(NOTE: Due to a variety of circumstances, an "encore sermon" is being used this week.)
21 Pentecost Proper C24
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
October 17, 2010
Congregation's choice hymn sing
THE REWARDS OF PERSISTENCE
TEXT (vs. 28): [Jesus] said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.' For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'"
Most of you have gone to the polls and cast votes in various government elections. I'm guessing that you have read through one of those sample ballots in the newspaper. And most likely you have at least a basic knowledge of the election process.
There's an item that appears on ballots quite regularly. The item will simply read, "Shall judge so-and-so be retained in office?" And then you have a choice to make. You can either mark a "yes" or "no" vote in the box provided.
Most of the time, the re-election of a judge is a shoo-in. The majority of the time people will give a "yes" answer. They do this usually because they haven't heard anything particularly bad or negative about a judge. And so they figure that if they haven't heard anything bad or negative, then he or she must be doing a good job. If there's no compelling reason to remove him or her from office, then let them stay on and do their job.
But if you take note of the returns following an election, you'll always see that the judge has received at least a few "no" votes, regardless of the circumstances. Why do you think that at least a few people have voted "no" on a judge keeping their office?
Some people feel that a change is good, especially if the judge has been in office for a while. So they cast a "no" vote. Others may have appeared before that judge, or at least has known someone who has appeared, and felt that they had received unfair treatment. Maybe a fine was too big, or a sentence was too stiff, or maybe a judge was too lenient on someone they felt should have had the book thrown at them. And as a result, a small smattering of people will vote to remove him or her from office.
I have however seen where a campaign is launched to remove a judge. And then it really gets political. Even though it rarely happens, it can and it does. People will come forth with reasons, often times very valid reasons as to why he or she should be removed. Even then it is difficult to remove a judge, but I have seen it happen.
Judges, as you know, are lawyers who have proven themselves successful and have moved up the ranks. In order for them to be a judge in the first place, they have to demonstrate a superior working knowledge of the law, and have the ability to render fair and impartial judgments.
But there have been, and still are bad judges in office. If a judge's conduct is questionable, or if the judge does illegal or unethical things, then he or she can be brought up before the state bar association. Judges can lose their licenses to practice law, and face fines and even jail time. And if that doesn't work, then there's always the ballot box; and even though people don't need valid reasons to remove a judge this way, yet there are usually good reasons for doing so.
We have this system of checks and balances that are intended to keep judges on the straight and narrow. They know that they will be held accountable for their actions, one way or another. Even though they have a great deal of latitude and they can run their courtroom as they see fit, they still don't have an open license to do as they wish.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is talking about a judge. The judges in Jesus' day functioned pretty much the way judges do today. One of their functions was to settle disputes and render judgments, and they were to do so fairly and justly, and without prejudice.
Unfortunately, they didn't have the checks and balances in place that we do today. Of course they had to answer to whoever the governmental ruler was, but usually they could do pretty much whatever they wanted to do, as long as they kept to themselves and didn't make trouble for the government.
Today, Jesus uses the example of what the Bible calls an unjust judge. Our text tells us in verse 28, "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men." He didn't care about what God had to say, nor did he care about the people who he was there to serve. He cared only about himself. Chances are that this man was in it only for the money, and he probably accepted his share of bribes from people if he ruled in their favor.
But now we are introduced to another character in the story. It was a widow woman. In those days, women didn't have much of a voice of all, especially when it came to matters in a court of law. Without a man to represent her case, she was pretty much on her own.
So when she finds herself before this judge, he tries to just dismiss her. He takes the "Get away woman, you bother me" approach to things. She was a woman with no real voice in court, and she is treated accordingly.
Now we aren't told why the woman came before the judge, or what her dispute was. For the purposes of this illustration, it really doesn't matter. The point is, that she had only one real weapon that she could use, and that was her persistence.
In today's society, she would be regarded as a stalker. She would have appeared daily in his courtroom. Over and over again she demanded to be heard. Had she been in today's world, she would have deluged him with phone calls. She would have followed him to the golf course. She would have shown up on his doorstep during dinnertime. If the judge decided to have a night out with his wife, she would be at the next table in the restaurant or sitting next to him at the theatre. She would have been all over him like stink on a skunk. There was no getting rid of her.
This frustrates the judge no end. So he says, "I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!" If we look at the Greek in this instance, the judge is actually saying, "I don't want her to give me a black eye." Because of her constant nagging, he is beginning to feel like he has gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson.
So he does what he should have done in the first place. He hears her case, and renders a fair judgment. That was his job; and because of her persistence, he finally does it.
It is so obvious that this unjust judge did not respect God. In the Old Testament, when Moses established the position of the judges in Israel, the judges were instructed with the words recorded in Deuteronomy chapter 1, verses 16-17: "Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God's."
Then he goes on to instruct the people in verses 18-20: "You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you."
And when it came to the widows, James 1, 27 says: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
God was well aware of the plight of the widows and orphans. That's why he says in the Bible that they were to be looked after. That's why we read in Acts chapter 6, that deacons were appointed, because the widows were being overlooked in the food distribution program. God's people had to look out for them and to make sure that they had a voice, and were otherwise treated fairly.
Our parable for today is what is known as a "contrasting parable." Jesus is using an example that is the direct opposite of what he is illustrating. In this case, it is an unjust judge who does not care for either God or mankind, being compared with God who loves and cares for all people.
God wants us to be persistent in prayer. But God does not answer prayer because we are bothering him and he wants to get rid of us. Rather, he hears and answers prayer because he loves us, and cares for us, and wants the best for us. God truly loves all of his children.
Jesus wants us to know that if a scoundrel like that unjust judge will respond to persistent nagging, then what will a just and loving God do when we bring our prayers before his throne of grace? The important thing here is that God, unlike the unjust judge, actually wants to hear what we have to say! He wants us to bring our prayer requests to him! He loves hearing from us!
We don't have to worry about wearing God out, or "giving him a black eye" as the Greek says. He's always there for us, no matter how many times we come to him.
But we get impatient. When we pray and things don't go our way, then we often come to the conclusion that God just isn't listening. Or, if he is listening, then he just doesn't care. Has that thought ever crossed your mind?
I think if you're honest with yourself, then it has. I know those thoughts have crossed my mind at times as well. And when this does happen, then we know that it's our sinful human nature kicking into high gear. Sin causes us to doubt God's promises and makes us blind to his love and care.
That's where Jesus comes in for us. He came to eradicate sin in our lives. Through faith, he has come into our hearts and made his home there. Jesus is the prime example of how just of a judge God really is.
In order to pay for the sins of the world, your sins and mine, he bore the justice of God's punishment on the cross. He did that so we wouldn't have to eternally pay for our own sins. God did this just because he loves us, and he does not want to see us bear the punishment that we by our sins deserve.
Through faith in Jesus, all fear and doubt have been removed. He took it all to the cross with him; therefore we can leave all of those burdens right there with him. We can thus be assured that when we pray according to the faith we have in Jesus, that our prayers are indeed heard and answered. James writes in his epistle, chapter 5 verse 16: "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."
If the judge in today's story was sitting on the bench today, he probably would be one of those who would either have come before the state bar association, or voted out of office. Judges who are arbitrary in their conduct, or who don't care about other people, or who are otherwise dishonest, are at the very least frustrating to the people they serve. If our God were to be like that, we would have a lot of trouble indeed. We need a God who is constant and stable, and who deliver as he has promised.
So can we pray and not lose heart? We most certainly can! Can we pray and not give up? We can without a doubt! We know to whom we belong. The Apostle Peter writes in his first epistle, chapter 5 verse 7: "[Cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you."
He cares for people the likes of you and me; and, unlike the judge in today's parable, God wants to hear from us. Just remember that you are his beloved child. So pray continually and do not lose heart.