Signpost for Sunday 16 October 2016: Jeremiah 31:27-34; 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5; Luke 18:1-8.
In the last of the ten commandments we find the statement You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife… followed by a list of possessions, including slaves and animals. This tells us something about the status of wives: they were seen as possessions. A widow, without children, could be seen as a sort of possession without an owner.
It is no surprise that, since New Testament times, the commandment is abbreviated to You shall not covet. Of course the law provided protection for widows, but Jesus, later in Luke’s gospel, castigates the scribes; he says that they devour widow’s houses and, for the sake of appearance, make long prayers.
It would seem that the sort of scenario presented in the parable was familiar to the people who heard it. In the parable the persistence of the widow in asking for justice eventually works; the judge to whom she appeals eventually gives in and grants her request for justice. (There is also some hidden humour in the parable – I read that the phrase translated as wear me out is literally translatable as give me a black eye.)
One of the lessons to be drawn from this parable is the need for prayer and continuing persistence: we are informed at the beginning that was the basic purpose. A second is that, if an unjust judge will eventually do the proper thing, even for the wrong reasons, will not God, who is righteous, do right? In the words of Abraham, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
But as we seek justice, perhaps not so much for ourselves, but for those around us and for those in troubled parts of the world, we find ourselves immersed in a sea of complexity. Justice for some means injustice for others, and we cannot perceive a way forward. Perhaps we should take encouragement from the sorrowful prophet Jeremiah when he spoke the word of the Lord: I will put my law within them.
Is this not the way in which the justice of God will be enacted in the world? Should we not aspire to work towards this end? Is not this the purpose of our prayers? Should we not be giving thanks for the fact that the word of the Lord is I will put my law within them?