I thought it was important to begin the Justice series with a focus on the Holy Trinity, exploring how God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit work together to bring about justice on the earth. Dr. Paul Louis Metzger kicked off the series with a focus on God the Father by asking the question, “What’s the big deal about justice?” Andy Crouch engaged us with his own questions, “Can we have Jesus without justice? Or justice without Jesus?” Today, I make a humble attempt to explore the work of the Holy Spirit and justice by taking a look at a small parable of the persistent widow as found in Luke 18:1-8.
The NIV reads:
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said, “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 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? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
Before we engage this passage, let me share background work to increase our understanding of what Jesus is saying. A parable is simply a symbolic story that Jesus often used to teach and get a point across to his disciples. Luke is the only gospel writer who shares this parable. Luke was a doctor, historian, and Gentile (Greek) Christian who is writing to a Gentile audience for the purpose of proving that Jesus, in all of his humanity, is God and the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures. There are several key themes in Luke’s gospel, but the other one I will highlight for today’s purposes is the work of the Holy Spirit. He shares these two themes by regularly referring to four groups of people: 1.) Samaritans and Gentiles (or non-Jews), 2.) tax collectors and sinners (the society outcasts), 3.) women (or those who have no power in his society), and 4.) the poor (those who have no value in his society).
In context, this parable comes after Jesus’ teaching on the coming kingdom of God. It is a reminder that trouble does not last always, that God does hear when his children cry out to him, and he will bring about justice in his perfect timing.
A few themes and lessons come from this passage:
- There is a sharp contrast between God who is righteous and the judge who is unjust and doesn’t care about God and people. This contrast calls us to consider if we respond more like God or the unjust judge in our daily interactions with people.
- The lead character is this story is a widow, a woman who because of her marital condition is most likely poor. Consider: How do we respond to those who are outcast, marginalized, powerless, and devalued in our society? How does Jesus call us to respond?
- Armed with no other weapon than the power to use her feet and the power to use her words, this woman kept coming to the judge. She was persistent, and her persistence wore the judge out!
And parable does provide a lesson about the work of the Holy Spirit, for Jesus turns the tables at the end to ask his hearers questions about how the view God and challenges them to respond properly to God. Is God just? Yes, he is. Will he bring about justice for his chosen ones? Yes, he will. If those are true statements, then God will answer his children who cry out to him day and night. Concerning this passage, D.A. Carson and R.T. France write, “The really vital question is not whether God will respond to prayer, but whether there will be faithful people who have persisted in prayer and not lost hope when the Son of Man comes. The parable is essentially an encouragement to continue in prayer without losing heart right through the difficult times of waiting before the Son of Men comes.” We are all waiting for the Son of Man to come, and we wait in a world that is broken, full of sin, and in some places ruled my unjust people who care for neither God nor people.
In this work of justice, we must be consistent in prayer. Luke reminds us of the importance of persistence and prayer again in Luke 11:1-13. He writes in verses 9-13:
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you fathers, if you son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead” Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
The Holy Spirit prompts us to pray and equips us to respond as agents of God who preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for prisoners, bring healing to those who are sick, and set captives free (Luke 4:18-19).
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2014