This uniquely Lucan parable bears all the marks of a classic television or movie drama. You have a corrupt judge, a downtrodden underdog, dire straights, narrative tension, and even a bit of humor — the judge’s own reflection includes the explicit consideration that this widow might even punch him in the face (hypopiazo), not just some random “strike” as our lectionary translation puts it. It is an entertaining pericope to be sure, but it is also more challenging than it seems at first glance.
There are some elements of the Gospel that are readily apparent and which often lead readers to jump to a conclusion about its moral that usually takes the form of a “squeaky wheel gets the grease” interpretation. While persistence is, in a sense, rewarded here, the focus of the parable is actually less about persistence as such and more about the one who persists.
The clue to unpacking the real moral of the parable is found in Jesus’s question at the end: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” The question should initially strike the reader as odd. Jesus’s audience in this passage is his followers, those who presumably already believe or have faith, so why would Luke have Jesus posing this question about something that is ostensibly self-evident?
It seems that the message here might be similar to Matthew’s account of Jesus admonishing his followers in chapter 7 of that gospel: “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, it is not merely enough to identify oneself as a disciple or claim the title “Christian.” Authentic Christian discipleship requires faith put into action, faith that motivates one to pray unceasingly in a way analogous to a wronged widow seeking justice at any cost. In today’s Gospel Jesus is not making a point about whether or not God will render a just judgment or respond to our cries for justice, he is making a point about what God may — or may not — find in terms of actual believers on earth.
In this way, we might understand the exhortation in the Second Letter of Timothy, which calls us to “persist whether it is convenient or inconvenient” and to “remain faithful to what you have learned and believed.” We are called to be steadfast, persistent, and faithful, not because of what it does to God as if God needed us to grovel and beg. No, we are called to be steadfast, persistent, and faithful because of what that commitment and practice does to us. It shapes and conditions us to be women and men of faith who, through our words and deeds, reflect real discipleship that is as energized and motivated as an aggrieved widow ready to punch an unjust judge in the face!