Sermon Commentary for Sunday, October 16, 2022

Luke 18:1-8 Commentary

The “unjust judge” is the key comparison in this parable: it is the judge from whom we are meant learn something about God. This is made clear by the fact that this is a parable of comparison. If this judge, who is at the other end of the spectrum of what we know God’s character to be, if this judge provides justice, then how much more can we trust our God to make justice?

Jesus depicts the unjust judge as finally doing what he ought to do because he was concerned about the widow woman making a fool of him in public. The rather humorous picture is lost in our English translation: what we read as “so that she may not wear me out…” is literally “so that she doesn’t give me a black eye,” i.e., “punch me in the face!” The unjust judge simultaneously recognizes (even if he does not admit it) that his inaction may just lead this woman to take physical action—that he might be leading her to the point of expressing her frustration through violence, and getting beaten up by a woman, even for someone who doesn’t care what people think of him, is just a bridge too far for this judge. In order to save face, both literally and physically, the judge will finally do the right thing.

We know it’s the “right thing” because this woman is a widow: the most vulnerable member of the Israelite community. And since she is having to plead her own case to the community official who has authority, that means that she has no male family members to turn to—she is extra vulnerable. She should not have to go to these lengths; the society has been told to take care of her and it is the judge’s job to do this very thing.

Just as it is God’s work to bring about justice and righteousness in the world. In point of fact, our inability to do so is the reason why we must turn to God. We know too well that there are too many unjust judges in the world in cahoots with those who do wrong and that many of our systems can feel like large-scale justice and reform is out of reach. And we are not just those who suffer, we are also the perpetrators.

The important grammar for interpreting the meaning of verses seven and eight are as follows:

  • Will not God make justice… (the Greek word used means the answer is yes)
  • for his people crying to him day and night? (present tense, participle)
  • Will God delay? (present tense, and actually part of the above question)
  • Jesus says that God will quickly make justice… (future tense)
  • …but will he find faith? (future tense)

So from the very beginning we know that God does not need to be pestered as the unjust judge was in order to do the right thing. We can trust that God will bring justice and is not delaying. At alternate times in our lives, these can be words of hope and comfort and words of warning which provoke us to repentance.

However, this hope may not satisfy all of our questions. Where is justice? The affirmation that God is not delaying can seem like little comfort to the one in midst of great suffering. Most of us can immediately name areas of our life where we have personal unsettled hurts and wrongs—let alone what we can list off as we consider the world’s situations. What comfort is there to gain? Where is justice?

As the textual point discusses below, Jesus tells this story to his disciples after telling them of the injustice they are going to experience. He tells them this story to make a point about the character of God, and to give them an activity to sustain them through their suffering and rejection.

When justice seems far off, we pray. When rejection is near at hand, we pray. We persist in praying for what is right. We keep our hearts focused on the coming kingdom and its characteristics. In the face of injustice, we do the right thing and pray for God to show himself as the just judge who makes peace and punishment as it should be.

Through prayer and hope and living justly as God designed, we build faith. Will, Jesus asks, will he find faith when he comes? Is Jesus asking that question about his present, or his future? In other words, did he ask it about his time here on earth two thousand years ago, or is he asking about whether he will find faith when he returns to establish the new kingdom?

Over and over in the Old Testament, God is described as hearing the cries of his people: in slavery, in exile, from the widow whose child is dying, from the streets as the people repent and lament. Each time, God comes and delivers them. God makes for justice when they are the victims, and relents from the punishment they deserve when they are the perpetrators.

The promise is that when Jesus returns, he will come to judge the living and the dead. He will make all things right when he makes all things new. He will wipe every tear from the eye of the suffering, he will swallow up evil and its capacity for wrong doing. The promise of his return is predicated by what the world witnessed Jesus do through his incarnation, ministry and death: he became the cruciform of justice, meeting its demands in every possible way from every possible angle.

The cross is why Jesus can say that God is not delaying, and is presently at work for justice for his people. Do we have faith that this is true? That the justice represented in the cross is effective for us? That the forgiveness given through the cross is effective for us? Do we have faith to pray with the confidence that Jesus will return because “it is finished”?

Textual Point

This is one of those texts where knowing the context really steers the way the passage punches. The lectionary skips over the previous section, “The Coming of the Kingdom,” but its frank discussion of how the disciples will face hardship, suffering, and rejection while “life goes on” for the folks around them leads again to a choice that must be made. It is then that Jesus tells this parable about justice and prayer and faith. Understanding this connection helps us understand the point of Jesus’ story: yes, he is talking about an individual sense of justice, but the salve to this pain is cosmic.

Illustration Idea

There’s this phrase that is used about criticism: we ought to “punch up” and never “punch down.” In other words, we can and should be critical of those with power and authority and call out wrong doing when we see it happening, but we shouldn’t use our power and authority to hurt or make worse someone else’s situation. The unjust judge reached the point of being concerned about the widow finally literally “punching up” even while he was punching her down.


Preaching Connections: , ,
Biblical Books:

Dive Deeper

This Week:

Spark Inspiration:

Sign Up for Our Newsletter!

Insights on preaching and sermon ideas, straight to your inbox. Delivered Weekly!

Newsletter Signup