In the Gospel of Luke, there’s this parable. (I originally wrote: “this bizarre parable,” but i realized that was redundant.) And in it, there is a judge who “neither fears God nor respects people,” and there is a widow seeking justice.
Widows were also the most commonly targeted people in medieval witch hunts. Widows were women bereft of a patriarchally-sanctioned identity – that is, a husband or father to claim her.
Widows, too, are an emblem and embodiment of grief: as much as they threaten power structures with their liberty, in this parable her namelessness seems to speak to the cavern of loss. She is a spare, an excess – a bereaved excess. Maybe she loved her husband; maybe she didn’t. But in this story she is known only by the absence – widow – and her grief is no less significant than her gender or her powerlessness.
Here is the text:
Luke 18:1 – 8. 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?”
I’ve heard some superb sermons on this text; that the godlessness of the judge stands in contrast to the justice of God. That justice should not be done out of irritation or obligation, and that the end does not justify the means. That individuals who seek to incarnate a Kingdom of God-justice need each other, in community, because no justice we manifest is free from our irritations, our shame. And that’s a painful tension to live in, so we need each other.
Still, this text has lingered with me. And i wonder: what if Jesus isn’t pointing to the judge as the opposite of God, but rather to the widow as the embodiment of God seeking us?
When Mary sings in Luke 1, she declares that the LORD has pulled the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. She is, after all, a poor brown teenage girl who is carrying the Incarnate God. She would know.
And maybe God is just hammering the point home: it is from the dust of the earth we were made in Her image, and so in the dusty and forgotten and bereaved places we see Her.
It would be foolish for me to think God is not also a judge – there’s too much injustice in this world and too much Scripture that says otherwise. Still, i think it’s of note that the authority figure in this story – a criminal prosecutor, a government official, a bureaucrat – is not the Godly one seeking justice.
And if i’m honest, this judge’s exasperation feels familiar.
When i don’t want to do the work – the anti-racist work, the generosity work, the love work – because it’s emotionally draining and reminds me of my own inadequacy. In the wake of still so many brutal murders of black people, in the midst of an election where my daily prayer is that Donald Trump and his followers are the great zit-popping of white supremacy so that we can confront our demons, in the midst of hurricane wreckage and – and – and –
I need the reminding that God is the widow, seeking justice.
Persistent. Grieving. Pariah. And in need of our participation.