“God doesn’t quit…” – Gospel and Sermon for October 16, 2022
Here is the manuscript of the Sermon in response to Luke 18:1-8:
I’ll be honest, for a long time, I didn’t like this parable. The parable didn’t make much sense to me. One of the most common questions that gets asked is – Who is God in this parable? The usual answer is – The unjust judge. That just seems kind of weird though doesn’t it? That doesn’t seem to fit the mold of who God is. It’s an unsatisfactory answer frankly. The unjust judge seems like a jerk. I just can’t link God with this guy just because he’s a judge.
And there’s the other question – where do I fit in? I don’t know. It’s a parable that on the surface just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in our world. At least to the circumstances that I’m used to. So, what’s going on in this story? I didn’t understand it.
But over time I’ve come to appreciate this parable more and more. To the point where now I see this as the parable that may be the most real of all the parables that Jesus tells, the most practical that he tells in the sense of how real life works – even if we don’t want to acknowledge this. Real in the sense of dealing with how people really are – at least how some people and some systems really are. There’s no make believe going on here in this parable. Jesus doesn’t sugar coat it.
This parable is fast becoming one of my favorites because I am starting to see people that I personally know who fit into the parable, especially into the role of the hero of the parable – the widow who just refuses to quit.
So, let’s dive into the story. Jesus tells a parable – it’s an opportunity to teach a lesson through a story. And he uses something common – something his hearers would all understand, that he wouldn’t have to explain to them. He talks about the unjust judge. Think about that for a moment. He says “in a certain city…” It doesn’t matter what city. Why? Because this is the situation all around them – a situation they would all understand and were all far too familiar with.
He doesn’t need to talk about everything around that judge – The entire system supporting that judge. Nope, everyone just goes along with the story. They all know that the entire system is corrupt and unjust. There is no justice in this entire system and story. It’s the very premise of the story and everyone knows it – they live it every day.
Remember, they all live in an empire where they are occupied by a foreign power and the power dynamics are such that they are always on the losing end of a dispute. Of course, the system is rigged. It’s always rigged and unjust. Every judge they face has no fear of their God and has not only no respect of the people, but also has contempt for the people. This parable isn’t based in fiction – this a parable based in their daily lives. You want to know how you get what you want in such a system – you pay the judge a bribe. That’s what would be expected. In many parts of the world today, that’s still how things work.
But Jesus goes on. “In that city, there was a widow…”. Jesus picks the person who is literally on the lowest end of society, the person who has no stature in society – the person no one would listen to. She has no money to bribe officials with, no property, no rights, no nothing. All she has is a plea for justice. A plea for what is right. That’s it.
We’ve heard these pleas for what is right before. They are the pleas when you’ve got nothing else. It’s the plea that’s repeated over and over again throughout history in all sorts of times and places – substitute the widow crying justice in for the black man crying out 11 times “I can’t breathe” while he’s in a chokehold until he finally dies. It’s same thing.
The woman cries out Justice, justice. She’s crying Justice, making an appeal of justice to a system that doesn’t have any and doesn’t care about justice. How do you think that’s going to go? The unjust judge isn’t swayed by the goodness of her argument. He says so in the parable – “I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me.” That’s what he says. He isn’t changed by her or her argument. He isn’t convinced by her. He’s worn down. He quits. He doesn’t care about what is right. His heart and mind are in bondage and cannot be set free.
Here’s the lesson. Here’s where it gets real. You aren’t going to change minds or hearts – especially those that are in bondage to injustice – that’s not your job. That’s God’s job. And even God isn’t always successful in that – people can refuse to be changed and transformed. They can reject God.
People aren’t going to do the right thing just because it’s the right thing. Nope. Like the unjust judge in the parable, some people are just too tied to systems that they think they benefit from and they will never change. There are too many things in place, too many feedback loops in place, too many pressures to keep the status quo in place, which is often unjust. Your job isn’t to change all of that. More often than not, you can’t.
The lesson is this – have faith, rely on God, and be persistent with what you can do. It’s not fairy tale Good News. It’s real. It’s Jesus saying life is tough. There is injustice and you’re going to face it. There are systems and institutions and organizations and people that have no interest in doing the right thing, and they will get in the way of doing the right thing. And in spite of that, you keep doing the right thing. You see, God is the widow in this parable. God, like the widow, will pursue justice and won’t quit, in spite of the odds and the obstacles. And you and I are called to follow God’s lead.
There will be people who will do the exact opposite of what is supposed to happen. There will be people who will stand in the way. And you’ll need to stand up, over and over and over and over again and say Justice, Justice, Justice. You’ll need to stand up and say – No, No, No. There’s lots of people who aren’t used to hearing no. And when you think you’ve said Justice and No enough times, you need to tell them more. And they won’t like it. And they won’t be changed by it. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that you are changing hearts and minds – you aren’t. That’s not the point. The widow in the parable wasn’t concerned by this. It’s about faith. It’s about being faithful.
The good news of this Gospel is a bit different than most weeks. It’s very real. The Good News is Jesus saying to us – Hang in there. Don’t shut up. Don’t stop. Keep demanding Justice. Don’t play by the rules especially when it’s unjust. You’re going to upset people. But eventually, justice wins. Not because the unjust are changed. Not because they are going to do the right thing. It’s because Justice always prevails. It’s because God doesn’t quit and God is persistent, just like the widow in the parable.
When God is present, things get flipped, the power dynamics aren’t what they seem. The judge who seems like he has all the power isn’t really in charge. Justice happens in spite of systems and obstacles to prevent it.
As I mentioned earlier, this parable has become one of my favorites. And part of that is because I can now see people that I know fit the character of widow in the story. They are people in this congregation. They are people in my life, friends in the community. People in the wider church. People I know in the wider world. People who work to feed the hungry, to get people out of homelessness, people who care for the sick and dying, people who work with those in poverty. People who work to end racism, and other injustices.
People who do ministry in so many ways. So many stories. People who are persistent, yelling justice, justice and have been yelling it for sometimes decades, and sometimes for just a short time. Young people and senior citizens. All of them taking on the role of the widow in the parable. All yelling justice in the midst of unjust judges and systems in a variety of ways. All standing with Jesus who is cheering them on and standing with them, finding faith on earth.
This is commonly called the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. But if I had my way, I’d rename it. I’d call it the parable of those who do not stop seeking justice.
Thanks be to God for those who are willing to be a pain in the butt. Amen.