Robert Capon – Parable of the Unjust Judge

This week we are reading through the Parable of the Unjust Judge found in Luke 18:1-8 and the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican found in Luke 18:9-14. Please read chapter 17 “God as the Anti-Hero” and chapter 18 “Death and Resurrection One Last Time” of Rev. Robert F. Capon’s book Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment – Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Fr. Kimel’s teaching on chapter 17 is here.

The Context:

In Luke’s gospel, these are two of the last three parables we encounter before Palm Sunday (Luke 19:28-40). These are two of the final stories that Jesus tells as readies to enter Jerusalem and undergo his Passion. Most directly, these two stories tell us about the nature of God’s completely unmerited and unjustified grace. These two parables give us the most direct statements of Jesus concerning the very character of the God that he witnesses to – a wholly unjust God for whom salvation and judgment have nothing to do with our personal righteousness. Or as Capon says, in this parable, Jesus brings together the grace business and the judging business of God and elevates the former and destroys the latter. p.330

The Parable:

And he told them a parable on the necessity of their always praying and not becoming remiss, Saying, “In a certain city there was a certain judge who did not fear God and who had no concern for humankind. And there was a widow in that city, and she came to him saying, ‘Grant me justice over against my adversary.’ And for some time he would not; but thereafter he said within himself, ‘Though indeed I do not fear God, nor do I have any concern for humankind, I shall grant her justice simply because she bothers me, for fear that at the last she will entirely exhaust me with her visits.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says; Will not God then surely bring about justice for his chosen ones crying to him day and night, and not delay over them for long? I tell you, he will swiftly bring them justice. Yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he then find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8).

The Unjust Judge (God):

In previous parables, we have seen how Jesus portrays God as an inept sower who throws seed everywhere, an incompetent farmer who refuses to pull weeds, a negligent shepherd who leaves 99 sheep in the wilderness to go after the one lost sheep, a poor businessman who simply forgives debts, and a permissive-indulgent father who requires nothing from the son who squandered half the family fortune. But here, Jesus says that God is a judge, but that God is an unjust judge. (Thanks be to God!) Instead of modeling God as a compassionate magistrate who seeks to redress wrongs and restore the good order of society, Jesus intentionally depicts God as one who is not cowed by the supposed requisita (requirements) and desiderata (desires) of the God-business any more than he is impressed by the rules that people (especially theologians) have dreamt up for him to follow. p.331.

The (Dead) Widow:

If in Jesus’ parables, the hero is usually incompetent or negligent, so the object of the hero’s actions is usually mostly dead. Seeds sowed on pathways or in weeds are dead, a lost sheep is dead, a debtor is dead, and the prodigal was as good as dead. In the Near East, a widow is as good as dead as well. Her survival depends on the good graces of either her husband’s family or her sons, but that is not always assured. The widow in this parable seems to have no support system in place. She is dead and she knows it, at least to some degree. p.331.

The Widow’s Lawsuit:

Jesus tells us nothing about the reason why the widow goes to the judge. Maybe she is trying to collect a debt, maybe she has an interest in some property, or maybe she is simply crazy. Jesus gives us no indication as to whether her case has any merit whatsoever. For all we are told, the widow has absolutely no case cognizable at law and her case probably should be dismissed and thrown out of court. According to the parable, only a judge who has no concern for the law, for God, or for his reputation would dare give her relief. Reading this parable as a lawyer, it tells me that the widow is simply being a bothersome pro se plaintiff. She is dead and so is her lawsuit.

The Judgment:

The widow comes before this judge with a complaint that should be thrown out. Her only argument is “Grant me justice over against my adversary (satan? 1 Peter 5:8).” And the judge, without holding a hearing, without getting a response from the other side, and without any semblance of due process, simply gives the bothersome widow the “justice” that she wants. The Good News is the parable is that is our judgment as well.

And what does that say about God? It says that God is willing to be perceived as a bad God—and for no better reason than that he wants to get the problems of a worldful of losing winners off his back. It says he is willing—while they are still mired in their futile pursuit of the spiritual buck, the moral buck, the intellectual buck, the physical buck, or the plain ordinary buck—to just shut up about whatever is wrong with them and get the hassle over with. It says in fact what Paul said in Rom. 5:8: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” It says, in short, that God doesn’t even wait for us to accept our losing: he simply goes ahead with his own plans for the season, for the kairos, the high old time he has in mind for himself. Like the father in the Prodigal Son, he just runs, falls on all our necks—the widow’s and yours and mine—and showers us with injudicious kisses simply because he wants to get the wet blankets off his back and let the party begin. p. 332

The Gospel Conclusion:

A summary or paraphrase of Capon would be inadequate. Here is an explanation of grace that would do Martin Luther, St. Augustine, or St. Paul proud: So Jesus ends the parable by saying, “Listen to what the unjust judge says: And will not God judge in favor [poiese ekdikesin, do favorable judgment] of his own people who cry to him for help day and night? Will he not have mercy [makrothymei, be big-hearted] upon them?”‘Pay attention to what I’m telling you, Jesus says in effect. Do you think it makes the least difference to God whether anyone’s cause is just? Do you think it matters at all to him that they, even in their loss and death, still try to function like winners? I tell you, none of that amounts to a hill of beans with him. He finds all the lost whether they think they’re lost or not. He raises all the dead whether they acknowledge their death or not. It’s not that they have to make some heroic effort to get themselves to cooperate with him, and it’s certainly not that they have to spend a lot of time praying and yammering to get him to cooperate with them. Don’t you see? It’s the bare fact of their lostness and death, not their interpretation of it or their acceptance of it, that cries out to him day and night. Lost sheep don’t have to ask the shepherd to find them. Lost coins don’t have to make long prayers to get the housewife to hunt for them. And lost sons—who may think that they are only allowed to ask for some plausible, sawed-off substitute for salvation—are always going to be totally surprised by the incredible, unasked-for party that just falls in their laps. All they have to be is lost. Not fancy lost, perceptively lost, or repentantly lost; just plain lost. And just plain dead, too. Not humbly dead, engagingly dead, or cooperatively dead; just dead. “I, if I be lifted up,” Jesus says, “will draw all to me”: the sheep, the coin, the son, the widow—the whole sorry lot of you. You don’t have to do a blessed thing, make a single prayer, or have a legitimate case. I do it all. p. 333

And that, Virginia, is why “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” There is no condemnation because there is no condemner. There is no hanging judge and there is no angry God: he has knocked himself clean off the bench and clear out of the God Union. Nobody but a bad judge could have issued a favorable judgment on our worthless cases; and nobody but a failed God—a God finally and for all out of any recognizable version of the God business—could possibly have been big­hearted enough to throw a going-out-of-business sale for the likes of us. pp. 334-335.

Remember, at the end of Revelation, all the nations and all the kings who had been deceived by the Beast and made war against Christ and his saints are nonetheless found in the New Jerusalem. Rev. 21:24. God is an Unjust Judge. Thanks be to God!

Coda:

The true scandalous nature of God’s grace as an Unjust Judge can be seen in the 60 Minutes interview with Boston button man John Martorano. Throughout the interview in a quiet, detached, matter-of-fact tone, Martorano describes the twenty confessed murders he committed during his years as an enforcer for the Winter Hill Gang. At the conclusion of the interview, Steve Kroft asks the question: Do you regret what you did? His answer is here (11:45 – 13:00). God’s grace is offensive.

Schedule:

Capon:            10/25: The Unjust Judge and The Pharisee and the Publican (Grace 17-18)
11/1: The Two Sons and The Wicked Tenants (Judgment 8)
11/8: The Wise and Foolish Virgins and The Talents (Judgment 12-13)
11/15: The Sheep and the Goats (Judgment 13)

11/22:              Thanksgiving Celebration – RSVP Required

Advent: We are reading through The Carols of Christmas by Alan Vermilye. This book is daily advent devotion on “O Holy Night,” “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” We will walk through three of the four. If you have a preference, please let me know.

Epiphany and Lent: We are reading through Prayer in the Night by Rev. Tish Harrison Warren. Rev. Warren writes a weekly column for the Sunday New York Times (her column this week is attached as the email) and is a contributor to Christianity Today. The book is a meditation on the final prayer of Compline which begins “Keep watch, dear Lord.” 1979 BCP 134.

Dinner is at 6:00. The menu is Oktoberfest. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here!

How can you call God just when you come across the Scriptural passage on the wage given to the workers [in the vineyard]? “Friend, I do thee no wrong: I choose to give unto this last even as unto thee. Or is thine eye evil because I am good?” How can a man call God just when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son who wasted his wealth with riotous living, how for the compunction alone which he showed the father ran and fell upon his neck and gave him authority over his wealth? None other but His very Son said these things concerning Him, lest we doubt it, and thus bore witness concerning Him. Where, then, is God’s justice? — for while we are sinners Christ died for us! But if here He is merciful, we may believe that He will not change.

St. Isaac the Syrian, The Ascetical Homilies, p. 387

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