At Luke 18:1-8, we find what’s popularly titled Jesus’ “Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge.” We’re told this is a teaching Jesus provides his followers on the subject of prayer.
The parable involves a poor widow who has a case (probably involving claim of her husband’s estate) and the judge for her case, a man who could care less about her, God or anyone else. Jesus says the widow keeps pestering this heartless judge to hear her case and finally he relents, only because he wants her off his back. Jesus’ response, basically, is, if a completely perverse judge will finally respond after all sorts of harping and stress, will not God respond to our prayers in a better, quicker manner?
Actually, our response (at least Yours Truly's) is more like, "SO WHAT???"
It seems really weird for Jesus to even begin to compare the One who he usually describes as endlessly - and super-promptly - loving and compassionate and gracious to this judicial reprobate.
It’s like suggesting the Kingdom of God has even the slightest thing in common with the current president election, right? While the former is all peace and harmony and justice, the latter is…well I don’t need to think of adjectives to add to the ones you’ve already probably endlessly read, and felt nauseated over (regardless of your political leanings).
It reminds me of a similar parable, at Luke 11:5, where Jesus tells the story of a guy who’s caught unprepared for his midnight guests and has to go knocking endlessly on his neighbor’s door because the latter doesn’t want to get out of bed but will, in the end, help, to get the former off his back. Will God not respond to us in a better way? Jesus goes on here to say will God not give his children what they need if even “evil people” will give their children an egg when they ask for it rather than a scorpion?
Jesus seems to be lowering the bar down to about zero when comparing God’s behavior to another, so anything that God does that’s .001 better than what folks see in the behavior around them will prove God’s ways are worth it, even good.
That doesn’t seem to be the most effective advertising tactic, does it? If you say “Choose Charmin! It's better than your left hand!” you open the consumer up to all sorts of options - not just what Mr. Whipple is peddling.
If Jesus really wants his hearers to choose God and God's ways, why doesn’t he make his point by suggesting some much nobler behavior as close to what God can do, but God does it even better. Like telling the story of a conscientious judge with a big heart who is always thinking of ways he can make sure the cases of widows and orphans are heard first, as the Torah commands. God is able to tend to the needs of His children even FASTER than this judge!
The Kingdom of God is like … a presidential campaign involving Abraham Lincoln…but even better!
Well, at least in the case of the latter example, that still isn’t saying much, since I just found out that Lincoln's tactics, at least in 1860, were also pretty dirty. Politics will always be dirty politics, I guess. Best not to try and suggest they can have even the slightest similarity with God’s governance….
So back to my original question…what in the world was Jesus trying to accomplish with this parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge?
Well, here are a few ideas, as they appear through the Comic Lens.
1) Jesus is seeking to slyly use this as an opportunity to condemn the very broken judicial system of his community and time. At first his listeners think he’s talking about God and prayer, but he takes them so far off the rails in his description of this judge and the judge's awful (but recognizable) treatment of the poor powerless widow, it’s ridiculous. Jesus was bringing a stinging message, and sharply satirically, by suggesting there might be even the slightest comparison between God and what’s happening currently being allowed to happen in the courts.
It reminds me of this recent Diesel Clothing ad campaign. While at first we think these are promoting their swanky new fashion line, we then realize the context - and the campaign title - "Global Warming Ready." There's a lot of clever, sharp satire here that makes a very powerful statement about the state of things and the need for change. (In addition, perhaps, to attracting you to the Diesel brand because they're talking about more than just clothes....)
2) Jesus sought to simply and completely confound. Parables are by their nature deceptively simple stories that are intended to blast apart our narrative expectations and conventional processes of meaning-making. “I preach in parables so that those who see will not perceive and those who hear will not understand” Jesus was oft fond of saying. By comparing the very best with the very worst, listeners were to be left scratching their heads, laughing at the audacity of this crazy answer…and thereby extra vulnerable to the ways of a Divine presence that is endlessly gracious but also endlessly unpredictable. How can prayer be explained - and suddenly engaged in - any better??
3) It’s both 1) & 2). Jesus wanted to both awake people to a big problem that very much needed attention and wanted to crack open all assumptions as to how God wanted it handled.
Chances are it was all about working together across all lines, realizing how much all need one another and can learn from one another and, most importantly, laugh together. More than anyone ever before thought possible. More than makes any logical or even ethical sense. Radical radical love.
Would this be what Jesus wants to teach us God is seeking from us today?? And, without pause, answering our prayers thusly??