Saturday, April 23, 2022

Knock, Knocking at Heaven's Door: The Parable of the Widow, Part I

 Let's dive in!

“There was a judge in a certain city who didn’t fear God, and didn’t respect man. A widow was in that city, and she often came to him, saying, ‘Defend me from my adversary!’ He wouldn’t for a while, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God, nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will defend her, or else she will wear me out by her continual coming.’”

The Lord said, “Listen to what the unrighteous judge says. Won’t God avenge his chosen ones, who are crying out to him day and night, and yet he exercises patience with them? I tell you that he will avenge them quickly. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:2-8 WEB)

In the preceding chapter, the Pharisees inquired when the Kingdom of God will come.  Jesus teaches it is not somewhere out there: because “God’s Kingdom is within you.” (Luke 17:21)

The disciples then ask Jesus (probably later on) about how the Kingdom of God will come.  Jesus says that first He will suffer “many things and be rejected by this generation.”  (Luke 17:25)  Jesus comments on how both in Noah’s time and Lot’s, people carried on as usual. Then swift and utter destruction came.  Jesus speaks of an upcoming catastrophe.  Vultures will gather (death will be everywhere) and it will be a grim and soul-trying time.  I am sure that the disciples were crest-fallen when they heard this.  If they were expecting a triumphant Jesus vanquishing the Romans, and making God’s Kingdom a reality on the inside as well as on the outside, they were quickly disavowed of this notion by Jesus’ words. 

Then, in the first verse of Luke 18:2, Jesus tells them “a parable to them that they must always pray, and not give up” and here we have our persistent widow, an unrighteous judge and an adversary, who menaces the widow.  

Let's set the scene.  We have a less than sterling judge. We have a widow who is in desperate need of a judgment against an "adversary." 

These two people are neighbors and probably so is the adversary--so it's a case of "You can run but you cannot hide."  How often does the widow see the judge walking to his office?  How often does the widow catch a glimpse of her foe, ducking into a store or staring at her from over clearance rack at the discount department store?  These people interact every day at some level, and because of this, the widow feels desperation...her foe is a constant reminder of the injustice she has suffered. 

Do we know what the offense originally was?  Does it matter?  She wants justice, plain and simple.

The judge is probably the only judge in this small town.  Jesus gives him a quick personality sketch—this judge doesn't care about what God or others think. 

Uh-oh.  In a small town, with religion permeating every nook and cranny of the people's existence, this judge would stand out.  He obviously has said words to that effect or has behaved in such a way that people know what he is like.  He may the guy that everyone loves to hate, but are the people supposed to do?  He's the only one in town who can dispense justice.

The widow knows about his reputation.  She equally knows she is stuck with him.  Her personality is one of persistence: She keeps coming to him and requesting that he hear her plea.  She won't give up and is so persistent that the judge fears that if he doesn't act soon, she will attack him. He could care less about God and man, yet this widow's tenacity keeps him awake at night! 

Why is that?  Could it be that deep down inside, he knows he needs to do the right thing and hear her case and make a ruling?  He probably knows her adversary as well, and as long as the judge delays, this adversary is walking the streets, sneering at a system that doesn't stop him.  So, these three characters are in a desperate dance, which could be quelled in a New York minute with a pronouncement from the judge.  

The judge must act, if not to uphold the law but to protect himself from this widow.  The widow must act and pursue the judge so she can be protected by the law.  The adversary lurks in the town, awaiting judgment, glad of his freedom but having to always look over his shoulder. 

Jesus then points to the words of the judge.  If someone that unjust, that preoccupied with just personal safety and that insensitive about the suffering of others can recognize the need to act, how much more will our pleas be heard by our loving Heavenly Judge? 

Was Jesus in essence saying that perhaps (although they would never admit this) the disciples saw God as that judge in the story?  Were they entertaining the belief that God really didn't care, that He is insensitive to our suffering and is way too concerned about how we behave towards Him, without any thought as to how He acts towards us?  How God seems to take such a long time to bring about justice?

Uh-oh.  In other words, are we the widow and God is the judge?  Of course, we know who the "adversary" is, and how relentless he is in condemning us.  It seems he lurks about town, and gets away with murder. Literally. 

So, Jesus launches this parable with the theme to keep praying and never give up.  He has predicted a future event that will try the souls of all who call on Him.  But prayer is the disciples’ lifeline and ours. 

We need to ask for mercy for those who hurt, suffer and cry out. 

We need to ask for justice for those who sin, cause misery and repent not. 

Is Jesus asking us to be more focused in our prayers?  Perhaps.  I think He is asking us to reevaluate who we think God is.  He compares God's personality to that of the judge's, and how God is nothing like the judge--despite our believing so.   

God hears our cries.  He doesn't ignore us or avoid us.  He is actively engaged in our lives, not shirking His responsibility to His own.

God will not delay justice.  He knows what we need and what the cries of our heart are.  He is not delaying justice.  He is working to bring it about.  His timing is not our own.  We need to trust His timing.

God wants justice in the world.  Sin was not His design, and the consequences of sin have rendered His creation chock full of chaos, pain and evil.  He is all too aware of this.  He is at work in His creation. 

He is in the process of remedying it.  How?  Who is telling the parable?  It's Jesus:  The very One that the Almighty Judge has sent down, to pay the penalty Himself, on a cross that waits for Him in the near future.  Justice will be borne upon the shoulders of the One who now stands before the disciples.  The Judge, will in essence, offer Himself to render justice and set us free.  His stripes will heal us.  He will put the adversary on borrowed time.

God wants us to be persistent and walking in faith each day.  The time is coming when the judgment will be handed down.  Will we have already left the courtroom in despair, or will we be knocking on Heaven's door, confident in the knowledge that He is good and kind and just?  When the Son returns, will we still be at our Father's business, or will our hearts have grown cold?

God want us to be persistent, which is defined as "continuing firmly or obstinately in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition."  The days will be filled with trial, to be sure, but will we meet the days with despair or determination? 

Why is the widow so persistent?  The responsibility of that judge is to uphold justice.  He was sworn in and he occupies that office because of that oath.  Regardless of his personal feelings towards the widow, it is his office that demands he act, and act fairly.  She is counting on his office and not on his personal charm, or the lack thereof. 

Now, consider that judge who is unjust, holding an office that demands justice, and consider the One Who is just and Who entered into a covenant (He walked among the animals halves in front of Abraham) that He would treat His children with love and mercy.  He would bridge the gap between His holy Self and our sinful selves.   

He upholds justice and is Justice itself, so sin will have its day in Court:  “But the Lord shall endure for ever: he hath prepared his throne for judgment. And he shall judge the world in righteousness, he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness.” (Ps. 9:7-8)

He upholds mercy is and is Mercy itself, so forgiveness will have its day in Court as well:  Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old.” (Psalm 25:6) 

Why is this?  God’s covenant still stands: 

Don’t remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions.
    Remember me according to your loving kindness,
    for your goodness’ sake, Yahweh.
Good and upright is Yahweh,
    therefore he will instruct sinners in the way.
He will guide the humble in justice.
    He will teach the humble his way.
All the paths of Yahweh are loving kindness and truth
    to such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.
For your name’s sake, Yahweh,
    pardon my iniquity, for it is great.

What man is he who fears Yahweh?
    He shall instruct him in the way that he shall choose.
His soul shall dwell at ease.
    His offspring shall inherit the land.
The friendship of Yahweh is with those who fear him.
    He will show them his covenant.                                      (Psalm 25:7-14 WEB)

God’s justice and mercy exist because it is in His nature.  He can do no more or no less.  He instructs us through His word what He demands of us. 

Both the judge and the widow knew the law—no mystery there. 

God has shown us what He expects of us and what we can expect from Him—no mystery there. 

We are children of the New Covenant.  He is the Lord of the New Covenant.  We knock on Heaven’s door with confidence: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”  (Heb. 4:16)

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