Justice and Judgement

Luke 18:1-8

21 October 2007

St Mary's, White Waltham

Morning Prayer


On the face of it, this passage in Luke 18 is straightforward. We are told in verse one what the point is, and the story is simple enough. Jesus places a widow on the one hand and a judge on the other. The widow is powerless and poor: someone has wronged her and she needs justice. The judge is corrupt and ungodly, and the widow has no money to bribe him.

Nevertheless, because of the widow's persistence in bothering the judge, he eventually does the right thing and the widow gains the justice she desires. Jesus uses this parable to encourage us to be persistent in our prayers.

One question we must deal with is, in what way does God resemble this corrupt judge? And the point is, he doesn't! Jesus is using an argument "from the lesser to the greater". The judge was bad, but eventually did the right thing; God is good, how much more swiftly will he do the right thing?

Now, it would be easy to gain the wrong message from this. It would be easy to conclude that this parable is about "pester-power". Should we go home with the message that if we bother God long enough he will give us whatever we want? (As I was writing this very paragraph my three-year-old daughter came in and asked "can I play with the computer, Daddy? Oh, please, Daddy!" I know about pester-power!) Should we conclude that if we keep on and on asking God for the Ferrari, or for our son to get to medical school, or simply for healing from our sickness, that God will eventually come round and give in to us? Some would say so, but is that really what Jesus is teaching here?

Well, I think that a closer look shows that Jesus had quite a different lesson in mind.

Jesus says in verse 1 that we ought always to pray and not give upref. I want to explore this by asking two questions. I want to ask first, "what should we be praying for?" and second, "what encourages us not to give up?"

Answering these questions gives me two headings: Pray for Justice and Judgement is Coming.

Pray for Justice

So, first "what should we be praying for?" . The answer Jesus gives is that we should be praying for justice.

We see it in the way Jesus sets up the parable. In verse 3, what the widow of the story is demanding from the judge is justice against her adversary. Widows were notoriously disadvantaged in New Testament times. You'd think that she might be asking for food on the table, or clothes for her children, or even a husband to look after her. But the desire of this widow's heart is for justice against her enemy, which she pursues relentlessly.

We also see the justice theme in the way that Jesus places a judge as the counterpart to the widow in the story. He hasn't chosen a king or a rabbi or some other highly-positioned individual, but a judge. Judges have one function: to dispense justice. Now, this judge was corrupt and unjust, but, even so, he knew what he ought to be doing: verse 5 I will see that she gets justiceref.

What's this got to do with Jesus' disciples? In what way are they like this poor widow, crying out for justice? In verse 7 Jesus makes it clear that there is a link. He describes God's people as those who cry out to him day and night.ref What are they crying out for? What does God promise to deliver? verse 7 and verse 8: justice!

The point is that Jesus knows that his disciples are going to suffer unjustly, just as he did. It is assumed throughout the New Testament that Christians will be persecuted.

Back a few verses, in Luke 17 verse 22, we find the start of the section to which these verses belong. We read there that Jesus said to his disciples, "the time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man"ref

Why will they be longing so much to see Jesus, the Son of Man, again? Because this world is just so hostile to the whole-hearted Christian. The Apostle John writes Do not be surprised if the world hates you.ref, echoing what Jesus warned the disciples at the Last Supper.

The Bible writers expected that our lives will be so good, so radical, so counter-cultural, so challenging to those around us that they will hate us irrationally. It is expected that we will be so effective for God in our evangelism and good works that the devil will constantly move people against us. And so much of the church worldwide is going through this right now. If we are not persecuted ourselves, we should be thankful. But we should also ask ourselves "why not?" Comfortable living is not a normal state for the Church of God.

So on one side Christians are to expect persecution and injustice, but on the other, we are not to take matters into our own hands.

The Greek word Luke uses for "justice" here is relatively uncommon in the New Testament. It is used fewer than a dozen times, and is also used in the sense of "avenge" or "punish".

One place this word is used is in the book of Romans, where the Apostle Paul quotes Deuteronomy, saying Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "it is mine to avenge; I will repay", says the Lord.ref

The word translated "to avenge" here is the same word the widow uses when she implores the judge to grant her "justice". The point is that we are not to take matters into our own hands. We are not to avenge ourselves on our enemies, we are to trust in the judgement of God.

I recently got talking to one of my colleagues at work about the persecuted church worldwide. (It doesn't doesn't matter how we ended up there, though that's an interesting story in itself!) Anyway, one of the things he said was "Something I've noticed about your lot [by which he meant Christians] is that you never fight back" . I explained to him that it is because we follow a Saviour who did not fight back, and then I was able to tell him a little about Jesus' death for us.

When Jesus told this parable, he could have said "and lo, since the unjust judge granted not her petition, she took up a big stick and went to her enemy, and extracted justice for herself."

This is what the suicide bomber is doing, isn't it? His view of his god so small that he feels he needs to help him out by blowing up a few "infidels"? God forbid that we should ever take vengeance into our own hands!

Jesus tells us to pray, to cry out day and night for justice, for vengeance, because it is God's work to bring it. "it is mine to avenge; I will repay", says the Lord.ref

So that's the answer to what we should pray for. In an unjust world — where God's people are victims of injustice — we must pray for justice, not taking matters into our own hands, but praying for God himself to avenge. Let us never neglect to pray for our brothers and sisters in the persecuted church worldwide. And when we face injustice ourselves because of our faith, let us above all pray about it. Pray for justice.

Judgement is coming

Going back to verse 1, Jesus urges us always to pray and not give upref. The second question from verse 1 is "what encourages us not to give up?"

The answer is: we are convinced that judgement is coming.

The Lord's promise is that justice will be done. Even the unjust judge eventually pronounced judgement in favour of the widow. How much more willing is our God and Father to bring judgement in favour of his people.

And the promise is that one day he will. Verse 7, and will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night?ref, verse 8, I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quicklyref.

When is it going to happen? When will God's people see justice done? Well, the context of the passage shows us. As I mentioned earlier, this section at the beginning of chapter 18 is part of a longer section of teaching that starts in chapter 17, verse 22. And the whole theme of the section is the the return of Jesus, the Son of Man. At the end of the unit, in verse 8 of our passage, Jesus reiterates the theme: when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?ref

So the point Jesus is making in the parable of the widow is something about his return. Eventually in the parable justice was done, judgement was pronounced, and the widow's adversary got what he deserved. And so in the real world, justice will be done when Jesus returns on his Father's authority to judge the world and to put right all the wrongs.

At the end of chapter 17, Jesus has been describing what it will be like on that day. He says it will be like in the days of Noah when just eight people were saved from the sudden flood, and the rest of mankind were destroyed. He says it will be like the judgement on Sodom, when suddenly the city was destroyed and only Lot and his daughters were saved.

The thrust of Jesus' teaching is that, although sometimes God's judgement breaks out suddenly, by and large it is postponed. We are still waiting to see the true judgement of God. We are waiting for justice to be done.

In the book of Revelation, we find the Christian martyrs down the ages described in John's vision.

I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?ref

The cry of these martyrs is that they might be avenged, that their adversaries might be judged. This is precisely the same as the plea of the widow in Jesus' parable: in the original Greek wording the martyrs' call to be avenged is the same as the widow's plea for justice in our passage.

The martyrs' question is, how long? How long must they wait before justice is done? And that's the question that Jesus' parable answers. The Lord will come to judge as swiftly as is possible. Even an unjust judge without a bribe will bring justice eventually, how much more quickly will the Sovereign Lord, holy and true bring judgement?

Keep on praying, he urges us, because judgement is coming, as quickly as is consistent with God's desire to save his people.

But 2000 years! That's an awfully strange definition of quickly, don't you think?

Well, some people thought so only a few years after Jesus' resurrection, and the apostle Peter wrote to them,

Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.ref

Our Lord's judgement is delayed, not because he is unjust like the judge in the parable, and not because he is overlooking the injustice in the world. His judgement will come as swiftly as is consistent with his desire to save his people.

This world will not go on for ever. The stain of evil on our world is not permanent. Injustice will not mark our world indefinitely. One day the Lord will come, and he will come to judge, and he will come to right all wrongs.

So keep on praying, Jesus urges us. We pray without giving up because the end is in sight! We know that we can make it; we know that it is worthwhile. We keep on praying for justice to be done because we are confident that the Judge himself is coming. The suffering won't last for ever; glory is within our grasp.


In conclusion, we should notice that the question Jesus poses us in this passage is not, "will God answer our prayer?" , but the question in verse 8 is "will he find faith when he comes?" .

As in Noah's time when only eight were saved, and as in the time of Sodom, when only three escaped the city, the Bible's consistent teaching is that those who remain faithful to God, and are therefore saved, will always be a small minority of humanity.

Will you and I be among them? Will Jesus find us faithful when he returns? Well, that's up to us. If you have put your trust in him to save you, trusting entirely in the Judge and not at all in yourself, then you have nothing to fear at all.

If there is any doubt in your heart about that, if you have any concern about whether Jesus will find you faithful when he comes to judge, then please don't leave today without talking to someone about it; either myself or one of your church leaders. It is possible to be sure.