It’s been said that Luke had a way with women. More than any of the Gospels, the author of Luke and the Acts includes women in parables and narratives. So the persistence of the widow in securing justice for herself is hardly a surprise. The surprise is that the parable is not as announced – about praying always and not losing heart – but about always seeking justice in the way that God would understand what is right.
Read Luke 18: 1-8 again. The unjust judge cannot be God as many a homilist has inferred. Take away the opening line, and the parable is about a persistent widow who will not quit seeking justice for herself and her own. Parables are meant to be ambivalent. I count myself with those who see the relentless widow as the image for a relentless passionate God who secures justice for the oppressed and relief for the stricken. Imagine God as the widow banging on the door of the one who cares not for God, nor for the opinion of others. He only cares about being bothered, and how to shut up the complaining God in the person of the widow.
Earlier in Luke, in the ninth chapter, at verse ten, there is a story every pastor who has started a new kind of outreach for the reigning of God has to love. It’s a story of the apostles’ first mission on their own, preaching the Gospel and healing the sick.
The disciples return to Jesus, excited, because word of their work and that of Jesus had spread around and, dum de dum, gotten even to Herod. The plot is beginning to thicken, and, by the end of the chapter, Jesus knows he has to head for Jerusalem and all that that will mean. Jesus tries to take the disciples away to debrief them, but the crowds follow.
By the end of the day, everyone needs nourishment. The apostles use a form of dismissal, depending on your translation of verse twelve, and it comes down to “Send them away so they can find food for themselves.”
Here’s the key, and it’s in verse thirteen: “Give them something to eat yourselves.” The disciples come back with attitude. “We have only five loaves and two fish,” and the line “unless you want us to go buy provisions for this crowd.” Impossible!
Immediately Jesus shows them the resources are with them to feed the crowd. He has the disciples get everyone seated. This isn’t really that stunning of a miracle. Jesus doesn’t multiply fish and bread in heaping stacks. Rather, he simply starts sharing, passing what is there around, and there is more than enough for everyone. Twelve large baskets are left over, a number that corresponds to the Twelve Apostles. Get it?
We have the resources to make sure all God’s people have enough to eat, and God intends for them to have it.
The aggrieved widow did not want charity. She wanted what was hers by right. She knew that God stands with those who rely on God’s vindication. From the earliest days of the covenant, widows, orphans, and strangers have laid claim to God’s favor. Theirs is an advocacy that is blessed in both the Hebrew and the Christian scripture.
The world needs our advocacy today. But advocacy without love and the developing of mutual relationships misses the point of nurturing the dignity of all God’s children. And charity without getting to know the conditions that breed hunger is simply not enough. Surely believers need to know more.
Bread for the World has become the best vehicle for advocacy that helps all of us know more about the causes of hunger around the world. Philanthropists, politicians, voters, and church members all need a constant reminder of what Mother Theresa called the “face of Christ.” It could be the mother with two children and a steady job, the recently disabled, or the veteran returning from a foreign war. It could be a widow defrauded by an unscrupulous judge. The hungry are closer to us than we know.
Bread for the World works Jesus’ words for his friends to the limit. There is enough food for everyone on the planet. Make sure it gets to those who have the most need.