Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Translation: But he spoke a parable to them concerning their need always to pray and not to lose heart, saying, 'A certain judge was in a certain city not fearing God nor respecting human beings. But there was a widow in that city, and she was coming to him, saying, 'Avenge me from my opponent,' and he was not willing for a time. But after this, he said to himself, 'Though I am not fearing God nor respecting human beings, yet because this widow gives me trouble, I will avenge her, so that she might not come (and) give me a black eye unto the end.' But the Lord said, 'Listen what the unjust judge says. But will not God do the vengeance of his elect, the ones crying to him day and night? Will he have patience with them? I say to you that he will do his vengeance quickly. Nevertheless, the Son of Humanity having come, will he find the faith upon the earth?"
Background and situation: The text is unique to Luke. Jesus is speaking to the disciples, though throughout this section, the pharisees are still within earshot.
The passage follows immediately upon 17: 22-37, a major theme of which is the suffering and rejection of Jesus, which provokes an eschatological crisis, out of which comes the New Day of the Lord.
Other pertinent texts: See Sirach 35: 15-19 for God as judge who hears a widow's prayers. In 2 Chr 19:7, judges in Judah were to "let the fear of the Lord be upon" them, a sharp contrast with the unjust judge. Among several Old Testament texts exalting the cause of widows, see Exodus 22:22-24, Deut. 24:17, Psalm 146:9.
Text: The judge did not fear God (phobos) or have respect (entrepomenos) for people. Entrepomenos is an unusual word. It can mean "to shame" or, in the passive, "to be ashamed." It can also mean "reverence," though this is the third meaning.
The judge apparently not only felt no "reverence" for people, but also no sense of "shame" in how he treated them--a typical Roman judge, in other words. Judges had vast power within their jurisdiction. If they wanted to, they could decide cases based on personal whim alone. The judge in this story is just such a judge--one with no concern for justice.
But there was a widow in that city, and she was coming to him, saying, 'Avenge me from my opponent,' and he was not willing for a time.
The stage of the parable is set by the contrast between, on the one hand, a powerful magistrate who can do whatever he feels like doing, and, on the other, a poor widow who must take what she can get. That the woman appears by herself in court means that she has no male relative to speak for her. She is indeed powerless and poor. On the "power scale," the judge is at one end and the widow at the other.
The Hebrew scriptures are replete with injunctions to consider the needs of widows, orphans, and strangers. Perhaps these injunctions are so frequent because the people of Israel needed continual reminding--and, as it turns out, to little effect!
By the time of Jesus, the powerful and unscrupulous were still preying on them. Jesus will later say that the Temple elite "devour widows' houses (20:47)," such as when the Temple bureaucrats swooped in upon the death of her husband and "managed" her estate, taking a sizeable cut for themselves. It should not be surprising that a judge who does not fear God would care about God's demonstrated concern for the weak and vulnerable. If he does not fear God, why would he respect people?
The widow says, literally: "Avenge me from my opponent (antidikos)." The widow, normally a sympathetic figure in Jesus' stories, seems to expect that she may actually get justice in this kangaroo court. She thinks she might yet come out a winner. For all its well-known corruption, she still believes in the system!
"For awhile he refused"--literally, "he did not wish, upon time (chronos)." This is a good time to review the distinction between chronos and kairos. Chronos is about regular "earthly" time. It's where we get our word "chronological." Kairos is "special time"--"inbreaking of God" time, if you will. According to "regular time," the judge has no use for the widow.
But--meta tauta--"after this," or "beyond this"--the judge changes his mind. Maybe this is pushing it, but "beyond" chronological time is kairos--"God's time." In God's time will come justice (though justice will be defined in a surprising and unusual way, as we shall see). "God's time" is not something that happens after chronological time ends. "God's time" is any time in which the reign of God breaks in. It can be right now.
In his speech to himself, the judge openly acknowledges what had originally been said about him, i.e., that he doesn't fear God or respect people. This tells us that he has had no internal change. He remains the same person he was when first identified.
Nevertheless, he decides to change his approach regarding the widow: "Though I am not fearing God nor respecting human beings, yet because this widow gives me trouble, I will avenge her, so that she might not come (and) give me a black eye unto the end."
The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translates hupopiaze as "wear me out." This seems weak. The word comes from the world of boxing and refers to striking someone under the eye. "Give me a black eye" is not only faithful to the Greek, but paints a rather startling and humorous picture of the poor widow battering the powerful judge.
What's more, she will "give me a black eye unto the end (telos)." The word telos is a special word in the scriptures. It means the goal, the consummation, the gathering of all into all. If the widow keeps battering him with her appeals, her desire for justice just may make the judge look bad through all eternity. To avoid this fate, the judge rules in the widow's favor.
But the Lord said, 'Listen what the unjust judge says. But will not God do the vengeance of his elect, the ones crying to him day and night? Will he have patience with them? I say to you that he will do his vengeance quickly. Nevertheless, the Son of Humanity having come, will he find the faith upon the earth?"
Luke identifies Jesus as "Lord," which means that he speaks with authority. His response is along the lines of saying that if even an unjust judge will finally grant justice, how much more will God do so. God will respond to the peoples' cry for justice, and will not delay.
Their vindication will be soon--en taxei--but not, however, by making the poor widow come out a winner through the judicial process. Quite the contrary. The vindication that is approaching "soon" is the death and resurrection of Jesus. The woman's "justice," and all true justice, will come then.
This is the answer to the question posed by Luke in 17:22-37. The crucial time--kairos?--is coming soon when the Son of Humanity "must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation" (17:25). This will be tragic and difficult, but will also inaugurate the New Age--"the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Humanity be in his day" (17:24).
Diko (justice) occurs six times, in various forms, in this brief passage. This concern over justice is answered by justification. In God's kairos, injustice is dealt with through cross and resurrection--not on the merits of the case, in other words, no matter how good those merits may be, but rather on the basis of Christ.
To put it most bluntly, God does not care about the "justice" of the poor widow's case, or, for that matter, the justice of anyone's case. Whether you deserve heaven, or a good swift kick in the keister, is completely irrelevant. God settles all these cases not on the basis of who deserves what, but on the basis of the death and resurrection of his son.
Let anyone think they have a just cause, the real truth is that we are all losers. As Martin Luther said on his deathbed, "We are all truly beggars." In our winner-take-all world, we see this as bad news. In God's world, however, this is good news--good news precisely because "the Son of Humanity came to seek and save the lost (19:10)."
God raises the dead without regard to the "justice" of anyone's case. We are all lost and dead in our sins, but God's "justice" is the "justification" of sinners. God judges all on the basis of the cross and resurrection of his Son. There are no other considerations. As Paul put it, "God shows his love for us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."