Privilege is a wall that protects the privileged from the inequity in the world.
This is one of the insights revealed in Jesus’ parable about the unjust judge in Luke 18:1-8.
Conventional wisdom suggests judges are fair and impartial, but Jesus illustrates that this isn’t always the case. The judge in his story loves power, not justice. He cares about prestige, not people.
But even in a society that puts all the cards in his pocket, he’s met his match in this widow who demands justice day and night, taking a sledgehammer to the wall of privilege and dismantling it brick by brick.
He cannot sleep, he cannot eat, he cannot enjoy the privileges of his position because of this widow’s constant battering.
Like a boxer in a fight who’s taken blow after blow, he must finally admit it’s time to throw in the towel.
The judge relents, and though he neither fears God nor cares about people, he gives into this widow’s demands.
Nevertheless, she persisted, indeed.
The parable is often interpreted in light of the long biblical tradition of contesting with God in prayer: We should persist in prayer like Abraham pleading for Sodom and Gomorra, like Moses interceding for the people of Israel (Exodus 32:11-13), like Jacob wrestling at the Jabok River.
These stories are seen as the spiritual ancestors of Jesus’ parable, and we are called to emulate this hero of the faith, letting nothing stop us from charging boldly to God with our needs and voicing our own demands for justice.
But God isn’t like that unjust judge, Jesus tells us (Luke 18:6-7), which means that the most dangerous way we can read this story is to misinterpret it so that God becomes the judge.
The whole point of the story is that God is not anything even remotely like this judge.
In fact, this judge is set up to be everything that God is not: unjust and self-interested, someone who abuses power, has no accountability and doesn’t respect people.
God is not only nothing like that judge, so God should be seen in this parable as the widow advocating for justice.
All of Jesus’ ministry demonstrates this; he is the widow demanding justice for the sick and the poor, the ostracized and the stigmatized.
With Jesus, women are honored as people, not property. The sick are not paying for their sins but are suffering and deserve healing. The poor aren’t lazy; they’re hungry and worthy of compassion and feeding.
And Jesus doesn’t advocate only for the down and out, but also for the up and out too. Even tax collectors find that there’s room for them at the table.
For all of those who don’t get a fair hearing, Christ was, is and ever shall be the widow tirelessly advocating for justice throughout all of history.
It was Christ who marched beside Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama. It was Christ who was lynched in East Texas for being an abolitionist preacher, who walked the Trail of Tears and protested, who held Susan B. Anthony’s hand while she advocated for women’s right to vote.
And it is still Christ today arguing for the humane treatment of children no matter what country they are born in. Christ who advocates for the inclusion of all of God’s children at the dinner table no matter who they love.
It is Christ who today barters like Abraham for mercy to be shown to all the world’s Sodom and Gomorras.
It is Christ who wrestles like Jacob to bless all those stuck on one side of a river while their future is on the other. It is Christ who argues like Moses that we would not forget nor abandon all those who need us.
Christ is the widow who will not relent, will not stop and will not be dissuaded until justice reigns over all the earth.
And if Christ is the widow, then I tremble to ask who is this judge who denies justice because he neither fears God nor respects people?
Do I not stand casting my judgment down on who is and isn’t worthy of my help? Whenever the answer is, “yes,” then I am this judge.
I have some means of my own to affect the lives of the oppressed, yet I find myself afraid to sacrifice my comfort or the respect of my friends and family in order to do so.
I have some power – not much, but certainly some – to join the fray and advocate for my black sisters and brothers who fear for their lives in situations I take for granted.
I have some small ability to make life a little better for a scared child alone in a country he believed was his salvation.
How many opportunities to join the fray or give of myself have I missed because, like the unjust judge, I love my privilege more than people?
The good news of the parable is that Christ won’t stop until justice gets done. One day, I believe he’ll wrestle me, and all those like me, into submission to his will. I both long for and fear that day.
Christ is relentless and justice is coming. The only question is which side of it will I be on?
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a sermon Topper preached on October 20, 2019 at NorthHaven Church in Norman, Oklahoma.
Senior pastor of NorthHaven Church in Norman, Oklahoma.