20 October 2013Luke 18:1-8
“In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” (vv. 3-5)
The word "Bambelela" could be used to sum up this parable. It is a South African word which means 'never give up' and has become well-known as a World Church song and as an energising theme within Methodist Women in Britain. It is certainly the spirit of the widow in this story who wears down the judge by her persistence. Luke's Gospel is at pains to point out that the judge is not behaving as a judge should - although appointed to bring justice, he despises his responsibility and fears neither God nor other people (verses 2,4). So it seems strange that it is the judge who represents God in the story. Here, as elsewhere (eg Luke 11:13), Luke's Gospel works on a principle of 'how much more'. If human beings, with all their faults, can occasionally do the right things (even if for the wrong reasons), how much more can God be trusted to be faithful and just.
Men and women alike may fear that this story gives sanction to nagging - a practice viewed as neither productive nor pleasant by many verses in the book of Proverbs (where we shall spend the rest of this week). As always, it is a question of balance. A modern parallel could be the story of Kathleen Cordeux who wrote so frequently to head of the BBC, Lord Reith, in 1926 and 1927 about the need for daily Christian worship on the radio, that in January 1928 he agreed to an experimental series. Eighty-five years later the Daily Service is still going strong on BBC Radio 4 LW.
There is a challenge here to a committed prayer life; there is a challenge to a committed fight for justice; there is a challenge to be found faithful. There is a reassurance of God's readiness to hear and to help. But perhaps above all what we are to take away from this parable is that even the quietest voices can effect change. A widow in first-century Israel was close to the bottom of the social structure, butevena widow can bring about justice,evenin these adverse conditions. So no-one should contemplate giving up.
- Think about some of the social justice campaigns which have run for many years and finally brought about change. Pause to give thanks for those who have not given up on slavery, universal suffrage, apartheid, Fair Trade, the Millennium Development Goals, caste discrimination ...
- What may be the situations in your life or church where you need to adopt this spirit of persistence?
- Is there another side to this coin? In what circumstances may it be appropriate to 'give up'?