The Parable Of The Unscrupulous Judge

Faith can seem like the easiest thing.  All we have to do is believe.  There’s no physical exertion required.  Education is often seen as a hindrance.  It’s not something we have to spend much time thinking about.  In fact, the less thought we give to our beliefs the more it seems like faith.

Appearances, of course, are often deceiving, and the same is true when it comes to personal faith.  What seems easy is actually difficult to do.  A guiding sacred principle is not so effortless if allowed to influence the way we live each moment of the day.  In that case, faith requires our conscious attention, with frequent difficult choices.

Many parts of this world work against the demands of faith.  Humility, compassion, and honesty are not always rewarded.  Forgiveness is regarded as naive.  Killing people continues to be an acceptable strategy.  Accumulated wealth is the measure of success.  But a person of faith maintains their direction, despite this constant undertow, and that requires daily effort.  Anything less is a sign of faithlessness.

Jesus told a parable to illustrate exactly that point.  In a certain town, he said, there was a judge who didn’t care about God, and didn’t care about people, either.  He was out for himself, and used his office as a way to further his own ambitions.  In the same town, there was a widow who kept coming to the court and demanding to be heard.  But the judge always refused to hear what she had to say.

In those days, a judge would normally sit at the gates of a city, available to whoever passed by, to bring cases of personal injustice for adjudication.  Oftentimes, however, judges refused to hear grievances without being bribed.  Those with the most money were most likely to have their petitions granted, and the poor went without.  The system was rigged.

The widow who daily showed up to yell at the judge was someone without enough money to offer a bribe.  Widows were notoriously poor.  The only income women were likely to receive in Hebrew society was from their husbands, or from prostitution, servicing other husbands, so this woman was probably destitute.  As a result, the judge wouldn’t talk to her, and day after day went by without her dispute being settled.

Who knows what the problem might have been?  Widows were known to have their homes taken by dishonest vendors who claimed the deceased husband owed them money.  In that case, relegated to the streets, the woman wants her house back, but the judge refuses to acknowledge her existence.  As a result, the widow is faced with a choice.  She can give up trying to get justice for herself, or she can return to the corner where the judge holds court each day and demand to be heard.  Even if she’s dragged away, she can follow through.  She can maintain her belief in justice.

And that’s what the widow did.  She kept going back, shouting at the judge over the din of the courtyard, “I want justice from you against the man who put me out of my house.”  Over and over he had her turned away, until finally he couldn’t take it anymore.  He was tired of hearing her shrill, demanding voice, and one day the judge called her up front, shouting in exasperation, “I’m giving you what you want.  Just don’t come back.”

For Jesus, the woman was an example of faith in action.  She never gave up hope, which meant she never gave up attempting to see justice done, despite lots of reasons to quit.  She had no reason to believe her home would ever be returned, other than an unreasonable faith in the inevitable triumph of goodness.  Even the corrupt judge was capable of doing the right thing.  Trusting that to be true, without any real evidence, the woman continued to make her claim.  You never know.  Goodness doesn’t rule the day, until it does.

The woman in the story looks a little crazy, pressing her case in a hopeless situation.  That’s why she was able to drive the judge crazy, too.  But people of faith can appear a little odd on occasion.  We’re beholden to principles whose effectiveness isn’t obvious.

For example, as Jesus implies, believing in a God of love isn’t any different.  Daily reality certainly isn’t governed by interpersonal love, so what makes us think God is loving?  If God is loving, why hasn’t God intervened a little more?  We could use some help down here.  But, in the meantime, we continue to aim in our daily actions for a life that reflects it’s loving Creator.

According to Jesus, in the Parable of the Unscrupulous Judge, that is the meaning of faith.


About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

4 Responses to “The Parable Of The Unscrupulous Judge”

  1. Bucky, this is a wonderful piece and gives faith a picture to go by, THANK YOU SO MUCH ……

  2. Thanks for that article. I was motivated to read it and all I intended to do was delete it! I really needed a reason to keep believing today and was guided to you. Wow!


  1. Some Good Writing on Faith in WordPress | A Way With Words - January 6, 2013

    […] “The Parable of the Unscrupulous Judge” (21st Century Faith) examines a key ingredient of faith in the story Jesus told of a persistent woman. […]

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