The Lowly Widow’s as the Voice of God – October 24

A sermon based on Luke 18:1-8
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on October 24, 2021*
by Rev. Scott Elliott

The Theme for October in worship and activities has been Justice. The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines justice as “the concept of each person receiving what is due . . .” 3. The dictionary goes on to note that: “Biblically, the emphasis is on right relationships and persons receiving a share of the resources of society. Concern is expressed for the oppressed and their right treatment. Justice is related to love and grace.”

When Jesus told today’s story about the widow and the unjust judge, Torah, the first five book of the Bible, was law. Torah requires judges and everyone else to respect God– and injustice is the opposite of respect for God.

See, “righteous judgement on the part of a judge is mandated by Torah.” So judges in Jesus’ day were supposed to not only respect God, but other people. Judges were to “Listen to the one wronged; and . . . not ignore the ‘supplication of the fatherless nor the widow when she pours out her story.’”

Given all that, we can understand the judge in Jesus’ parable as the very opposite of what a judge is supposed to be. He does not follow the law. He’s disrespectful. He’s not doing his job, not caring about God or people or justice. People do not get their due in his courtroom. Listeners of Jesus back in the day would have understood the judge was unjust, and violating Biblical laws. One commentator puts it like this: “The Parable of the unjust Judge reflects a world of bribes and brutality, a world of injustice for the poor– or at least justice delayed or gained only by force, which is injustice too.”

Jesus is a great storyteller the unjust judge is a caricature of bad judges and a metaphor for the unjust justice system of Rome – for which the judge was a stooge. The unjust judge is a foil to the poor widow who finds a way to win in the system that’s predisposed against her. She may be a nobody to the culture and powers that be, but she’s wily and so annoyingly persistent that the unjust judge gives up and gives her justice, not because he wants to do right, but because she’s worn him down. In other words the judge has to do what is right so she’ll go away:  “[H]e said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'”

To put it in the vernacular, the widow wins by driving the judge nuts. It’s meant to be funny that a cultural nobody, lowest-of-the-low female widow bests a big powerful elite judge. The Roman Stooge is afraid of this little old woman.

The serious side is justice gets dispensed– the widow gets her due. One way to hear this parable is obvious, that if a ruthless unjust judge will respond to persistent petitions surely our good and loving God will. Jesus says as much in verses 6 to 8: “’Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”

So one way to hear this is persistence prayers get answered. But there’s another lesson we might overlook, that God’s voice is in those calling out for justice, and justice will be provided. Listen again, we can hear Jesus say just that “‘will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.’”

The parable is about more than just one outcast of one culture pestering one judge until he breaks down and metes out justice to one person. On a cosmic justice scale we can hear the lowly widow as the voice of God demanding justice from corrupt earthly powers. It’s God’s power working in history in the Everywoman and the Everyman of the world.

Not even those who wield earthly powers without regard to justice, can stop God’s never ending call for the granting of justice, what is due. Often earthly powers do not want to do what is just, but the heartbeat of God thump-thump-thumping for justice in the voices of God’s agents has a great track record of wearing them down. It takes time and persistence, but what is due will come. No petty power-monger-people-loathing judge or other power-elite can stop it. There is great hope in that!

And it is not just hypothetical, we can see in history that it’s true. Little voices of cultural nobodies have spoken God’s Truth to the powerful relentlessly and the powerful have tried to ignore them and evade justice, but they cave-in at the end and say “I will grant justice so [they] may not wear me out . . .” Pestering the powerful has led to God’s justice being granted with respect to many things. So many humanity gets closer and closer to a world where one day all could have their due. We are not there by a long shot, but we are a heck of a lot closer than we were when Jesus first told the parable we are looking at.

The people of God have ceaselessly pestered worldly powers for justice. When people do so they are God’s voice. And God is always ultimately victorious. Even in downtrodden widows God speaks and God succeeds. Even in downtrodden slaves God speaks and God succeeds. Even in downtrodden women God speaks and God succeeds. Even in downtrodden poor God speaks and God succeeds. Even in downtrodden refuges God speaks and God succeeds. Even in downtrodden people of color God speaks and God succeeds. Even in downtrodden religious minorities God speaks and God succeeds. Even in downtrodden disabled people God speaks and God succeeds. Even in downtrodden LGBTQ+ people God speaks and God succeeds. Even in us, EVEN IN US, God speaks and God succeeds.

Worldly powers have long held too little respect for humans and too little respect for God and too little respect for justice and what is due! But like the poor widow in today’s lesson God does not give up, through tenacity and persistence in the voice of God’s Children, history proves that justice will out, justice will be provided. What God wants due to all will be given. And THAT, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is good news! AMEN!

* Based in part on a sermon I wrote in 2010
3. McKim, Donald, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (1996).
4. Black’s Law Dictionary (Abridged 5th Edition) (1983).
5 Hultgren, Arland, The Parables of Jesus, (2000), 254.
6. Ibid. at 259.