The Power of Persistence, Part 1: Reflections on Luke 18:1-8
October 20, 2013
The Widow and the Unjust Judge: Persisting in Pursuing Justice
In reading the texts for the next three weeks, I have perceived a golden thread and its name is persistence. So I've decided to write a series; this is Week One in my series titled "The Power of Persistence."
Diatribe in the Driveway?
The widow is disgruntled. She is not pleased with the way things are going. We see evidence of people feeling this way in everyday life. I was listening to the news a couple of nights ago and heard a story of how a fan came and stood in the driveway of Houston Texan's quarterback Matt Schaub and berated him for his recent poor play. The fan told him off and then left before police could respond. The reason for their driveway diatribe? That would be the team's disastrous 2-3 start, especially Schaub's throwing a Pick-Six interception in an NFL-record four consecutive games.
Going to his house and expressing his displeasure was over the top. It was intrusive, potentially violent, and would have opened the fan up to legal action had he not left when he did. It also didn't accomplish much. It didn't offer any new information that Matt Schaub did not already possess. It did not increase the likelihood of more positive outcomes.
The widow's actions were similar and yet different from the fan's. Like him she was disgruntled, but for a more profound reason than that her favorite sports team was doing badly. (I realize that, to sports fans, this is no small thing. But her beef is truly more profound.)
The judge "neither fears God nor respects the people" (Lk. 18:2). The widow, as a woman alone in the first century, was vulnerable to being taken advantage of in any number of ways. She was easy prey to those who would take advantage of her financial straits and her physical vulnerability. She is probably up against a wealthy opponent and his bribes. We don't know what the opponent she wants justice from has done to her, but whatever it is, she is not going to stand for it. Despite her weak position, she gains her end by persistence. The lesson is similar to that of Luke 11:5-8.
The point goes further here though. Luke 11:5-8 is about praying for the Holy Spirit to grant our needs. This parable commends persistent prayer and action on behalf of God's justice. If an unjust judge grants vindication because someone pesters him, how much more will God vindicate God's elect people in the end? God will act speedily to grant justice. The question is, will the faithful and prayerful continue to advocate for it until the parousia of the Son of Man? Will they continue to persist in securing justice for the weak, whether themselves or others?
What if we applied the same principles we apply to getting customer satisfaction to seeking justice for ourselves and others? I bought a Dirt Devil last month that has no suction and was quite annoyed at the fact that the store in question would even carry such an ineffective product. I didn't feel like driving back to the store with it so was researching how to mail it back and get my money. I came across a website with advice on how to write a complaint letter. I suspect the widow in the parable had read it too.
Here is the advice on complaining until you get what you want.
Find the right recipient. Before you write your letter, make sure it will land in the right hands. If it's a store you're having trouble with, call to get the name of the manager. Or call the company's headquarters and get the name and address of someone really high up—the president or even the CEO.
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.