How big is your push? (Luke 18)

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Faith is a muscle that needs to be developed. We develop confidence in God by exercising it, by pushing forward in prayer. But how big is your push?

Luke 18 starts with that challenge:

“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 what people thought.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 what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!”’

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?’” (Luke 18: 1-8)

When you read a parable, it’s important to hear the Main Thing and not get distracted by the details! Jesus wasn’t saying that God was an unjust judge, or indeed, that he must be cajoled to hear our requests, or that he isn’t interested in justice or afraid of widows!

In fact, the first hearers would have laughed out loud at the ludricrous punchline in v5.

And then comes the twist. It’s like that verse where Jesus says ““Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?” (Luke 11:11) and then compares God’s ways to our ways. Even though we are only half-decent parents, we know better than to do that. And even a half-decent human judge will give in to persistent pressure.

So how much more will a good judge do?

1. The Justice of God

The main point then, is subtle but strong. It goes two ways. It underscores the justice of God and his determination to see justice on the earth, and it encourages the faith-muscle of the people of God to push forward in their confidence in that truth.

In my Bible, right here on the couch, I had to flip over a page between chapter 17 and chapter 18, so it was easy to miss the connecting link with what has just been said. Jesus talked about the days of Noah and the days of Sodom, and how the justice of God was poised to strike against dreadful injustice and evil, and yet there was a grace-pause, and the rescue of the righteous few.

So here’s the thing: Justice is coming. “Vengeance is mine. I will repay.” God is not oblivious or uncaring. His judgement is not arbitrary or dispassionate. Look at Gen 6:5,6: “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth,and He was grieved in His heart.”

In the newspaper, the other day, there was an account of a particularly viscious rape, and someone in the coffee shop was shaking their head over it, bewailing the awfulness of the details and then remarking:”God -if there is a God- just doesn’t care.” I didn’t say anything, – in fact, generally, I think of the right thing to say several hours after the event! – but reading this passage, I realise that Jesus was countering this false notion of God by talking about an unjust judge.

Do you see the point? Not only is God right and true and honorable and passionate about justice, but everything in us rises up and demands justice for the rape victim, and for the criminal to be brought to account. Justice is part of our DNA because God put it there. Justice is what he is about. “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” (Cornel West)

And if that is how we understand God, then our confidence in how he acts rises within us. “Will not the judge of the earth do right?

So Jesus’s story tells us something vital about God. In the second place, it indicates the nature of our response to that truth.

2. The Persistence of the Pray-er

We are called to put ourselves in the role of the widow. The parable begins with the encouragement to “always pray and not give up.” Widows in the first century were incredibly vulnerable, regularly listed with orphans and aliens as those persons deserving special protection. The fact that this particular widow has to maintain a persistent lobbying of the judge with no family supporting her, highlights her extreme vulnerability. Yet she not only beseeches the judge, but also persists in her pleas for justice to the point of creating sufficient pressure to influence his actions.

Look at the judge’s description of his own motivation for settling the widow’s claim. He asserts  that he neither fears God nor respects people, thereby testifying that his unsavory character has not changed during the course of the parable. When he explains why he relents, however, he utters a description of the effect of the widow’s ceaseless complaints on him that most translations dilute. A more literal translation of the judge’s grievance (18:5) is that the woman “is giving me a black eye.

This represents both physical and social distress. That is, the judge complains that the widow’s relentless badgering not only causes him physical harm but also risks public embarassment. He relents not because he has changed his mind but simply to shut up this dangerous widow. In this case, insolent, obnoxious, even intolerable behavior results in justice!

What is God’s word to us, then?  Read this way, the parable serves to encourage those suffering injustice to continue their complaints and calls for justice. Sometimes it takes extreme, even socially unacceptable behavior to effect change. God, the Bible has persistently insisted, gives special attention to those who are most vulnerable; therefore, we should persist in our complaints, even to the point of embarrassing the powers that be in order to induce change.

“Don’t ever give up.
Don’t ever give in.
Don’t ever stop trying.
Don’t ever sell out.
And if you find yourself succumbing to one of the above for a brief moment,
pick yourself up, brush yourself off, whisper a prayer, and start where you left off.
But never, ever, ever give up.”
― Richelle E. Goodrich

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