The Parable of The Unjust Judge
Sermon preached by The Reverend Charles Royden 21st October 2001
Second Bible Reading Luke 18:1-8
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, `Grant me justice against my adversary.' "For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, `Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"
This parable asks questions and only makes sense when we consider what we mean about prayer. If prayer is asking God for things then it sounds like we have to keep bothering God. If prayer is about seeking God’s will in our lives and changes which start from home then we must keep on praying and seeking to co-operate with God to make a difference.
As I have read about this parable and listened to the sermons of others I have noted that many preachers and theologians have found the parable uncomfortable. There is a dislike of thinking of God like an unjust judge. There is a dislike of seeing prayer like a good work: ask hard enough and long enough and God will eventually give in.
Last week I was reading, courtesy of Pearl at Putnoe Heights, an article about the Simpsons which spoke of how it had a strong religious message. Well, I remember one scene where Homer is pestered by his son Bart who wants to buy a rare comic. He goes to Homer and a conversation follows
can I have a comic, - no,
please - no.
please - no,
please - no.
As Bart keeps on asking he hopes that Homer will change his mind and relent. This goes on and on and eventually Bart gives in and Homer jumps up and down saying ‘I won.’
Now is that prayer!
We mider (is mider a Northern word?) and mider God and eventually he gives in?
Some people have said that the traditional reading of this parable pictures God like Homer Simpson — all you have to do is go on long enough and eventually he will give in, you will wear him down. Prayer is successful when it is hard work, get up early in the morning and bang on with it at regular intervals throughout the day. There are religious disciplines which carry out these kind of spiritual exercises.
Now, quite rightly, many people find this hard to stomach, so they try to read the parable in a different way. Some prefer to cast God or Jesus in the role of the widow, God pesters us for response and we are like the unjust judge who wants to be left alone! But of course this is not what Jesus says the parable is about, in fact it does total violence to the text.
This parable only makes sense when we understand what Jesus meant by prayer, and we may have to reconsider what we think about prayer if it is to make any sense. If prayer is about asking God for things, then the parable sounds like we have to keep bothering God. However if prayer is about seeking God’s will in our lives, if it is about the change which takes place within us, then the parable is right - we must keep on praying and seeking to co-operate with God to make a difference
Luke has spent time throughout his Gospel speaking of prayer. He knows that the disciples find it hard. He repeats prayers that Jesus told the disciples for them to use, like the Lord’s prayer.
Luke repeats this parable about prayer because he knows that the disciples are not as faithful in prayer as Jesus. The fundamental principles of the Lord’s Prayer are that we seek from God only the essentials, prayer is not about asking for things. Prayer is about aligning our wills with the kingdom, it is about learning to forgive others and about staying away from things which will tempt us.
Why did Jesus address this parable to the disciples about the need not to give up in prayer?
Did he perhaps think that the disciples might grow "weary" praying? Did he need to encourage us not to give up our praying? Well ask yourselves if these are reasonable questions about your own prayer life?
‘Is there anybody here who would doubt that we all need to be encouraged not to give up on prayer?’
Would any one doubt that prayer is hard?
Prayer is hard; it is difficult for everybody. Yes, the mechanics of being faithful in prayer are hard, but it is worse than that. There is also the temptation to give up because the situation can seem very bleak. I do not mean that we get disillusioned because we don’t win the lottery or something. I mean that the task of just being a Christian in the world can seem overwhelming. We are in One World Week and if ever that was a subject for which we need to pray it is One World Week now. We look at the world and it is in such a mess, more so certainly than at any time in my life over the last 40 years.
I suspect we have all come to know what Jesus knew we would , i.e. the temptation to give up on prayer. There are a lot of reasons to give up praying and to feel that God either does not care or that our prayer is deficient in some way and that is why God is not responding.
This summer Cardinal Murphy O'Connor told Roman Catholics that Christianity had been vanquished in England. It's not that there aren't vibrant Christian communities. It's just that in the secular culture, Christianity is not seen as a significant player; not influential enough to make a difference or enter into the awareness of most citizens when they are making important decisions. No wonder Jesus addresses this parable to his disciples. We need encouragement not to give up on ourselves and our church. We especially need encouragement not to give up on God. And so we have this parable.
It is One World Week and we struggle for peace, an end to racism and
religious intolerance, an equitable distribution of the world's resources,
respect for life and the environment, fair treatment of women and minority
groups in church and society, an end to violence. We want to see what Jesus
held sacred, held sacred by all people, and we want to help the world become
a better place.
So we need to go back and back again to prayer as we seek to change the world. As we and others are brought closer to God in prayer, so the world can become a better place. It is not that God is pestered and worn out by our constant prayer. We know that God wants to give good things to those who ask. But answered prayer is not about us asking God to do things for us and us berating God when they don’t happen. Neither is it about us berating ourselves because we failed to ask properly
Prayer is firstly about what happens to us as we seek to become compliant to God’s will in our own life. This is how our prayers should be and because we are fairly hopeless we need to be persistent. What do we pray in One World Week,
‘Let there be peace on earth ………and let it begin with me.’
I wonder if any of you as parents have tried talking to your children when the television is on? You start your diatribe and tell them the score about something and you are in mid flow and suddenly you realize that the words you are speaking are less interesting than say Pokemon. You are speaking but they are not listening. The eyes are diverted away from you periodically, there is no focus of attention.
This parable encourages us to maintain our focus and commitment to God even when things are really difficult and we can see no human hope.
If ever there was a time to be reminded of this it is now.