Stories Jesus told with women in them
The Parable of the Persistent Widow Luke 18:1-8
To get inside this story, we need to know what the deal was with widows, in Jesus’ day. What was it like to be single, but widowed, as a woman? And, we need to know what the deal was with judges. What was it like, for ordinary people of that time and place, to try and get some justice?
We also need the context into which Jesus spoke. What had happened before? What was happening at that moment? What was on people’s minds?
So, first, let’s tackle what it was like to be a widow in first century Palestine.
Life was already hard because of how Rome ruled Palestine. Rome divested the Jewish people of their inherited, ancestral lands. Rome exacted heavy levies on all agriculture and commerce. Rome restricted Jewish self-governance and expression. Rome seriously impoverished the Jews.
Adding to that, patriarchy was the norm. Women had fewer rights, and fewer privileges, than men simply because they were women. Hebrew women were even poorer than the menfolk, and Hebrew widows most of all. Following the death of her husband, a widow’s best hope for security would be her son’s ability to provide for her. The loss of a son was thus an even greater tragedy for a widow. Without a husband, or father, or brother, or son to meet financial and legal needs, women were destitute.
Remarriage was also not always an easy option. Men tended to want to marry women who had never been married before, and definitely women who did not already have children.
All throughout the Old and New Testaments God was consistent and clear: a hallmark of His people was to be the good and generous care they provided for widows, and for the fatherless, as they represented the most vulnerable elements of society. In real life, however—because, you know, lots of people just did what they wanted—widows ended up being easy pickin’s.
What was the deal with the unjust judge?
Reading about justice in first century Palestine is pretty fascinating, I have to admit. Here are a few tidbits to help us understand Jesus’ parable:
In every village large enough to have a synagogue (it took ten Jewish men to start a synagogue) there would usually be a rabbi. Either he lived there, or he had oversight of a couple of villages, much like the country pastor of today. And, the rabbi could also serve as a judge. In fact, in order to be a full-fledged judge, one had to get a rabbinical education, and ordination. Often enough, rabbis would delegate some of their responsibilities to laymen, and many civil cases could be tried by three lay judges.
You can imagine, having rabbinical training, and being a rabbi, was an attempt to hold judges accountable to God’s character and Law. But just a cursory breeze through the Old Testament reveals how corrupt judges could be. God warned, “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” (Leviticus 19:15) It needed being said, because corruption, nepotism, graft, bribery, and the like were often business as usual.
And, of course, we all know how the Sanhedrin scored in their judgement of Jesus. They were supposed to be the highest law in the land, the plumb line for all other courts of law.
Just a thought on village life
Up until about the 1920's (yes, you read that right), most people lived out in the country. Worldwide. The Industrial Age, which started in the west in the mid 19th century, ushered in a lifestyle the world had never before known. SO let that sink in, For five thousand years of recorded human history, people lived in villages and in the countryside.
If you've never lived in a village, then it's hard to imagine what that was like. I can just tell you, from personal experience, and from reading about it, everybody knows everybody. People know way more about you than you would ever think possible. Unless you were a recluse, never walking out your door, you will have, by the end of the week, seen everyone in your village multiple times--at synagogue, at school, at the grocer's/baker's/butcher's/blacksmith's...you getting the idea?
Add to that daily visits to the village well for your water, semi-daily visits to the village oven (or, if you lived in a multiple family compound, that oven), and the usual traffic to and from the village gate (where the judges held court o hear cases, where travelers passed through, merchants set up their kiosks, itinerant preachers came to deliver their talks, tax collectors had their booths, and news runners came with the headlines)...
That was real life, back then.
And, context is huge.
We'll cover context in the next post
All passages taken from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.