The Parable of
the Unjust Judge
There is a peculiarly modern ring about this story of the man in high office who cared nothing for morality and right dealing. His responsibility was to dispense justice, to defend the innocent and restrain the evil doer. He had a double responsibility; he was accountable both to God and to man. The laws he administered were based on the Divine principles upon which God had made the world and man upon it; they were accepted and professed by men as the true basis of ordered society. It was his duty to put them into effect and enforce them, with all diligence, showing neither fear nor favour, and he had no intention of doing anything of the kind. There is no suggestion that he was dishonest or hypocritical either with himself or with others. He acknowledged his position quite frankly in verse 8. "I reverence not God, nor regard man". He administered his office in the way that best suited his own convenience without any regard to the merits of the cases he handled or any thought of responsibility to the mandatory power, of God or of men, from which he derived his authority. Like so many in positions of influence and power today, he saw no reason why his administration should be guided by moral principles or the standards of truth and justice. He enjoyed the benefits and privileges of his position, used his power as he pleased, and governed his actions entirely by expediency. He was not particularly immoral; he was just amoral. And far too many men are like that in this present time of declining religious faith and belief.
A good many have asked why this particularly unpleasant individual should be used by Jesus to illustrate our Father's attitude to the prayers of his disciples. Surely, say some, a better simile could have been found. It might be said in reply that the fact that Jesus did use this picture to point the lesson is sufficient basis to expect some very definite truth embedded therein, for which we do well to seek, and having found, to consider. It is clear that, as in certain other parables, Jesus is teaching by contrast. If this admittedly unrighteous judge is found rousing himself at last to do his duty in consequence of the appellant's importunity, then how much more will God, who is not unrighteous, be ready to grant deliverance to those who come to him. Unlike this judge, God is actively working to give sin-sick humanity the relief they crave. There is a supplementary question that follows hard on the heels of this answer; if God is indeed so solicitous to save, why is He so long in doing it? That question, and its answer, is also in this parable, but has to be considered in its right place, at the conclusion of the story.
The unjust judge, then, gave no heed to the poor widow's complaint. She may have had justice on her side and might well have been grievously treated by her adversary at law. The judge neither knew nor cared. Her plaints went unheeded; her case was never brought up for trial. The judge, to use a modern expression, "couldn't care less". But after a time he was made to care. This widow would not take no for an answer and she would not go away. She knew that justice was available and she knew that she was entitled to justice, and justice she intended to have. She kept on importuning the judge, and at last, tired of seeing her waiting at his door and irritated at the continual repetition of her plea, he bestirred himself to look into her case, to set the machinery of the law in motion, and award her the judgment she sought. Not because he cared one jot for the rights or wrongs of the case; he was completely honest about that. All he wanted was to be rid of the woman and left in peace.
Now the really important factor in this story is the widow's fixed belief that she must eventually obtain her desire, not because the judge was upright, but because her cause was just. A man so candid as this one about his attitude could not but be well-known to his prospective litigants and no one would expect justice or consideration from him, any more than do men in similar cases today. The widow pursued the course of action she did on the basis of one fixed principle; the law entitled her to relief and the law must eventually be upheld. It was that fixed inward conviction which sustained her as day after day she renewed her apparently unavailing plea. Eventually her faith was justified and she received her desired judicial award.
"Continuing instant in prayer" says the Apostle in Rom.12.12. That expression "continuing instant" has the meaning of dogged perseverance, a tenacious grasp of the thing desired which will not be loosed. Strong gives 'steadfast, immovable'. Rotherham translates the first verse of this parable "as to its being needful for men always to pray and not be faint-hearted". The essential nature of prayer is communion with God. We commune with God not because of the things we want of him, but because we want to be one with him; in common-union. We desire oneness with God because we have entered into full heart sympathy with his guiding principles for all creation. We, like God, desire above all things to see righteousness universal and evil eliminated, and our desire is because we have come to realise that condition of things to be the only possible basis of enduring life. Therefore "Thy Kingdom Come" is the most fundamental prayer of all and the essence of all prayer. It is because we believe and are persuaded that this ardently desired consummation to the Divine Plan will surely come to pass that we continue in prayer before God. We know in whom we have believed and are persuaded that he is able. Our constantly reiterated prayers serve to strengthen and crystallise our conviction that these things will surely come to pass, just as with the litigant widow the more she pressed for justice the more sure she became that it would be hers eventually.
This is where the other question has to be answered. Why is God so tardy in replying? We know why the widow had to wait so long, but we cannot give that reason in the case of the reality which the parable illustrates. There is no unrighteousness with God, and he is diligent to oversee the interests of the disciples. "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and his ears are open unto their cry" (Psa.34.15). Why then the apparent delay? Perhaps Rotherham's comment on verse 7 is enlightening on this aspect of the parable. "Slow to smite his foes, he seems also slow to save his friends". Rotherham's own translation of verse 7 gives a new slant to Jesus' words "Shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry unto him day and night, though he bear long with them?" where Rotherham has it "though he bear long with regard to them". Here we come up against that longsuffering of God, his patience and forbearance with sinful man so often exemplified in history. He would have spared Sodom if so few as ten righteous men could have been found there (Gen.18.32). He gave the Ninevites every opportunity and spared them when they repented at the eleventh hour. Even though it means prolonging the reign of evil, and of human misery and death, he defers his arising in judgment until in his wisdom He sees that the iniquity of man is come to the full. So he "bears long" with regard to the cry of his faithful servants because He is working in his own inscrutable way for the salvation of "whosoever will" among his rebellious creatures. That is why there is apparent delay.
And that is why faith tends to die. Jesus knew that too. Even although God will avenge, and the faith of those who have waited will be abundantly justified, Jesus knew, as He told his disciples later on, "because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" (Matt.24.12). So here, at the close of the parable, He gave voice to the sad question "Nevertheless when the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (v.8). We need not deduce from these words that Jesus doubted whether at his return there would be any at all holding still to the faith. The whole tenor of his teaching implies his knowledge that there would be the faithful watching ones ardently waiting for his appearance. They would not taken by surprise when the event occurred, and ready in every sense of the word to be "changed" in a moment (1 Cor. 15.51‑52) and so associated with him to all eternity. What Jesus did foresee was that in the 'Time of the End' faith in the world at large would be at a very low ebb precisely because of the apparent victory of evil and impotence of righteousness. In the days of the First Advent everybody believed in God, even though in many cases their lives bore little evidence of any real endeavour to walk in his ways. In the days before the First Advent everybody believed in God; and so did nearly all men subsequently until the approach of relatively modern times. Of all ages in world history the last two or three centuries have been by far the most agnostic and atheistic. Faith in God is today rapidly vanishing from the earth and from the human standpoint it would almost seem as if the Christian cause is lost. Materialistic writers already talk of the need of a new religion founded on modern knowledge and devised to suit modern needs, to replace Christianity which in their view is archaic and out-worn. Vast sections of the earth's surface are ruled by political systems that have no use for God and openly say as much. By their actions most of the remaining governing powers, whilst still paying lip service, show that they too have little intention of upholding the principles of Divine rule which God originally instilled in the heart of man. So men conclude that God, if He exists, is either impotent or indifferent.
It is at such a time that God acts. "I tell you" said Jesus "that he will avenge them speedily". When the iniquity of the nations has at length come to the full; when the great Clock of the Ages strikes the hour, fore-ordained of God, and the time of his Kingdom has come, the prayers of the faithful will be answered. In that revelation of the Son of Man, in the glory of his power, he will at one and the same time overthrow the powers of evil and introduce all men to the beneficent rule of the Messianic Kingdom. "Every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together" (Isa.40.4-5). This is the thing that must be, that shall be, because it is the right thing, and because evil is inherently unstable and must one day consume away by its own corruption. The Christian whose faith holds firm in God because he knows that God exists, and knows that God is good, is the one who will endure unshaken through the dark days in full confidence that at the last, God will avenge him of his adversary.