Rev. Harry Currie
Oct 22, 2023
Genesis 32:22-31, Luke 15:20-24, Luke 18:1-8
About 8 or 9 years ago an Alberta Judge made inappropriate remarks to a rape victim during a trial. Robin Camp was later the subject of an inquiry by the Canadian Judicial Council and eventually was removed from the bench.
His conduct according to the investigative committee in their words “is so manifestly and profoundly destructive of the concept of impartiality, integrity and independence of the judicial role.”
He is not the only judge who has crossed the line, although to be fair, it is only a small percentage of judges who are unjust.
But the whole concept of a judge, is that the judge is impartial, honest, fair and independent. In fact, the importance of the independence and integrity of the judiciary is a major plank in having a good democracy.
Recently the whole concept of an independent and fair judiciary is under siege in Israel, where the government is proposing new legislation that would in effect give the government absolute power over Israel’s Supreme Court, among other things, allowing Israel’s parliament to override Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority vote.
Amnesty International notes that already Israel has what it calls a system of apartheid against Palestinians, and weakening the judicial system will give the Israeli government more power to dominate Palestinians, to discriminate against them and to deprive them of economic and social rights.
Sometimes it is the judges who are the last resort for justice in a country.
And if judges are not fair, not impartial, not honest, not independent, then one’s country and the lives of its people are held hostage to the rich, the powerful, the violent, the criminal and the unjust.
And so, when Jesus tells a story about an unjust judge, it makes one want to cringe in one’s seat.
Imagine a poor widow bringing a case before the Supreme Court of Canada and her being denied what is obvious justice. I would like to think that that is unthinkable.
And what are the comments about this judge. The judge does not fear God or have any respect for people. In other words, for this judge there is no higher power, not even the rule of law itself. This judge does whatever he wants when he wants and makes decisions not based on the law of God, the law of the land or the best interests of the people, but in his own interests.
It is kinda despicable.
This is a widow who is seeking justice.
Surely the judge would know the law of Moses. Exodus 22:22-24
“You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans.”
In fact, the nature of God at times is like a divine judge who is always fair and just. Deuteronomy 10:17-18
“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing.”
And as the story goes that Jesus tells, this despicable judge who is only out for himself has a woman coming to him constantly demanding justice. The NRSV text says that the judge is being worn out by the woman. Other translations have pestered or harassed. The Greek word is hupópiazó and it literally means “beat black and blue.”
This woman is going to town on the judge. She is figuratively beating the judge down.
And so, finally the judge grants her justice.
But to tell you the truth, it is not justice when a judge does something because someone is wearing them out.
It is justice when the judge does what is right and fair without coercion or undue pressure acted upon them.
And while Jesus starts the story by saying this is about prayer, Jesus ends it by saying that even if an evil corrupt judge grants justice to a persistent widow, how much more will God grant justice to God’s people.
On the face of it, it sounds good. In other words, it sounds like the more you pray, the harder you pray and the more persistently you pray, the better chance is that God will grant you justice.
But is that really true? Is that really what Jesus is intending?
Isn’t the very heart of the gospel, the very centre of Jesus’ story, the fact that the innocent one did not get justice and died at the hands of the unjust.
And if we take up our crosses as did the disciples, will we get justice? Tradition has it that 11 of the 12 disciples died unjustly, executed or martyred at the hands of the unjust.
How many millions of those who are hungry and denied rights are getting justice because they persistently pray.
And really, is God like the unjust judge? God is not like the unjust judge so why do we insist in so many parables equating God with the powerful authority figure who often is not like God at all… violent, unfair, petty, jealous, impatient, vengeful etc.
Well, let me tell you a couple of ways scholars try to handle this problem of equating God with an anti-God figure.
One way to handle it is to say that there is a difference between God and the judge and the difference is that the judge was slow to bring justice and only after pressure. But that God is quick to bring justice, and doesn’t need pressure, but acts fairly because God is God.
Another way to handle it, is to talk about prayer. Prayer is not just talking about God, but any demand for justice is a prayer to God. Prayer is used in this sense not as a religious word, talking to God, but as a request, or a plea from one to another.
So, the life of prayer is the life of entreating others to justice with requests, letters, marches, protests, appearing before city council, court cases and our public proclamations. And the more we entreat, ask, beg, plead, pray for justice, the more likely it is to happen.
And yet another way to handle is to say that Luke took the story of Jesus and didn’t quite get it. That Jesus told a story about a widow and a judge and unfair justice.
And that Luke added that it was about prayer and our need to pray always, and Luke likened God to the judge, because frankly the common understanding of God, was that God could do what God liked.
So, while Luke came up with what he thought was a good analogy, and a good theology… The one we started with… that the more we pray the better the chance that God will grant us justice.
…maybe Luke didn’t quite get what Jesus was getting at…
My experience in this world is that a whole lot of innocent people and a whole lot of God’s children do not get justice. I hope I don’t have to list all the examples. I think we could be here all night.
We are talking about victims of systemic injustice, we are talking about victim of prejudice, crime, hate, violence, abuse, abandonment, neglect, theft.
We are talking about those who get sick for no apparent reason, and who never get better, and the good people and God’s people get just as sick as the bad people.
We are talking about the poor and disenfranchised and those who don’t have access to basic human rights and needs such as adequate food, shelter, health care, education, jobs and resources to live and be physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy.
We are talking about hundreds of millions if not billions of people.
And to be frank and honest, everyone has a story of being treated unfairly, and never getting justice.
I have a boatload of stories from my life and maybe you do too.
Fortunately, I have lived in a country and with a good family and in a system where I have benefitted and the unfair stories even though many, have not held me back in abject poverty or slavery.
So, who is the widow? Well sometimes it is us, and sometimes it is the poor and disadvantaged who cry out continually for justice and it never comes…
But I wonder if we turn the story on its head for a second and think about the widow being Jesus. Jesus is the poor widow who doesn’t get justice, in fact is put on the cross and is executed, but God raises Jesus up to show that Jesus is vindicated and innocent.
And therefore, part of our need to pray always is not that much prayer will make God change his mind or intervene in miraculous ways…. But that prayer is needed for us to keep loving, keep caring, keep being non-violent, keep forgiving, when the truth is we are not going to see much justice…
Jesus prayed drops of blood before his arrest and crucifixion but it didn’t stop the crucifixion or the injustice done to him.
But prayer was the strength he needed, the support from God to face what he had to face, the cross… so he could be a servant to us even unto death….
So, if Jesus might be the widow who is treated unjustly… maybe we are the unjust judges.
I say that because if we look honestly in the mirror how many of us can say that we actually do what Jesus wants us to do.
To be non-violent and support non-violence, to pray for our enemies and do good to them.
To walk the extra mile for those in need, to give their coat and the cloak to those who ask for it.
To liberally share of our wealth
To forgive seventy times seven, or to forgive unconditionally.
The Old Testament text that goes along with this gospel reading is the blessing of Jacob at Peniel.
And if the story of Jacob’s son Joseph, is the most Christlike of all the stories in the Old Testament then Jacob’s story is the opposite.
Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, who think that he will die in slavery. And yet Joseph forgives them unreservedly and unconditionally.
Joseph was treated unjustly by his brothers and yet even his unjust treatment Joseph sees as God’s plan of salvation and redemption.
Joseph is a picture or an image of the Christ.
But not so Jacob. Jacob is a cheat, a trickster, a conniver, a con artist and a flim flam man.
He cheats his brother out of a birthright and out of a blessing.
He stands before his dying father and lies to his father’s face in order to receive a blessing.
He has some shady sheep deals with his father-in-law later on.
There is nothing particularly good about Jacob, and yet when he returns home, he is forgiven by his brother Esau; and Jacob remarks that to see the face of forgiving and generous Esau is to the see the face of God.
And in one of the many strange stories in the bible Jacob the night before meeting Esau wrestles all night with some strange man, whom Jacob also says is the face of God.
Is it just and fair that Jacob can wrestle with God and win, when he is such a cheat and a loser in many other ways?
And yet in some ways it too is one of the most gospel-like stories in the Old Testament because it is about the grace of God moving in mysterious ways, forgiving and blessing those who don’t deserve it.
The story of Jacob is much like the story of the prodigal son, where the birthright is taken both by Jacob and the prodigal son. They both go off into a far country. They have wounded their father and done him wrong.
And when they both return home, the father runs out to meet the prodigal and kisses him, as Esau runs to Jacob and kisses him.
And there is only forgiveness and love for these two wayward family members.
I sometimes think that Christ, the poor widow, sees us unjust judges coming towards her and instead of beating us black and blue, she runs out to meet us, putting her arms around us and kissing us…
There is forgiveness and grace and love and acceptance with Christ the poor widow for us unjust judges, who do not forgive, who do not share, who do not do unto others as we would have done to ourselves…
We are the prodigals, the unjust judges, the Jacobs and yet we are loved anyway.
This indeed is a parable about prayer…not that…by our much praying, pleading and begging of God, will God come and do a miracle and grant what we ask….
But by much praying, and talking to God and spending time in God’s presence we are willing to take up a cross and suffer injustice for the sake of serving others, forgiving others and showing others what real love is like.
We pray constantly that we would be God’s grace to others…
After Apartheid ended in South Africa, a white police officer named Mr. Van der Boek was put on trial. The court found that he had come to a woman’s home, shot her son at point-blank range, and then burned the young man’s body on a fire while he and his officers partied nearby. The woman’s husband was killed by the same men, and his body also was burned.
Maybe it is hard to unfathomable to think about that level of prejudice and cruelty.
But more unfathomable is the surviving woman’s response (the mother of the son and wife to the husband murdered and burned). What must she have thought and felt as she sat in the court room being burdened and re-traumatized by evidence?
A member of the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission turned to her and asked, “So, what do you want? How should justice be done for this man?”
How is Justice to be done?
That’s the right question, isn’t it? What is justice; how can it be achieved?
What would this wife and mother say in the face of such murderous cruelty that further caused indignity to her husband’s and son’s remains?
I want three things,” the woman said:
“I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial.
My husband and son were my only family. I want, secondly, for Mr. Van der Boek to become my son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have.
And finally, I would like Mr. Van der Boek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. And so, I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. Van der Boek in my arms, embrace him, and let him know that he is truly forgiven.
In face of all the awful things done in this world, and how people cry out for justice, to be avenged of all the wrongs done to them…
…stands the story of Jesus who about those who killed him said: “Father forgive them.”
We follow a human, in the best sense of what humane and humanity is…who is such unfathomable love and grace.
I know personally I do not love the way Jesus does, nor do I forgive the way Jesus does, nor do I serve the way Jesus does…
But that is why I pray and keep praying. That is why I, the poor widow, keep beating on my soul with prayer, that I, the unjust judge, might grant the justice of limitless grace and unconditional love to everyone I meet.