“Be Persistent” Colchester Federated Church, October 16, 2022, (Luke 18:1-8)

If one goes to Washington D.C. and spends time looking at some of the historic buildings in our nation’s capital, one can see many famous statues and figures.  Perhaps we think of Abraham Lincoln seated in grandeur at the Lincoln Memorial or soldiers silently marching through a landscape at the Korean War Veterans Memorial or Dr. King seemingly emerging out of a mountain at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.  There are beautiful, moving statues all around. 

Another remarkable figure can be found at the U.S. Supreme Court (in various places actually), and that is the figure of Lady Justice.  I found an Information Sheet from the Office of the Curator of the Supreme Court about the history of Lady Justice.  Portraying justice as a female figure dates back to the Greeks and Romans.  Themis was the Greek Goddess of Justice and Law and Justicia was one of the four Virtues in Roman mythology.  As time went on, female figures of Justice were often depicted with scales to represent impartiality and a sword to symbolize power.  By the 1500s Lady Justice was depicted with a blindfold to show that Justice is blind.[1] 

Justice is blind.  Perhaps we have heard that phrase before.  This means that the legal system is supposed to be objective, unbiased.  In our country we say that a person is innocent until they are proven guilty.  In the Sixth and Seventh Amendments of the United States Constitution we understand that people accused of a crime have the right to a public trial (without unnecessary delays).  People have the right to have a lawyer represent them in that public trial.  People have the right to an impartial jury—an objective and unbiased jury. People have the right to know who has accused them of a particular crime and what is the nature of the criminal charges and the evidence that has been gathered.  In all criminal prosecutions that occur the accused has the right to a speedy and public trial in front of an impartial jury located in the state or district where the crime may have been committed.[2]

I once got to see my sister (the Prosecutor) and a defense attorney select a jury for a trial and then watch the whole trial take place, and it was fascinating.  It was also clear that jury selection is incredibly important in our legal system.  Because we believe that people have the right to an impartial jury.  Though how can that be guaranteed when we know that people are people and people have all sorts of biases?  We have conscious bias and implicit or unconscious bias.  These are not easy problems to solve.

Here’s a recent example of implicit bias.  I took my beloved Honda Civic (Jean Valjean) to get serviced.  I dropped him off and spoke to the mechanic about what needed to be addressed based on what my car computer communicated.  Jean is my car that I bought when I was living in Massachusetts and now own outright, registered in my name here in Connecticut and the whole thing.  Now Neill happened to come in with me to pick up Jean once the work was done.  And the mechanic spoke to Neill the entire time, didn’t even look at me except when I handed my credit card over to pay for the work performed on my car.  I was fuming.  What, because I’m a woman I know nothing about cars?  Granted, I know nothing about cars.  But neither does my husband!  This experience made me so irritated that I literally got up at the crack of dawn to go into work with Neill on my day off to get my car serviced at a Honda dealership in Manchester.  That customer service person was wonderful!  And where was he from you might wonder?  Ohio!  Anyway.

 Bias!  It’s everywhere and within us.  Now that car sexism experience was a more innocuous example.  But we can see egregious examples everywhere of sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia—the -ics and -isms of our society that have hurtful consequences for God’s beloved children the world over.  Justice is supposed to be blind.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we are supposed to love one another as God first loved us.  We are supposed to see one another with the loving eyes of Jesus.  But do we?

Today Jesus tells a parable about a widow and an unjust judge.  To be more accurate, it’s a parable about a persistent widow who Jesus used as an example of the need of his followers to pray continuously and to not become discouraged.  We must not quit praying and going to God even if what we pray for doesn’t seem to come to pass.  In this story, there’s a judge in a certain city who doesn’t fear God or respect people.  And there’s this widow who keeps coming to the judge asking, “Give me justice in this case against my adversary.”[3]  It would appear that this widow goes to this judge for justice several times.

In Galilean villages, judges were usually an older man who those villagers entrusted to settle the inevitable disputes that arose among neighbors.  Though this judge was operating outside of the bounds of appropriate conduct of judges because it seems that he only has his own personal interests in mind.  Justice was not blind for this judge.  In addition, judges in Jesus’ day were supposed to be especially fair to widows, orphans, and immigrants—that can be found in Deuteronomy.  Judges were supposed to watch out for those on the margins, those without power. 

Now for a while the judge refuses to help the widow, but finally relents because she keeps bothering him.  Notice it’s not because he has a change of heart.  It’s because she’s annoying, and he wants to be left alone because she keeps going to him for help and embarrassing him.  That’s why he finally grants her justice.

Judges usually sat in public places to hear the cases that came before them.  This persistent widow would have made her repeated requests for justice in front of everybody, in front of the whole town!  It would be like a judge holding court on the Town Green and this woman coming to see that judge week after week demanding for the judge to rule in her favor against her adversary.  We don’t know what her case was, let alone who her adversary was.  We just know that this persistent widow prevailed over the unjust judge because she refused to give up.[4]  Jesus uses this parable to tell his disciples, “Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night?  Will he be slow to help them?  I tell you, he will give them justice quickly.”[5] 

Because if an unjust judge will finally do the right thing, how much more will our merciful God do the right thing when we go to God for help?  Be persistent.  Keep fighting the good fight.  Don’t be discouraged.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.  

[1] “Figures of Justice Information Sheet,” Office of the Curator, Supreme Court of the United States, Updated 5/22/2003, https://www.supremecourt.gov/about/figuresofjustice.pdf
[2] Sixth Amendment, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School, https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/sixth_amendment
[3] Luke 18:3, CEB.
[4] Footnotes on Luke 18:1-8 in The CEB Study Bible with Apocrypha, 148 NT.
[5] Luke 18:7-8.

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash