Proper 24(C): In Pursuit of Justice
By: The Rev. AnnaKate Rawles
The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary places this parable in the “Jesus’ Gospel to the Rich and Poor” section of Luke. This section moves from stories of the “son of man” in chapter 17 to a focus on Jesus’ teaching of the kingdom and the contrast between rich and poor in 18 and 19. This parable connects the rich and poor with prayer in a way that is not done in the other gospels.
The parable tells us from the beginning that its purpose is to show the disciples that they “should always pray and not give up (Luke 18:1 NIV).” That is, they should pray persistently. We are given the tale of a widow, a woman with no power and likely no money, who goes before a judge who does not fear (has no reverence) God, and who has no respect for other people. We do not know what the widow is going before the judge about—perhaps it is about getting what she is owed from her late husband’s estate or for care in the community—either way the judge is not interested in hearing her case.
In ancient Judaism and early Christianity, the community was expected to take care of widows and orphans and it was the calling of a judge to give members of the community a fair hearing (Deuteronomy 1:16-17). The widow is persistent in her search for justice and repeatedly goes to the judge demanding he grant her justice. He comes to the decision to give her justice, not because he has any respect for her or because he fears God, but because he is tired of hearing from her. Jesus says this judge will give justice because he doesn’t want to have to hear from the widow anymore, and if the judge will do this most basic level of justice then how much more will God do. “Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them (vs 7-8).”
Upon reading this parable, one cannot help but to picture a small child asking their parent for a toy over and over again until the parent gives in and buys the toy so the child will leave them alone. I remember a time when my brother and I tag team annoyed our parents until we finally wore them down and were given a castle playhouse. Is that the lesson of this parable? Go to God over and over again in prayer until God is worn down by your request and grants it so that God might be able to go back to God’s newspaper? Not likely. I imagine three possible ways to preach this parable that seem to be reflective of the text.
1. Jesus could essentially be saying, “Go ahead and bug God constantly with your prayers. They will be heard, and God will see that justice is done.” We can each imagine a parishioner sitting in a pew shaking their head yes, that it is in constant prayer before God that we get what we have asked for. We can also imagine the parishioner who has just buried their child shaking their head no, because how is the death of a child the just answer to constant prayer? Balancing the way in which we talk about justice as God’s answer to prayer is important, and a skill I have not found a way to attend to wholly.
2. The parable could also be a question of faith. Do you have the faith to search for justice continually, like the widow who demands night and day, day and night for justice to be done? Because God is listening, God is going to act swiftly, and when the Son of Man comes, will he find us searching for justice and holding onto the faith that justice will be done?
3. Finally, the parable could very well be a call to be doers of justice. There is a judge who has power, and is choosing to not use it to help the widow, the disenfranchised of society. There is a widow persistently pursing justice, but unable to find it because of her position in society. Through her constant questioning and nagging the judge gives in and offers justice. He uses his power to serve another’s interests, to bring about justice for someone who otherwise would not find it. Recently, NPR reported about Congress convening after a 5-week recess in which there were (at least) four mass shootings. The report mentioned the March for Our Lives groups, comprised of and led primarily by high school students, who have been marching and leading rallies all over the US demanding action on gun control and an end to gun violence. These young people will not be quiet, they keep demanding justice, and in some places whether because of a change of heart and desire for justice, or to bring about an end to the rallies, changes are being made, because of their persistence. Seemingly powerless teenagers are impacting the way the powerful think and vote, and justice is being done (albeit slowly).
Whether you focus on our need to pray constantly, seek justice, or find ways to be a people of faith, this parable will cause your congregation to pause and think.
 Culpepper, R. The New Interpreter’s Bible : Vol. 9 : The Gospel of Luke, the Gospel of John. Nashville Tenn.: Abingdon, 1995. p 335-339.
The Rev. AnnaKate Rawles has a BA in Literature and Religion from Converse College, Master of Divinity from Candler School of Theology, and a certificate for theology in ministry from Cambridge University. She is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and is currently serving as Associate Pastor at St James Atlanta United Methodist Church. She is passionate about full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the Church, conservation efforts especially around endangered and at-risk animals, and sustainability and creation care at home and in the local church. She enjoys traveling, volunteering at Zoo Atlanta, and spending time with her husband Brian Trepanier and their pets Merlin and Arthur.