"Story Time: The Unjust Judge"[1]

LUKE 18:1-8

Jun 15, 2014





At the age of sixtytwoyearold Miriam Hargrave of Yorkshire, England, finally passed her driving test.  It was her fortieth attempt.  That makes me glad I don't live in Yorkshire, England.  How comfortable would a person be in that city knowing that the driver coming at you had failed her driver's test forty times?[2] 

            Another Brit, the Rev. David Guest required 632 lessons over a period of 17 years before he passed his driving test.  When he was told he passed he bent down on his knees and thanked God.  The cleric spent $11,000 on lessons, wore out eight instructors and crashed five cars before his momentous accomplishment.  The secret to his turnaround was that he finally switched to a car with an automatic transmission. His problems stemmed from an inability to distinguish between the clutch and the brake while driving a car with a standard transmission.[3]

            We generally admire people who refuse to give up, who refuse to cut their losses even when they have failed numerous times.  We meet such a person in our parable for this morning.  Again, Luke has Jesus telling more and more stories, more and more parables, as he approaches Jerusalem.  This is another of those parables.  Another of those parables that only Luke tells, we don't find this story in any of the other gospels.  So take your bible, open to the 18th chapter of Luke, follow along as I read the first eight verses. 


            Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, Grant me justice against my opponent. For a while he refused; but later he 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.


            Note the footnote in our pew bible.  Do you see that there?  Some translations read, "I will grant her justice so that she may not finally come and slap me in the face."  Apparently, the judge did not fear God, but he began to fear this persistent, bulldog of a woman. 


            And the Lord said, 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. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?


            The parable may sound a little strange to us, but not to Jesus' disciples.  The disciples could easily imagine something like this happening in Palestine, particularly the part about unjust judge.

            Clearly, he was not a Jewish judge.  If under Jewish law, a matter was taken to arbitration, one person did not constitute a court.  According to Jewish law there were always three judges, one chosen by the plaintiff, one by the defendant, and one independently appointed.  So the judge in this story was likely one of the paid magistrates appointed by either Herod or by the Romans, and such judges had notoriously bad reputations.  Unless a plaintiff had influence or money to bribe his or her way to a verdict, he or she had little hope of ever getting the case settled in their favor.  These appointed judges were said to pervert justice for a dish of meat.

            So there's the secular, unjust judge, who stands in stark contrast to our just God, and then there was the widow, a woman all alone in a man's world.  Being a widow, she most likely lacked the resources to buy off the judge, so she decided to use the one weapon at her disposal -- the weapon of persistence.  Time and time again she kept coming to the judge with her plea, Grant me justice against my opponent.  At first the judge responded with silence. He was not about to help someone who could not or would not line his pockets, but the poor widow kept on coming and coming, pleading and pleading.  She would not let the judge rest.  And finally the judge gave in to the widow and gave her the justice she was seeking.

            This is one of those quirky parables that Jesus loved to tell.  But he adds a very serious moral to it: And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?  Will he delay long in helping them?  I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.

            The passage offers us three important lessons.  The first is the most obvious:  Hang in there!  Hang in there!  I don't know what motivated Luke to include this parable in his gospel when the other gospel writers did not, but I can venture a guess.  Luke lived in a time when the church was being persecuted.  He lived in a time when people were suffering unjustly for their faith.  It's as if Luke is saying to his reading audience, Hang in there.  God hears your prayers.  Hang in there.  Trust God."

            Writer Ted Loder tells a story about a salesman named Barry (not our Barry, but another Barry), who was having a bad day.  It was noon.  He was in his favorite diner where he was forced, by the overcrowded noon crowd, into sharing his table with a very large woman who was wearing a loud print dress and green gloves which went to her elbows.   After some initial superficial conversation Barry asked Angela, the lady at his table, her profession.  Im a messenger, said Angela proudly.

            A messenger?  From whom? asked Barry out of curiosity.

            From Her. replied Angela.

            Barry wanted to know, Her who?

            You know, said Angela, Her . . . God.

            After a lot more disbelieving questioning on Barrys part he finally said to Angela: OK . . . suppose you are a messenger from . . . uh . . . Her . . . then whats the message?

            The Message, says Angela without batting an eye, is: Hang in there!’”

            Whether God is a Him or a Her, maybe thats the message you need to hear from God today.  I dont know what youre going through right now in your life.  I dont know what dreads or dreams you are nurturing.  I dont know what frustrations, failures or fears you are facing. But oftentimes Gods simple message to us is simply Hang in there.  Dont give up.  Youre going to make it.

            The second lesson is this:  Having faith is more than simply saying, I believe in God. Faith is trusting God every circumstance.

         A businessman had to travel to a small town for a meeting.  He invited his wife to accompany him. She was excited about the trip until she learned her husband was going to be flown to the town in a small twin-engine Cessna plane.

            Honey, Ive decided not to go, she said to him unexpectedly.

            What! he exclaimed in disbelief. Why not?

            I am not going on a little-bitty, twin-engine Cessna.

            Her husband smiled and said, Honey, your faith is too small.

            She replied, No, my faith is fine.  The plane is too small.

            Because he really wanted his wife to got with him, he canceled the Cessna and booked

travel on a major airline.  His wife went with him because, as she put it, my faith grew because the size of the plane grew.[4]

            Some of us can relate to her concern.  Its difficult to feel secure in a plane that seems too small.  Even more defeating, however, is the belief that our God is too small to look after us.

            A woman named Jeannette Strong learned that lesson when her son was a toddler.  She says that washing her sons hair was always a problem. The little boy would sit in the bathtub while she put shampoo on the boys hair.  Then, when she poured on the water to make a lather, the little fellow would tip his head down so that the shampoo ran into his eyes, causing pain and tears.

            She tried to explain to her son that if he just looked straight up at her, he could avoid getting the shampoo in his face.  He would agree then, as soon as she started to rinse his hair, the boys fear would overcome his trust, and he would look down again.  Naturally, the shampoo would run down his face again, and there would be more tears.

            During one of their sessions, while she was trying to convince her son to lift up his head and trust her, she suddenly realized how this situation was like her own relationship to God.  She knows that God is her Father.  She is sure God loves her.  She believes she does trust God.  But sometimes, in a difficult situation, she confesses, she panics and turns her eyes away from God.  This never solves the problem, she says.  She just becomes more afraid, as the shampoo blinds her.

            Thats a simple analogy, but a powerful truth.  Trust God and hang on.  The old hymn puts it well, Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of this earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.

            The third and final lesson is this:  Many people experience defeat in life because they simply give up too soon. 

            In Friday's mail was a thank you note and a donation from the Bellevue Artist Association who use our building for their monthly meetings.  The note reminded me of a story I heard about the 19th-century poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  An old man showed Rossetti some paintings.  He asked, What do you think, Mr. Rossetti?  Rossetti studied them.  After the first few, Rossetti knew the paintings were worthless; they did not display the least hint of artistic talent.  But Rossetti was a kind man, and he told the elderly man as gently as possible that the pictures showed little talent.  He was sorry, but he could not lie to the man.  The visitor was disappointed, but seemed to expect Rossettis judgment.

            He then apologized for taking up Rossettis time, but asked if Rossetti would look at just a few more drawings these done by a young art student.  Rossetti looked over the second batch of sketches and immediately became enthusiastic over the talent they revealed. These, he said, Oh, these are good.  This young student has great talent.  He should be given every help and encouragement in his career as an artist.  He has a great future if he will work hard and stick to it.

            Rossetti could see that the old fellow was deeply moved.  Who is this fine young artist? he asked, Your son?

            No, said the old man sadly. It is me 40 years ago.  If only I had heard your praise then! For you see, I got discouraged and gave up too soon.

            What is it the poet, John Greenleaf Whittier says in the poem Maud Miller?   Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, It might have been.’”  May that not be said of us.  May we hang in there.  May we trust God.  May we not give up too soon.  Amen.

[1] Most of message taken from King Duncan's sermon, A Faith that Does Not Quit.

[2] Leland Gregory, Stupid History: Tales of Stupidity, Strangeness, and Mythconceptions Throughout the Ages (Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, 2007), p. 71.

[3] The United Church Observer, April 1995, p. 55.

[4] Anthony T. Evans, Tony Evans Book Of Illustrations (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009).