – like the Red Sox winning the World Series – but that we listen to the pestering of what God wants for us. It is not just a reminder that God will give us the good things we need because God is a loving and caring parent, and not a corrupt judge. It is a bold declaration that if we listen to God and give God what He wants, then we will never be in need of anything ever again. It is a call to seek first the Kingdom of God because when we do, we are never in want.