Jesus’ parable of the widow and the unjust judge is puzzling. (Lk. 18: 1-8) Why would Jesus compare God with an unjust judge when everybody knows that God is just, hears our prayers, and answers them in God’s time. But if we think about it, our thoughts may wander into the ways we treat people. Are we ourselves like the unjust judge who takes advantage of people weaker than we? Do we put off helping out those people because it isn’t convenient, and only if the helpless person hassles us will we grudgingly do the helpless person the favor so that we aren’t pestered any more?. If our thoughts move far enough along in that direction, we might realize that we think that God is like us; God does not want to be bothered by our needs and God does not want to be pestered.
In Genesis, we have the mysterious story of Jacob wrestling with the angel until the angel finally gives Jacob a blessing. All his life Jacob had been getting his way through conflict: first getting his brother Esau’s birthright and Esau’s paternal blessing, and then building a prosperous herd after wrangling with his father-in-law Laban for twenty years. If conflict is all Jacob knows, then he”knows” that God won’t give him a blessing unless he fights for it. Jacob walks away from the struggle with the blessing but he is wounded by it. Was it the blessing that wounded him, or was Jacob wounded because conflict was all he knew in life? Are we like Jacob, thinking we have to fight with God to get anything through prayer because we live in conflict with other people?
One could say that each of us has an inner importunate widow and an inner unjust judge. On the surface, we might want to identify with the importunate widow because she is in the right. The problem is, the importunate widow is helpless and we don’t like being helpless. The unjust judge is the one in control and we usually prefer that position, except that it is not the righteous position. Of course, if we struggle like Jacob, we don’t feel so helpless, even if in truth we are. The thing is, if we keep struggling because conflict is our way of life, we end up growing the unjust judge in us. It is worth noting here that Jesus himself was condemned by unjust judges such as the likes of us.
The author of Second Timothy urges us to: “proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching” (2 Tim. 4: 2) It sounds as if the apostle would have us act like the importunate widow. If apostolic ministry is about doing the things Jesus did, then it follows that Jesus, the victim of unjust judges, is himself an importunate widow. The apostolic author goes on to warn of people with “itching ears” who don’t like sound doctrine. We tend to assume that those people with “itching ears” are those who happen to disagree with us. We should worry about itching in our own ears. In light of Jesus’ parable, having itchy ears could have to do with thinking God is like the unjust judge when God is much more like the helpless widow just as Jesus was helpless on the cross. That is, God cries out to the unjust judge in each of us day in and day out, pleading for justice. Like this widow, God does not stop pleading, and so we, too should plead in prayer without ceasing and yearn for justice for ourselves and for other people.
The same thoughts are developed in Unjust Judges and Widows.