The Blessed Virgin Mary, God-Bearer
Jesus’ story about the widow and the judge is one of his parables. This is a made-up story Jesus told, which is to say it did not really happen. Except that it did happen. Every day.
Widows were everywhere, and most of them were dirt poor. The Old Testament prophets and the early church continually named the suffering widows because their needs were as great as their numbers. They were as common as chattel, and often treated the same on the streets and in the courts. The Hebrew word referring to a widow literally means “an empty house.” No one home; nowhere to belong. You will know about this emptiness if you have been widowed… or, for that matter, if you have been orphaned from your parents; or separated from people, or places, or things where you belonged… or never belonged; or if you intercede for other people who live with estrangement, poverty and injustice in our suffering world.
Which is why parables are comparable, because they imply a comparison, an analogy, an elaboration, or an illustration.[i] So how is Jesus’ parable comparable to your own life, or to your life’s concerns? How is this your story? How is Jesus’ parable about the suffering and importunate widow and the jaded judge – the ultimately-converted judge – your story? What does Jesus’ parable invite from you and your own needs, or your concerns for others? The answer is yours.
This parable is surely an invitation to cry out our hearts, and bang on the gates of heaven. Jesus’ parable invites and provokes that. And if God-the-judge seems too intimidating, or too distant, or too much of a male for you to safely cry out your heart, then tell the Blessed Virgin Mary, who seems to have God’s ear.
[i] The New Testament Greek word parabolē, means, literally, “that which is tossed alongside,” implying a comparison, an analogy, an elaboration, or an illustration. From “Biblical Parables” by Fred B. Craddock in Interpretation; Luke (John Knox Press, 1990; pp. 108-110.
Jesus paints the picture of two people: a judge, a man with authority with no respect for others who won’t be ashamed, and a widow, weak and vulnerable. The widow comes persistently asking for justice such that the judge relents, so as to stop being bothered.
Have you agreed to something like the judge? Given in just to stop someone from bothering you. Have you received something for acting like the widow? Persistently present, continually asking. Have you ever felt that God is like the unjust judge? Distant, unhearing, refusing, without respect or shame. Has prayer felt like repetitive knocking or finger pointing?
In today’s parable, Jesus paints the picture of two people. A judge, a man with authority who does not fear God nor respect people. He won’t be ashamed. Perhaps accepting a bribe, but otherwise immoveable. A widow comes repeatedly to this judge. As we see often in scripture, widows are most vulnerable and to be cared for. In Middle Eastern culture, men represented women in court. That she is here means she has no male relative to assist her.[i] On one hand, she is weak and vulnerable. Yet she is present and persistent, not accusing, asking for justice.
In Middle Eastern culture, there is also a social code of respect such that women sometime have unusual access that men do not. Kenneth Bailey, who taught seminary for many years in Lebanon, tells of seeing a violent militia take up residence in a neighborhood. An elderly woman came regularly telling the guards to go away. They responded by politely telling her to not be upset. If a man had done so, he would have been shot.[ii]
The widow keeps coming asking for justice. The judge relents, giving her what she asks so that he is no longer bothered.