The Unjust Judge

Fr Paul’s sermon, 16th October

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” This is a challenging question indeed. To understand our Lord’s parable, we need to know a little bit about how Jewish courts worked in those days. There was no clear distinction, as there is now, between civil and criminal courts. If a Jew believed he had suffered wrong from another person, he or she had to take their own case before a judge, who made his decision according to the Jewish Law. The other party to the dispute would also be able to put their case. When the Judge eventually made his decision, he was said to have “vindicated” or “justified” the person in whose favour the decision went.

In the story, the plaintiff is a widow who has been wronged by some adversary, and she wants the Judge to give his verdict in her favour. But this particular Judge is a bad man- probably in the sense that he took bribes, and was delaying his verdict in the hope of getting a back-hander. But the widow keeps on pestering him until he is so fed up he gives her her verdict anyway.

The first thing to say about this is that Jesus is not suggesting that God is an unjust judge who takes bribes! Quite the opposite! The point of the story, or one point, is to persevere in prayer. We can all take this at an individual level. But the first hearers would have taken a further meaning. Israel itself felt it was suffering wrong, through the Roman Occupation and through the corruptness of their own rulers, be they civil like Herod or religious like the Temple hierarchy. So at this level, the widow who cries to God for justice is Israel itself, the whole nation and especially those who were devout and faithful to God’s Covenant. To them, the message is: Don’t despair. God will vindicate you, even though he seems to delay. Although there were many and various ideas about how God would intervene to save his People (as he had done of old at the time of the Exodus), the Hope of Israel was that, in his own time, God would intervene. He would send his Messiah and usher in a New Age of justice and peace. This is the core meaning of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

But notice: Jesus says that God will vindicate his People “speedily”. He is here hinting that the Day of Judgement, or Vindication, is close. He is not referring to what we now call “The Day of Judgement”, but to his own impending death for the salvation of, not just Israel but the whole world. In an unforeseen and unexpected way, this is how God would intervene.

And so the parable now takes on a further level of meaning. Our Lord is speaking particularly to and about his own followers. They themselves, like their Master, would be called upon to suffer persecution and hardship, maybe even death, on his account. In their trials, they would continue to call on God for vindication, and would continue to cry out, “How long, O Lord, how long will you delay.” This is the situation of the Church down to our own day, when Christians are persecuted and killed for their faith in many parts of the world. We pray (and Advent is getting close when this prayer is more frequent), “Come, Lord Jesus. This is the context of our Lord’s wistful words, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

The coming of Christ in judgement is one of the basic articles of the Creed: “He shall come again in glory, to judge the living and the dead.” The first Christians took this very seriously, believing that the Lord would, or at least might, return within their own lifetimes. How seriously do we take it? However long the Lord’s return may be delayed, whether we are still alive on earth or have already died, we shall all be involved in it. He will come to judge both the living and the dead. But when he comes, will he find faith on earth? As we look about us at the world of today, we may well wonder.

Only thirty years after the death and resurrection of the Lord, St Paul foresaw a time when even some Christians would turn away from sound teaching, but choose to follow teachers who told them only what they wanted to hear. There have always been such teachers, and there are plenty today. I have just been in Malta, where St Paul is everywhere, as are the saints in general, our Lady and above all our Lord. Statues, pictures on every street corner or at the doorways of houses. This does not prove present-day fervour, but I went to an ordinary week-day evening Mass near our hotel, and there were over fifty in the congregation. But in England? Would it not be good if we could make our Lord as visible here in the streets of Easton, here at All Hallows? Pray without ceasing, and strengthen your faith through the Scriptures and the Sacraments, above all by attendance at Mass, not just on Sundays but whenever you can..