Today’s
gospel begins with a reference to prayer, a favourite theme in Luke, and ends
with a question about faith. If the parable were also about prayer, as the
narrator suggests, then the unjust judge would image a God who has no respect
for anyone and is slow to hear the cry of the poor! There are clearly problems
with this, and scholars are divided on how to explain it. The most likely
explanation is that, in the editorial process, the gospel writer has made three
key additions to the story: the introductory statement that Jesus told them a
parable “about the need to pray always”; the final instruction to pay attention
to the judge’s words; and the three questions at the end. The original parable was
almost certainly told in another context and probably ended with the words of
the judge. What difference might this make for us as 21st century
readers? The parable has acquired different meanings as it shifted from an oral
to a written context. The Lukan author fits the parable rather awkwardly to the
issues he wants to address with his communities.

The
scene for the verses representing the original parable is “a certain city”, possibly
suggesting that it is a story for any and every city. There are two main human characters,
the judge and the widow. There is another non-speaking character in the wings,
namely the widow’s opponent. The hearer or reader is invited to fill the gaps.
Who is this opponent? What sort of injustice is the widow experiencing? Since
the judge clearly recognises the validity of the widow’s claim, why does he
refuse to hear her plea? Is it because he is accepting bribes from the woman’s
adversary? What sort of judge would admit to having no respect for anyone, even
to himself?

A
vital clue to understanding the parable lies in the translation of the final
words of the judge. It literally reads: “so that she won’t finish up giving me
a black eye”. Translators have consistently softened the impact of this with a
metaphorical reading. Is Jesus drawing attention to the plight of widows in
that society who can only get justice from a corrupt judiciary if they resort
to violence? The widow in this story is one feisty woman: without the support
of a husband or the benefit of social security payments, she has only her own
personal resources to rely upon. The judge operates from the assumption that she
is prepared to use her fists. A system that provides no other recourse for the
vulnerable of the human community and for those endeavouring to save our
endangered planet simply has to change. Jesus tells his hearers to pay
attention to what the “unjust judge” has to say. It is not at all clear what
the reader is meant to take from this story. One possibility is that those who
seem to have little power can win out in the end if they have the courage to
persist in their struggles for justice.

Luke
18:1-8  Then Jesus told them a parable
about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a
certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for
people. 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.'” And Jesus said, “Listen to what the unjust judge
says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and
night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant
justice to them. And yet, when the Human One comes, will he find faith on
earth?”