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Persistent in the Pursuit of Justice

Luke 18:1-8

When I was doing marriage and family counseling I would often have a husband or wife--most often a husband--who would walk in visibly angry at the first visit. I always found that stimulating and a challenge; in fact, I preferred open hostility to indifference. You can usually talk with an angry person if you are willing to listen, provided the person's anger is motivated by a sense of injustice or a fundamental wrong in life. That kind of anger comes out of a passionate belief that life could and should be better than it is. When you are willing to listen to the person's injured hope, you have a starting point.

The widow in Jesus parable will not give up until she gets justice.

Jesus says the judge is dishonest and wanted a bribe.
According to William Barclay, this man had to be a gentile, Roman appointed judge. The jews took their disputes to tribunals, but these judges were notorious for being corrupt.

Luke 18:1-8

When I was doing marriage and family counseling I would often have a husband or wife--most often a husband--who would walk in visibly angry at the first visit. I always found that stimulating and a challenge; in fact, I preferred open hostility to indifference. You can usually talk with an angry person if you are willing to listen, provided the person's anger is motivated by a sense of injustice or a fundamental wrong in life. That kind of anger comes out of a passionate belief that life could and should be better than it is. When you are willing to listen to the person's injured hope, you have a starting point.

The widow in Jesus parable will not give up until she gets justice.

Jesus says the judge is dishonest and wanted a bribe.
According to William Barclay, this man had to be a gentile, Roman appointed judge. The jews took their disputes to tribunals, but these judges were notorious for being corrupt.

They were said to pervert justice for a plate of meat. People even punned on their title. Officially they were called Dayyaneh Gezeroth, which means judges of prohibitions. Popularly they were called Dayyaneh Gezeloth, which means robber judges.1

Jesus says that he didn't give a fig for God or man and handed out justice to suit himself.
You would think that up against an official like that, the woman would just give up. A widow was just about the least powerful person in that society and she was poor on top of it. She didn't have a hope!
But she kept coming back again and again.
This lady was not the type to give up. She had more than a bit of fire in her.
Barclay says that the phrase "lest she exhaust me" can also be translated "lest she give me a black eye".
This was not a passive woman waiting for what fate will allow. She knows what she wants and locks in on it like a surface to air missile!

And Jesus says she gets what she is after.
Then comes the point.
Jesus asks, "and will the Son of Man find such faith when he comes?"
Good question, don't you think?

Like any parable, try to find the context. Luke locates this parable in the larger context of Jesus teaching on the time of his return at the end of the age. He is possibly instructing them how to live when His return is delayed and believers become discouraged.
We need to be prepared for life in the waiting.

The Church in the world has to be prepared for the struggle.
In a way this parable is like the parable of the persistent neighbour who gets bread from a friend just by being persistent in asking. That is part of this message. But there is more to it than that.

This is a story about hope in a time of discouragement, and it's a story about the fight for justice and righteousness.
The woman's anger comes from her certainty that she had been ill used somehow and that it should be fixed.
Not only should it be fixed, but it could be fixed, and she was going to see that it did get fixed.

Jesus is saying that's how we need to be.
He asks in a round about way whether or not we are up to it.
And will the Son of Man find faith when He returns?
Translated meaning, "When I come back will I find you determined in your quest for justice and rightness, or will you just give up and give in?"

In a book written a few years ago, but one that is a classic on the topic, the German theologian, Jurgen Moltmann writes in his book Theology of Hope:

Hope is the necessary condition for the possibilities of new experiences...There is a conflict between hope and experience. (speaking of despair and presumption) They rebel against the patience in which hope trusts in God of the promise. They demand either fulfillment 'now already' or 'absolutely no hope'. 2


The woman in the story could have collapsed in despair. Who would help her? She was powerless.
Jesus warns us not to slide into despair or complacency. We are to continue struggling against the wrongs of this life, both because we have a sense of how it could be, and also because we have faith in the God who wills it to be different.

We have to see the world as containing the possibility of being changed.
Full change will only come with Christ's return, we know that.
But He has put us here to carry out His mission; setting captives free, healing the sick, mending the broken.
We need some fire in our bellies to see that we can make a difference and a belief that things NEED to be different.
Then we need to set about doing what we can to make it happen. Not a faint wave of our hands saying, "have a nice day" to the broken and wounded, but a real effort that what we are doing needs to be done and that it is our task to do it.

In the middle of the eighteenth century, Christians became increasingly concerned about the slave trade. They amassed information on the inhumane treatment of the slaves and believed that eventually they could generate sufficient public support to overcome the slave trade interests in Parliament. But they needed political leadership.

William Wilberforce was elected to Parliament in 1780. He was converted in 1785, in part as a result of the ministry of John Newton, once a slave trader and then a clergyman in the Church of England. Newton and others urged Wilberforce to investigate the slave trade and to consider whether he could fight for its abolition in Parliament. Wilberforce concluded, "So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did its wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for the abolition. A trade founded in iniquity and carried on as this was must be abolished."

His effort took 20 years. He was vigorously opposed by the slave traders, who had powerful allies in Parliament. There was also resistance because this was a moral battle: "Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life," complained Lord Melbourne. But with the help of Christians throughout England, Wilberforce eventually succeeded, and in 1807 Parliament voted to abolish the slave trade.

We need more Wilberforces?Christians willing to engage in effective, sustained activity to challenge government to perform its responsibilities.3

Are we up to it?
Will Jesus find faith at work when he comes back? And will we be among the faithful?
I pray we will.

We were not called to build this church just so that we could be comfortable in it.
We are called to build this church so that it has the nerve and the fire to challenge the gates of Hell, at home or anywhere in the world where we are led. That's why we are here. To be a refuge to the broken, to be hope to the poor, to be courage to the fainting, to be a pain in the neck to the selfish and oppressive.

But we have a building project. New efforts should wait.
No
If its a choice between the two, our building projects should go on the shelf.
We were never called to build buildings.
We were called to be Jesus hands and eyes and feet in the world, and that's where our priorities should be.
If we are willing and understand the call, God will direct us to the place where we can be effective.

We are small. We have few resources.
Nonsense!
We are enough and the amount of resources we can see with our eyes is irrelevant.
All that matters is if we have faith that God is in it and that we are called to it, and that we have enough fire in our bones to be willing to take on the challenge.
So what is the challenge?
Look around.
Listen to the Spirit.
What is God calling us to do?

Wilberforce worked most of his adult life against the tide. It was only when the Wesleyan revivals in Britain began to shift the culture that Wilberforce's ideas found receptive soil.
But the point is that he did not give up regardless of the opposition and lack of responsiveness. He knew he had to act because it was intolerable to simply give up and make peace with such evil. He would die walking if that's what he had to do.

Preached October 17, 2004
Dr. Harold McNabb

West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia


Notes
1. William Barclay, "The Gospel of Luke", The Daily Study Bible, St. Andrew's Press.
2. Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, SCM Press, 1965, p. 18 & 23
3. Daniel W. Van Ness, "Saving a Sinking Society," Discipleship Journal (Mar/Apr 1988)

Online Resources Consulted
PreachingToday.com
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