2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
A woman with little power comes before a powerful judge, the only person who has authority to help her. She is in desperate need. She doesn’t use formal niceties in addressing him, she simply states, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” Perhaps she already knew about the judge’s injustice, it obviously wasn’t a secret that the judge didn’t care for God or people. He states his opinions on that matter boldly. But since he, being a judge, had been charged to protect the orphan, stranger, and widow, she refuses to give up until he grants her protection. She is relentless in pursuing it. She comes day in and day out, and she is always bold in her statements. She will stand for nothing less than justice, and finally the judge gives it to her, not because he cares for her, but because he is afraid she won’t stop harassing him if he doesn’t give her justice.
What does this story have to do with prayer or God? First of all, Jesus very clearly states that God is not like this judge. While this judge doesn’t care for people, God has great concern for the oppressed, who cry to God day and night. And while the judge has to be pressured to fulfill his duties in protecting the downtrodden, God will not delay long in helping them. God seeks to always grant justice to them. So why is justice not always granted? Why is it that people have to fight for justice if God is willing to grant it?
The unjust judge becomes a caricature of why justice is hard to receive. In big bold strokes, Jesus paints the portrait of why suffering can often go unjustified. It is not because God doesn’t want justice, it is because people can often ignore God or not care for other people. In this caricature, the complexities of power dynamics are simplified in those two statements about the judge. He neither feared God nor had respect for people. Those in power are often less caring of those who have little, ignoring God’s care for the oppressed.
That means that in order to gain justice, people need to be persistent. They need to come before those in power and demand that they give justice. It’s an uphill struggle, but just as the widow came before the judge daily, those working for justice have to continue to put pressure on those in power.
But what does this have to do with prayer? The parable is prefaced by the words, “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” Do we need to persist in telling God our needs to encourage God to hurry up and grant justice? Many have heard that message within this parable, and they argue that while God is obviously not an unjust judge, you need to be persistent in prayer if you are to truly gain God’s justice in your life. God is similar to the unjust judge because God’s justice can often come delayed, but it is not because God doesn’t care, but because God sometimes delays justice for God’s own reasons.
I don’t buy that. Jesus does tell this parable to encourage his followers to be in persistent prayer, but God is not to be equated in any sense with the judge. We are to be in persistent in prayer not because God can sometimes delay justice, but because we have to have strength to remain persistent against the injustices of the world. Christ has one body within the world, and we are it. We are called to align ourselves with the widows, the oppressed, and those in need, continually coming before the oppressors. God has called us to help bring justice to the world. God has called us to help bring justice for them.
How are we to stand by them and not grow weary and tired? How are we to not lose heart? We have to stay in prayer. How are we to understand our call? We have to keep communicating with God. Otherwise, we will turn away before justice is granted.
This all sounds very weighty, and in many ways it is, but it is not impossible. For God has not called each individual to tackle all the oppressions of the world. We each have our own special call. There are calls that seem quite large, like the call of Martin Luther King Junior to help lead a movement for racial equality, and there are calls that seem quite small, like the call of a person to drop clothes and food in wire baskets at the back of the church. But both of these calls are calls to march with the widow, they both knock on the doors of those in power and demand that the oppressed be given attention. And when God calls, God doesn’t consider one call to be large and another small, because all calls help bring God’s justice into the world.
Dear siblings in Christ, I encourage you to proclaim the message, be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable. Convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience in teaching. Carry out your ministry fully. For God is calling us to stand by the widows who come up against unjust judges, and we can prevail with ardent prayer.