Can we depend on God to take our side? We have been wronged. Someone or some people are against us. We turn to God in prayer with a plea for justice. Can we depend on God to hear us? Jesus told a parable with a clear answer:
One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”Luke 18:1-8 (NLT)
Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”
The answer is a resounding yes. Crying out to God in prayer is not futile when we face injustice. The main point of the parable is that if the widow could count on an unjust judge to do the right thing, we can count on God, who is just, to do the right thing. The justice of God shows up a lot in the Bible. Also, when we read about the righteousness of God in the Bible, that does not just mean that God is sinless, but also that God does the right thing with regards to justice. So yes, we can depend on God to grant justice when people are against us. If you are human being, you will face such moments in life.
This was great news for anyone feeling oppressed in the day Jesus said it. The obvious oppressor that would pass through people’s minds was Rome. The obvious lesson here was “keep praying to God about the Roman problem, God will come through and provide justice. We, God’s people, will be on top in the end. We can depend on God to do the right thing as we cry out to him.”
And yet, Jerusalem fell to Rome within a generation of Jesus’ speaking this parable.
Maybe the obvious lesson was not the full lesson. In fact the next parable from Jesus challenged such assumptions:
Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’Luke 18:9-14 (NLT)
“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The lesson is again obvious; be humble, like the tax collector, and not proud, like the religious leaders.
We often think of these two parables alone, each teaching a different lesson. Noticing that they both speak of prayer, and of justice, or being justified, let’s think of them together. The religious leaders who were keen on crying out to God for justice in the face of Roman oppression were the very same ones who engineered the greatest example of injustice in history, and had Jesus killed. They were proud, too proud to let go of their assumptions about Jesus, about God, in the face of Jesus.
Holding both parables in our minds together, we see that the religious leaders were the oppressors, the proud ones, Jesus was the oppressed one, the humble one. Who ended up being “justified,” or vindicated? On whose side was God?
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,Philippians 2:5-11 (NRSV)
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus was vindicated. Jerusalem was destroyed. The lesson here goes beyond persistence in prayer for help when we are oppressed. It includes a commitment to never being the oppressor.
The connection point between these two parables is found in verse 8:
And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”Luke 18:8 (NRSV)
We often think of faith here as meaning trust, but in the context it might be better to think of it as faithfulness. The religious leaders, crying out to God for justice in the face of Roman oppressors were not themselves faithful to God. They had become the oppressors.
Does God find us being faithful? Are we like Jesus? Or are we like the religious leaders; crying out for justice, yet also being the reason why others cry out for justice? Do we expect God to take our side when we side with oppression? Perhaps we might be like the Pharisees and not even realise when we do.