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The Persistence of Hunger -- Luke 17:20-21, 18:1-8 (19th Sunday After Pentecost; World Food Day)

This morning, our Scripture is the parable of the persistent widow and the indifferent judge. It’s a great little story.[1] There’s this judge who couldn’t care less. Jesus says the judge has no regard for God or for people. What a great judge. And there’s this widow, who has a case, a cause, a plea – and she brings it to the judge – she wants justice. The judge ignores her and ignores her and ignores her. The widow persists and persists and persists, until finally the judge says, “OK, all right! Even though I don’t care about God or about people, I’ll grant you justice – because this widow’s persistence is starting to feel like a slap in the face.”

Jesus tells this story, and then says, “Listen to that judge. Won’t God do better than that?” Now, at first, we might think – well, that’s a pretty low bar. This judge who cares not for God, not for people, not for justice. Won’t God do better than that? Well, that is a good thing.

Back in Alabama, I taught a law school class with student interns who were working with federal judges. I was visiting with one of the judges one day – Judge Inge Prytz Johnson – and she shared with me her path to the bench. She was an unusual judge for Alabama. She was Scandinavian – born in Denmark – practiced law in Denmark – immigrated to the US – and then went to law school again in the US – and became a lawyer and a judge.

Before she was appointed by President Clinton to be a federal judge, Judge Inge Prytz Johnson had been elected as a state judge in a rural area of Alabama. That’s somewhat unusual – if she had any accent at all, it wasn’t a Southern accent – which marked her as someone who “wasn’t from around here.” Not letting that hold her back, she ran for circuit judge, and she went door to door with just one campaign promise: “As a judge, I will read every piece of paper you file with the court.” That struck me as a rather unexciting campaign slogan. But it worked. She met people face-to-face, promised that she would read what they filed – she would listen to what they had to say – and then she would judge.

And she was elected, and re-elected – because that mattered to people. It may be such a simple thing: I will listen to your case. Your plea for justice will not fall on closed ears or an indifferent heart. As a judge, I will take you and your case seriously. It was a simple thing, but it was no small thing. She promised them the dignity of being heard and seen, with the opportunity for justice.

The judge in this parable – only through the persistence of the widow – finally listens to her cause. And Jesus says, “Won’t God do even better than that?” Pray, and God will listen. That is no small thing – but this is a parable – so, surely that can’t be all – it feels a little too... easy.

Remember, parables are these stories Jesus tells that turn the world on its head. The stories engage the world of those who hear them. They seem ordinary – a day in the life – but then there’s a twist – something we don’t expect. They are intended to surprise and to challenge – to shake things up. Amy Jill-Levine suggests “we might be better off thinking less about what parables mean and more about what they can do – remind, provoke, refine, confront, disturb...”[2]