Just led a writing day yesterday with Stage-Fright Theatre Co. in Wokingham, and as we looked at the parables it struck me yet again how much Jesus messes with history. He didn’t make up his stories, usually he drew on history (the prodigal son, the rich fool, the king and his servants) or every day life (the lost coin, the lost sheep, the speck of dust in your eye).
On one occasion he tells a story about a poor widow and an unjust judge. The widow wants justice and the judge is corrupt, so she has to bash on and on and on before she can get any justice. For those who heard it in Jesus’s day this may well have reminded them of the story of Abraham and God, when Abraham persists in asking God to spare the city of Sodom if there are any righteous people living there.
What’s striking about Jesus’s retelling of this tale of persistence and wrestling is this. Abraham was rich and powerful, we might almost expect that he had the confidence and ability to wrestle with his God. But Jesus tells of a poor nobody wrestling – widows had nothing in his society. Without a man they were doomed to begging or prostitution. Yet here she is, the total underdog, bashing on and on and on with this judge, demanding some justice.
Jesus doesn’t seem too worried about theology here either. In spite of the fact that he himself knows God to be a loving father and a caring creator he portrays God in his story as a cantankerous, corrupt judge. Why? My guess is that he knew that we all have days when we fear that God is going to judge us, and we think he is unjust. Jesus was tapping into that image and encouraging us to keep on praying, even if we struggle to get a clear view of the good and caring God.
Frank Cottrell Boyce, on Desert Island Discs, said that when he wrote the BBC drama God on Trial, about a group of Jews in Auschwitz debating whether God had given up on them, it was difficult for him because it almost felt blasphemous. And he then went on to say that for Christians prayer is often ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ – whereas for Jews there is much more to it. A deeper, richer experience perhaps that includes wrestling and haggling. We find this all over the Bible, in the Psalms, Lamentations. Job, Exodus.
Jesus often messed with history and theology because he was more concerned with helping people connect with God. He often shocked and entertained his audience with his audacious tales because he didn’t want them to forget. So if like me you have those difficult days when you fear God is unjust and you feel weak and insignificant, this story is for you and me. Don’t give up.