The widow and the judge

(Preparing for Sunday with the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge, Luke 18:1-8)

I have heard her as a warrior, cudgeling her way toward the judge’s seat; as a hag, as a nag, that tag attached to women who dare to ask for anything, let alone justice; I have heard her described as persistent, precocious, privileged, pernicious, pesky, and prevailing.

She has been used as a picture of prayer, and yet the unjust judge, who turns away with indifference and disgust, who dismisses and dispatches her as though she were a bluebottle or a horsefly about to bite, is not one I recognize as the God to whom I pray.

He is a broken clock, occasionally accurate in his pronouncements, not because of rightness, mercy, or justice, but despite his own, profound and tragic, alienation.

Can I affirm the widow’s faithfulness to her own cause, and to the cause of justice, without falling prey to the unjust assertion that God responds to the squeaky wheel, and not to the meek?

Can I maintain hope for her (and not only for the resolution of her current crisis or dispute, but for true and lasting restitution, reconciliation) without succumbing to the hopelessness that attends the daily grind of indifference?

Can I maintain hope even for the unjust judge, that while his heart was not moved this time, but only his self-interest, that a crease or a crack might have been opened as he turned, enough for a little salve to spill in?

First of all, can I free Jesus from my old and calcified, allegorically literal, algebraic interpretation of his parable about prayer and remember that God is not worn down by my cries, nor eroded by my need, nor numb to my grief, nor impassive to my witting and unwitting, egregious, and unnecessary participation in injustice?

The judge of the parable had no regard for anyone, but the God who will pass judgement upon me so loved the world as to become Emmanuel, God with us, to suffer under our unjust judgement, and to die. The God who will, I pray, have mercy upon me hears the cries of the widows to whom I turn a cloth ear, and continues to importune me with opportunities for penitence.

I will pray, then, and not give up hope that the hardness of my heart will one day become flesh; that I may fear God enough to look up, and to see her face to face.


Featured image: The Unjust Judge and the Importunate Widow (The Parables of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ), Brothers Dalziel, CC0, via wikimedia commons

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