A young lady who occasionally walked through the park after work stopped on a particular day to have her picture taken. She was very excited about the whole idea. The photographer charged $5 and used one of the Polaroid instant cameras (the picture slides out and develops in a few minutes.) As she walked out of the park, the picture was fully developed, so she stopped and took a moment to review her purchase. She was not pleased with what she saw, so she turned and headed back to the photographer. When she got to him, she raised her voice and barked: “This is not right! This is not right! I would like my $5 back. You have done me no justice! No justice whatsoever!”
The photographer looked at the picture and then looked at her. Then, returning the picture and her money, he said, “Miss, you don’t need justice. What you need is mercy.”
Today is the parable of the unjust judge. The judge doesn’t care what people or God thinks; he does what he wants when he wants. Along comes a widow seeking justice over some matter—we are not told what. At first, the judge ignores her, but she keeps coming. Finally, the judge says to himself, “She’s never going to give me peace, and she’s making me look foolish in the eyes of everyone, so I’ll do what she wants to get her out of my hair.” To those listening, Jesus says, “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 Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Jesus says, “If this unjust judge will do what she asks, then imagine how much more your Father in Heaven, who loves you dearly, will do for you.” From this excerpt, we can come to understand that Jesus is speaking about how we can go to the Father in prayer. It ties back very nicely to what Jesus said in chapter seven: “Which one of you if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” All this makes for a good lesson on prayer—I hope so because it is one I’ve preached. The woman is asking for justice. In seeing it as a parable about prayer, we can replace the word “justice” with whatever our petition might be. It works, but in doing so, we’ve missed the point Jesus was making, and we did so by pulling the parable out of context. The parable is about prayer, but it is about praying for one specific thing. That one specific thing is what the widow was asking for: justice. The story began in chapter seventeen when some Pharisees came to Jesus and asked when the Kingdom of God would come.
Jesus began by saying to them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” He then goes on to speak about some believers who would desire God’s Kingdom and who would experience great suffering before it came. He also tells them that it will be like in the days of Noah before the flood. There will be eating and drinking, buying and selling… people will be going about their daily lives, oblivious to what is coming, which is the judgment of God—the end of days when God’s justice is poured out. A justice that will right all the wrongs. The Prophet Isaiah said, “In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.” Jesus is saying the same thing: On the last day, the Lord will punish the enemies of God’s people and restore them to Himself. Then, with that in mind, Jesus tells them the parable of the unjust judge and the widow who cried out for justice. Her cry is a prayer that runs throughout scripture.
In the sixth chapter of John’s Revelation, the angel of the Lord begins to break the scroll’s seven seals. The first four seals release the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and when the fifth seal is broken, John says, “I saw under the altar [in the throne room of God] the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” The widow’s prayer is the same as these souls: justice. It is also the same one-word prayer of St. Paul that he spoke at the end of his first letter to the Corinthians: Maranatha—“Our Lord, come!” Or “Come, Lord Jesus!” Come, Lord, with your justice. All these and others are crying out for God to exact his justice on the nations. Yet, over time, that cry and that zeal have faded.
You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m not much of a sports person, so I seldom use illustrations from sporting events, but—and this one is going to sting a little for some of you—how about that Texas vs. OU game last week? Forty-nine to Zero. That had to hurt. Anyhow, if you were (maybe you still are) an OU fan, you could have been one that traveled down to Texas for the game, had a tailgate party beforehand, participated in all the bluster, there’s the kickoff and all the cheering. You’re still feeling positive when Texas scores first and maybe even still cheering and excited at the half, even though your team is down twenty-eight to zip. Then in the second half, the writing on the wall becomes quite clear. By the fourth quarter, Texas is likely using their fifth-string quarterback and has put in the water boy as a running back to try and keep from running the score up too much. If you’re even still at the game—you may have gone home and found something better to do with your time—if you’re still there, you’re likely sitting glumly and murmuring to yourself: disheartened, disappointed, and depressed. No more cheers. No more bluster. No more hope. After such a shellacking, you may give up on them all together and never watch another game.
The widow cried out for God’s justice. Those souls in Heaven cry out for justice. So many have cried out for God’s justice to be poured out, but it’s been 2,000 years since Jesus walked the earth, and we’re still waiting; many, like at that football game, have become disheartened, disappointed, and depressed. Some remain, but many have lost their zeal, and many more have simply walked away. What we read this morning from Paul’s letter to Timothy is being fulfilled, “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” And it is into that very set of circumstances that Jesus speaks the last sentence of our Gospel reading: “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” The cry for the Lord’s return and zeal for his justice has faded.
As followers of Jesus, we must remember that Christianity is not a faith of immediate gratification. Instead, it is a lifetime of faith and of hope, in good seasons and in bad. Jesus said, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” Therefore, regardless of current circumstances or perceived loss, be the one who, with great zeal and joy, perseveres until the end. How do you persevere? What is the secret to perseverance? My friend St. Josemaría Escrivá answers that one: “Love. Fall in Love, and you will not leave him.” (The Way #999) Fall in love with God and there will be nothing that dampens your spirit or desire to be with him. In the end, be one who can say with St. Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
Let us pray (a prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas): Grant us, O Lord our God, minds to know you, hearts to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you. Amen.
One Reply to “Sermon: Proper 24 RCL C – “God’s Justice””
We all need mercy with our current image. Not saying we’re ugly, but forgiven.