Messages of Hope

The parable of the widow and the judge

Published / by Sandy

We have all seen the TV footage of climate change rallies, and many have joined in climate strikes (another one planned for November) – activists, students, and ordinary people who have never done this kind of thing before. You may have seen Jane Fonda was arrested while participating in a climate change rally. Benedict Cumberbacht joined Extinction Rebellion protesters in London for a few hours. We’ve seen and heard plenty about Extinction Rebellion protests around the world, including cities in Australia. The Adelaide Extinction Rebellion actions have been less disruptive including dancing in the street (Nutbush City Limits on Flinders St outside Pilgrim Uniting Church), and a symbolic ‘die-in’ in Rundle Mall. 

We will all have different views on the tactics being used, and even the imperative for action. Young and old have shown stoic determination and resolve to bring about action on climate change and climate justice, shaped by a conviction that change needs to happen. 

With this in mind, I began to explore last Sunday’s Gospel reading (the persistent widow and the judge in Luke 18). Bill Loader comments that “It is missing the mark if we treat the passage as a general teaching about intercessory prayer. It is primarily about a yearning for change. The widow represents poverty and vulnerability, which is the point of the parable’s message. The story was shaped in the context of the Roman occupation, by the cruelty of exploitation, the arbitrary abuse of power and the wounds of the people. Luke’s Gospel reflects a yearning for the redemption of Israel. It is a political yearning, but much bigger than that. It is the cry for justice, for peace, for the establishment of God’s rule in the world. It is the cry: ‘Your kingdom come!’ 

Look at Mary’s Magnificat, look at Jesus’ mandate. The hope for transformation and liberation are right there, and permeate Luke’s Gospel. 

In our time and place, there are plenty of vulnerable people, and those living in poverty, who yearn for change. Maybe it’s time also to think of the earth as being vulnerable, impoverished by the way forests have been destroyed, rivers polluted and water diverted for mining, and rice and cotton crops, overfishing, squandering limited natural resources etc. The list could go on. 

Steve Koski reflects, Caring for God’s holy and sacred earth is a spiritual practice. The environmental crisis is a spiritual crisis. We will not cherish or protect what we take for granted. We will not restore and renew what we do not revere. We will not save what we do not savor and regard as sacred. The earth is not a commodity to be consumed by our greed and arrogance. The earth is a sacred community we share with all living things.

Can we plead for eco-justice, for change? Systems and structures that perpetuate harm to the environment need to change. Business models that depend on exploitation of natural resources need to change. Alarming effects of climate change are being felt all over the world, while many, including those in power, consider climate science conspiratorial fiction. Debra Dean Murphy writes, The terror humans have unleashed on mountains and oceans and vulnerable populations, whether through ignorance or greed, is a kind of unmaking of the world, an act of de-creation and a defacing of the imago Dei in us – our own capacity for world-making. 

Do we have the luxury of standing back, or – like the widow – to be among those demanding change be made by those who have the power to do so? Day after day after day, being prepared to call for eco-justice in our own sphere of influence.

Mikali Anagnostis, a university student and a member at Leichart Uniting Church says, ‘I see the Divine working in creative and hopeful young people, who refuse to let dark prognoses silence their passion for life. People who in bold and beautiful collective action proclaim that there is hope and that if we act in faith, that hope will become a reality’. 

Debie Thomas reflects: At the outset, the Gospel writer tells us that Jesus’s parable is about “the need to pray always and not lose heart.” Consider the story from the perspective of the widow. What does it look like to “lose heart”? The words that come to mind are weariness, resignation, numbness, and despair. To lose focus, clarity and direction. To be irritable and cynical very quickly. ‘Compassion fatigue’. In contrast, the widow in Jesus’ parable is the very picture of purposefulness,  precision, aliveness, and clarity.  She knows her need, she knows its urgency, and she knows exactly where to go and whom to ask in order to get her need met.  If anything, the daily business of getting up, getting dressed, heading over to the judge’s house or workplace, banging on his door, and talking his ear off until he listens fortifies her own sense of who she is and what she’s about. The widow’s predicament is not straightforward; she has to make a costly choice every single day.  Will I keep asking?  Dare I risk humiliation one more time?  Do I still believe that my request is worthy of articulation?  Can I be patient?  Am I still capable of trusting in the possibility of justice? The widow’s only power in this story is the power of showing up.  The power of sheer grit.

Day after day after day. 

Here’s another lens for the story. Consider the story from the perspective of the judge. What if I am the judge in the parable, and God (the pleading, persistent one) is the widow? What if my own complacent disposition and comfortable position makes me less willing to know the need for change? The widow knocking down my door in the hopes that I will soften my heart and attend to the pain, injustice, and sorrow wounding God’s very being, and the earth itself? It makes me recognise the times when I am tired, indifferent, irritable, closed off, or unsympathetic. Scripture attests to the fact that God not only hears the cries of the helpless; God is in the cries of the helpless. God dwells with the unseen, unheard, unloved, and unwanted.  God is the wronged widow crying for justice, pleading with me to listen, to care, and to keep my heart open on her behalf. 

Day after day after day.