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The Widow and the Unjust Judge
Summer Quarter: Justice in the New Testament
Unit 2: Jesus Calls for Justice and Mercy
Sunday school lesson for the week of July 15, 2018
By Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell
Purpose: To acknowledge our need to be persistent and faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
Scripture Lesson: Luke 18:1-8 CEB
Jesus was telling them a parable about their need to pray continuously and not to be discouraged. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him, asking, ‘Give me justice in this case against my adversary.’ For a while he refused but finally said to himself, I don’t fear God or respect people, but I will give this widow justice because she keeps bothering me. Otherwise, there will be no end to her coming here and embarrassing me.” The Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he be slow to help them? I tell you, he will give them justice quickly. But when the Human One comes, will he find faithfulness on earth?”
Key Verse: “Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? (Luke 18:7)
Characters in Luke
The Adult Bible Studies Summer 2018 Series’ author begins this week’s lesson using the following framing to aid in teaching and understanding the lesson: Luke 18:1-8 will be the content, using the review of Lessons 2 and 5, and considering the lesson’s purpose statement and its connection to the parable. Also, the lesson’s examination will be as one body for all eight verses instead of each verse separately (verse-by-verse exegesis). Explicitly, it will be the examinations of the context, close review of the characters, and the closing comments of Jesus after he states it.
The text begins in Chapter 18 with two of the main characters, the judge and the widow. The writer tells us that these two are often characterized in commentaries as the “persistent widow” and the “unjust judge.” Furthermore, he explains that many commentators believe that what makes good writing is based on the type and quality of the characters in the story or novel, or in this case, the parable. The lesson’s writer makes the point that the author of Luke 18 was brilliant in the writing of these characters, not only the judge and the widow’s character, but the others that are present in the chapter, identifying such styles as the pairing of the tax collector and a Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14). Further, he outlines the quality of the writing by observing that this “twosome of characters is followed by a group of children whose natural qualities and characteristics define those who want to enter God’s kingdom” (Luke 18:15-17).
The author’s writing in Luke 18:18 is followed after the brief interlude in 18:15-17 with the account of the rich man asking Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?” After that, other stories are recounted, such as Jesus’ talks about his death and resurrection and the story of the blind man Jesus healed. Though these characters are not similar, Luke includes them to demonstrate that Jesus uses various ways of giving people reasons to follow him.
The Text in Context
The lesson’s author provides a summary about the text’s context as follows: it ends with an “alarming” account about what the writer of Luke wants us to understand about God’s kingdom and the signs of it; the text is considered to be both a “good” and “bad” news scenario; it depicts a “hospitable” perspective of the good news of God’s fulfillment of human history; and shows Jesus’ return as the savior of his people.
Conversely, for the “this generation” people (verse 25), those are the ones opposite of God’s people; this will be bad news for them. Furthermore, it points to Jesus’ definitive closing sentence, “The vultures gather wherever there’s a dead body” (verse 37), as a statement that answers the question from Jesus’ disciples “Where, Lord?”
The writer tells us that the story of the “persistent widow” is found only in the Gospel of Luke and explains that the parable concerns prayer related to the eschaton, or the end of times (theological term, eschatology). This theme is prominent throughout the New Testament and is presented in Luke 17:22-24. However, the point is made that some view the parable of the widow and the unjust judge as an allegory. However, the lesson’s writer disagrees with this perspective, and here’s why:
“Thus, in an allegorical interpretation of this parable, the widow represents disciples who pester the judge, while the unjust judge represents God. But in this kind of allegorical interpretation promptly breaks down. In fact, the widow does not stand for anyone and neither does the judge. Rather, Jesus’ parable is about the necessity of faithful, persistent prayer.”
Teacher, ask: After reading the explanation of an allegory, do you agree that the story is possibly an allegory or not? Explain your understanding.
The Characters in the Parable’s Action
Here we re-engage in the lesson’s text about “a judge who neither feared God nor respected people” (verse 2). The writer characterizes this type of person as self-assured with no regard for what people think about him, including God; someone who was “arrogant, proud and condescending.” Additionally, the author uses an analogy to describe the difference between wisdom and this type of character. For example, Proverbs 1:7 says, “wisdom begins with the fear of the LORD.” In another part of the Bible’s Wisdom Literature it reads, “Look, the fear of the LORD is wisdom” (Job 28:18). Specifically, the point made is that the judge was the opposite of wisdom because he did not fear the Lord or have concern for people, but only held a position of influence without empathy or humane qualities.
Teacher, ask: Where do we see person(s) in position(s) of authority in today’s society who lack empathy and good character traits?
Opposite of this character is the other key character, the widow, from the same city. She was persistent, and the writer characterizes her as the “hero” of the parable. She kept coming to the judge demanding justice: “Give me justice in this case against my adversary” (verse 3). The ongoing theme from the widow was “Give me justice.” We read that the story continues with the judge unrelenting and saying “no” to the widow’s request. However, she eventually wears him down and he concedes, stating, “I don’t fear God or respect people, but I will give this widow justice because she keeps bothering me. Otherwise, there will be no end to her coming here and embarrassing me” (verses 4-5). The widow, by being persistent, eventually gets her justice. It appears that sometimes those in authority have to be “shamed” into doing what is just.
Additionally, the writer conveys to us that the Bible gives a special place to widows as they were in both the Jewish and Christian communities observed as “threatened” types of persons and, therefore, given special provisions for their care. Moreover, there were consequences for those who mistreated widows. To this point, the text that reads “enacts justice for orphans and widows” (Deut. 10:18) is used to undergird the use of special provisions. The author also expresses that during that time males advocated on behalf of females and, typically, without a male voice to advocate for a female, it would be difficult for her to be heard. In the parable the widow has no male advocate, and the point is made that the judge possibly kept denying her because she had no male to advocate on her behalf. However, she won the battle with this judge.
In the concluding text, Jesus tells the disciples to pay attention and “listen to what the unjust judge says” (verse 6). Thereafter, he talks about justice (verse 7). In like manner, Jesus talks about the need to pray continuously and not to be discouraged (verse 1). In the text’s next-to-last verse, Jesus says, “Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he be slow to help them?” (verse 7). The author states that Jesus often used this type of argument, called the “from the lesser to the greater” concept. He further explains that in this case the argument suggests that “If fallible humans like the judge will respond to repeated requests, how much more certainly will God respond?”
Jesus concludes with a reminder to his disciples, teaching them that God will “give them justice quickly. But when the Human One comes, will he find faithfulness on earth?” (verse 8). The writer says that this may be the author of Luke or Jesus’ way of connecting the “closing loop” of the story that began back at Luke 17:5 when the disciples “said to the Lord. ‘Increase our faith!’” Additionally, note that our lesson’s text began with prayer and ended with justice. Likewise, our need for prayer is important today and that we need to “see prayer from all angles” and not to have a restrictive view of prayer from the prism of “stained-glass light.” We need to pray and advocate for works of justice and for the grace and mercy in our Lord and Savior, Jesus’ name.
Reflection: What are some issues of justice that are facing us today? Are they engaged with prayer, mercy, and empathy?
Call to Action: How can we engage to make a difference?
In God’s loving mercy, we pray for justice for those who cannot advocate for themselves and for those who do but are not heard. We pray for justice for those that have been mistreated and misrepresented. We pray for those persons who are in authority who are harsh and unconnected with the real issues and people of our society. We pray for our need to be persistent and faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell serves as the Associate Director for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at email@example.com.
The “Adult Bible Studies, Series Summer 2018, Justice in the New Testament” is used for the content of this lesson.