By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
October 16, 2022
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Luke 18:1–8 (ESV)
1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
This week like many this year, I have found myself engulfed in news about the conflict in Ukraine. I have commented about this many times, and I have even chided myself for being overly consumed with temporal affairs, but there is something about this particular conflict that has my mind in constant distraction. Most likely it is because it involves a nation and people I have personally visited, but it is deeper than that. Ukraine in many ways is like my home. God directed me to Ukraine, and it was in that country and among their people, that God soften my heart and turned my attention to my true vocation. God called me to ministry in Ukraine. Without that nation, without the people of Ukraine I would not be standing here today.
But there is more to this. I love the people of Ukraine, but I also have a great affinity for the people of Russia. I grew up in the last years of the cold war, so I is difficult for me to say things like that, but it is true. I often find myself listening to Russian folk music while I am wondering the stores at work. I have read Tolstoy and other classic Russian authors, and two of my favorite novels were written by Russians. This conflict. This war has opened my eyes to the stark realities of war in a way that has not happened to me before. I see the humanity of both sides. I see them not as enemies but as two nations of people that have significantly contributed to my life. And I see them dehumanizing each other. I see the injustice of invasion, and the criminal brutality that can easily be perpetrated to those around us when we disregard the reality of the image of God that each person bears.
I have been and always will be opposed to war. This does not mean that I disrespect those that have served in the military, nor does it mean I am naive of the reality nations face. I am aware that there are times where conflict appears inevitable, this does not make it right. I believe it grieves the heart of God when those created in His image neglect and mistreat others created in the same image.
I know that I am not alone. Nearly every day this week I have watched the news surrounding this conflict and I have listened to people from Ukraine and Russia speak about what is going on in their countries and it breaks my heart. There is one man named Konstantine who left his home and his family, a man who is about my age left his home and his family at his own wife’s request. Because they did not want him to be mobilized to fight in this war. This man was an executive in a firm that builds power stations throughout the world and his company allowed him to transfer to a different office outside of Russia, but shortly after he left his home his company closed. This man left home, left his family, his country and now he has lost his career. Every day he gets on YouTube, and he speaks about what is going on in his community, but this week this man had a heavy heart. He speaks out against the injustice he sees; he opens his streams to the public to answer questions that people might ask, and he lets us on the outside see what life in his country looks like. The most interesting thing about this man though is that at the end of each of his daily streams he prays. He prays for the people of Ukraine, he prays for the leaders of his nation, he prays for peace, and he prays for anyone that asks for prayer throughout his broadcast. He is not a pastor or a priest. He is not evangelical or protestant, but he is Russian Orthodox, he admits that he does not know the answers nor the words to say but he prays daily.
This week I watched this man nearly break. He has spent the past year speaking about life in his country before the conflict started, he streamed as he was in shock as the war began. He put himself at risk speaking against the military operation in a public format and when the mobilization began, he left all that he had so that he would not participate in something he believed was wrong. The injustice of war has nearly taken everything but his life from him and when he listened to the nuclear threats being given, I watched as he nearly gave up. Yet he prayed. He asked God for direction, and the very next day he got on his stream just as he nearly gave up speaking out against the conflict, and he proclaimed his faith in God once again. Because the next morning thousands of people wrote to him and encouraged him. They asked him to continue to speak up and speak out for those within Russian influence that do not support the invasion and he made a public pledge that he would continue in the work, and that he would give a percentage of everything he earned to help the people his nation is injuring.
I know that is a long story, I know many of you may not want to hear my opinions about war and peace. I know that most people come to worship with a desire to get away from the hopelessness we seem to find all around us in this world. But I want us to see the world in the way that God see it.
For most of our lives we have regarded Russia and Ukraine as the same nation. They speak a similar language; they have a similar alphabet that probably all of us can recognize but cannot read. We have seen them not as two separate nations but as one. This is why this conflict is so important, they are two nations that have a similar history, but their journeys have taken them on different paths. This conflict should scare us, because it shows just how easily even those closest to us can become rivals. We cannot make the assumption that proximity means closeness, but that relationships take work. It does not matter if it is between nations, or your siblings at home. If we do not see the person next to us as a unique individual loved by God with their own passions and dreams, we will miss out on something spectacular. True friendship, justice, hope, and relationships.
God created our world for a reason. I do not even want to attempt to say that I know for full reason that God created our world, but he had a reason and as I study and contemplate on what God has revealed to us in scripture and in nature, I believe that the reason is because He loves. He loves and out of that unquenchable love he created things to embody His love. I say this because that is what we do. We create and we partake in the things we love. We get involved in the things we love. And out of our love we participate in the ongoing creation, we participate in God’s love.
That is what I believe God’s purpose was for creation. And I will be the first to admit that I could be wrong, but I do not think I am. I believe that we are in this place at this time in history, within this community for a reason. We are here to let those around us know that God loves them and that they can join with God in that relationship. But somewhere along the line our first parents, and our ancestors got distracted from that of God, and began to focus on the things of humankind. We stepped out of the relationship with God, and instead of participating in God’s continuing creation of a community of love, we began developing systems and kingdoms of men.
This is the backdrop, or the scenery of today’s passage. It is a story that transpires in a broken community within a broken world. An injustice has occurred and those that seek justice are being neglected because the kingdoms of men are focused on other things. Jesus is aware of what he is saying. He is aware of what the disciples are hearing, and he is aware that many people have twisted these words so that we often miss the point of the parable. This is not a parable about begging God for the things we want, but it is a narrative of hope for the hopeless.
I say this because just prior to these verses Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God, in contrast to the kingdoms of men. He spoke about how servants and masters relate to one another. He spoke about how we should use the things around us for mutual profit, but this is not always how things happen. Rarely does this occur. Jesus tells us in those moments don’t lose heart, and to always pray.
To explain what he means he used a story about a widow and a judge. Jesus says, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.” It is important to understand what this means. This man is not religious, nor charitable. This means that there is no sense of honor or duty to a god or a nation, he only cares about himself and what those around him and his position can provide for him. Jesus continues, “And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.;”
The judge is a man that looks only to his own interests, and what those around him can do for him. The widow has nothing. She has no family; we know this because she is going to the judge. If she had family, her son, her brother, her son-in-law, or even an uncle or cousin would be going to speak for her. She does not have anyone or anything. The judge has many people that are contributing to his position and lifestyle and this woman has no one. And she speaks about her adversary.
When the term adversary is used it is usually in context to a mortal enemy. An adversary is a threat to our very existence. This woman is not upset about a parking ticket, but her very life and livelihood are threatened, meaning if the judge does not hear her case something dire will happen. Most likely she will be homeless and starve to death. But there is something that we often overlook. Jesus is not telling this story to everyone; he is speaking to his disciples. His disciples are religious people, and their first idea would be to take this to their synagogue because that is one of the reasons, they had synagogues. The synagogue was not just a place to worship, but it was a school, a library, a place of discourse and of justice. If you had a dispute with someone, you take it to the synagogue rulers, and they will assist you in working it out. But she does not take it to the synagogue, she goes to the judge. This means one of two things either she is not a righteous person herself, or she has already taken it to the synagogue rulers, and they did nothing to help so her last resort is to take her case to court.
For a while the judge refused her request. This refusal even though they have a temporal indicator “a while”, the meaning of the phrase is that her case was perpetually place at the end of the docket. The judge had no intention of making a ruling. Yet she kept coming. We are not told how many times, but it was enough that it caused the judge to reflect on the situation. “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.”
This judge knows that he is selfish. He knows that there is not a bone in his body that would not exploit a situation for personal gain if he was given half a chance. He does not fear God, nor respect men. He is corrupt to the core, yet he knows something. He knows that this woman, this widow, has been treated with injustice. He knows that if the truth were to come out, and the truth would eventually come out, it would cause a scandal. And he knew that the only reason that nothing had happened yet is only because the corruption within their system has gotten so deep that it would topple the entire system. When the judge said, “So that she will not beat me down.” The term literally means blacken my eyes or face. It is a phrase that comes from the sport of boxing, and in this sense, it means that if he knows that if he does not address her case, it will cause his own social and political downfall.
This is serious, all injustice is serious. When we do not respect and honor the image of God in those around us, even if they do not agree with us, we not only disrespect them, but we also disrespect ourselves and our God. The judge in the story does not care about God. We know that he does not even really care about others, but he does care about himself. And he knows that if this woman continues to show up at his gate demanding justice, eventually someone will ask her why she continues to waste her time. If she continues to show up, eventually those who caused the problem will also show up, pushing him to bury it deeper and to cover it up. If she continued to keep showing up questions would be asked that no one wants to be asked, so out of self-preservation this judge will hear her case.
Jesus tells us to “Hear what the unrighteous judge says.” Jesus in the past few chapters has told us repeatedly to listen or consider things that are unrighteous. This does not sit well with me. I want to be righteous not unrighteous. I want to bring honor and glory to God. I do not want to be a schemer or conspirator. Yet Jesus is telling us to consider the reality within these unrighteous acts. When the shrewd manager plotted with the debtors against the master, he in his selfishness actually provided a way for God to gain glory, because he acted in a manner that benefited the community and not just himself. When Jesus spoke of the rich man and Lazarus, he spoke about using what we have available to us now, to help, not just to get out of hell but because the suffering we assist in alleviating or perpetuating on earth today can have eternal consequences. Today he wants us to hear the unrighteous judge. He is not telling us to resemble the judge just as we are not supposed to be just like the shrewd manager. He is telling us to listen and to understand. The reason the judge is willing to provide justice to the widow is because justice will eventually come one way or another.
“And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” Jesus here is asking a rhetorical question. The answer is yes, of course God will give justice to his people. Justice is part of his character. That is the whole point of the vast majority of the Old Testament is to create a people and a nation of justice so that the light of justice will shine out into all the nations of the world and attract them to the one true God. Yet where is justice?
How often are we asked, or do we ask about these sorts of things? If there is a god, and if God is good why does he let bad things happen to good people? I have asked this question. I still ask this question at times. I would love to say that I have an unshakable faith in God, but the reality is that what I know about and of God is pretty shallow to the depths of who God truly is. That is probably why science interests me so much, the more answers we find reveals more questions which causes us to dig deeper or as CS Lewis explains in his Narnia series, “Further in and Farther up”. We have questions and we will always have questions. God does not get nervous about our questions, but we do. And that is what Jesus wants us to hear. Why does God let bad things happen to good people? The real question is why do we allow bad things to happen to good people? Why did we allow slavery? Why do we allow war? Why do we allow poverty? Why do we allow injustice to happen in our world? Jesus opens God up to this question because he says, “I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” That one word speedily causes a great deal of harm to our mind and spirit.
Speedily comes from the Greek phrase “en takos”. I don’t usually say the Greek words but this one is fun. Since it sounds like tacos, and I like tacos. But it means quickly, without delay, or suddenly, or unexpectedly. That is how we translate it at least, but there is another sense of the phrase that we can miss which is surely or certainly. God is certainly just, and justice will prevail. Period. If this is true, why don’t we see it? John Woolman spent his entire life in colonial America even before the Revolutionary War was fought seeking to end the slave trade. In his mind this was an unjust practice. His career was to write deeds and wills and he lost a great deal of business because he would not write a will unless slaves were given their freedom. John Woolman traveled to England to protest the slave trade and died in England without any significant change occurring and yet he was sure that this injustice would end. When it comes to changing deeply rooted or entrenched injustice, God may delay from our perspective but that does not mean God is not at work. God is working within the hearts and the minds of his people. We are persistently praying and seeking justice and then we will eventually see things change seemingly all at once. But it begins when one person takes a stand. It grows when we listen and hear and join. It continues to grow and expand until those that benefit from the injustice fear that they will have blackened eyes unless they do something to appease the growing movement. Which brings us to the last part of verse 8, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
In what ways are you, are we, working with God to overcome obstacles and injustice? Are we allowing God to lead us to the answers or are we sitting back idle and indifferent? Are we participating in the problem or the solution? The widow is beating down the judge, her persistence threatens to expose the judge as being the spineless and corrupt person he truly is, someone that only cares about himself and would do anything and ruin anyone’s life if it benefited him. Is that the kind of world we want? Is that the world that God commissioned us to participate in creating?
Hear the widow and hear the judge. Hear the Ukrainians and the Russian. Hear the women in Iran and the women in America. Hear the CEO’s and hear labor. Hear them and listen and participate in the persistent prayer of justice. Don’t lose heart and pray. Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
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