What the Parable of the Persistent Widow Says About Representing the Unrepresented
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
The widow of Jesus’ parable was appearing before the judge without a lawyer, most likely because she could not afford to hire one. Hers is a story that resonates even today, especially in our city.
A report of New York City’s Office of Civil Justice, recently noted that only one percent of NYC tenants’ eviction proceedings were represented by an attorney, compared to 99 percent of landlords.
While you could intuit that the lack of a lawyer is an inherent disadvantage, the report describes studies from different U.S. cities to support the conclusion that represented tenants are much less likely to lose housing cases than tenants representing themselves. A represented tenant, for example, has knowledge of the law and legal processes, as well as the objectivity of an advocate, that a self-representing tenant likely doesn’t have.
Imagine that you and your loved ones were facing eviction in an unjust scenario and cannot afford to hire a lawyer to defend you. As panic gives rise to helplessness, suddenly you discover that you can have a lawyer, someone who will stand by you and advocate for you.
Suddenly, you have hope.
We serve a God of hope, so we understand what a beautiful picture of the gospel it is to play a role in helping the unrepresented become represented by an advocate. Don’t confuse the judge of Jesus’ parable with the God of hope, because Jesus was making a point—if a cynical judge will finally be responsive to a persistent widow’s pleas, then how much more responsive is the God who created you and loves you! He is the God who gave His only begotten Son as a sacrifice so we might have Jesus and the Holy Spirit as our advocates.
While you may be called to volunteer, be part of systematic reform, or give financially in a way you are not already to ensure that the disenfranchised have advocates, don’t miss the reason Jesus told this parable: to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
And what should we pray? Pray for those who are victims or potential victims of injustice, that they would be protected and find hope through faith in the Lord’s love. Pray for those who perpetrate injustice, that their hearts would be changed and they would become forces for justice and mercy. Pray for the redemption of the judicial system and all of the details and stakeholders that entails.
We as Christians believe that in the Garden of Eden, we were evicted (in the form of our ancestors Adam and Eve) from the presence of God. But through Jesus, we can come home once again. And we believe that only through faith in Christ can our broken hearts be restored and our pride and selfishness give way to grace and service and love. Which is why Jesus ended the parable with a simple question: when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?
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Wally Larson, Jr. is a Hope for New York team leader and elder at Redeemer Presbyterian Church Downtown. He is a lawyer who lives and works in the financial district of Manhattan.