I left the courtroom, again feeling drained. It’s been over seven years since my husband left. You’d think he’d be happier. You’d think he’d get on with his life. You’d think he’d let me get on with mine. You’d think the court systems would protect victims of verbal and emotional assault.
You’d think I’d know better by now.
In this week’s Gospel, Jesus tells the story of the persistent widow. We know not whether the woman is young or old, rich or poor, childless, or raising a gaggle of young ones 24/7 with no help from family or friends. We know little of her or her situation, but we do know she was treated badly and is seeking the court’s help.
Perhaps some of us can put ourselves in the woman’s shoes. With the advance of no fault divorce, record numbers of marriages are breaking up, and increasing numbers of people are seeing marriage as broken. These people then turn to the courts for justice. Most, especially victims of unwanted divorce, turn away disappointed thanks to an unjust system.
Marriage itself is pure and blessed. Marriage is perfect, even in the difficult times, because it is God’s Sacrament and a reflection of His unconditional, sacrificial Love, but the reality of how we enact Marriage is far from perfect. Reality includes imperfect humanity marring the perfection of a Sacrament. Marriage as God intends it presents opportunities to learn and grow, to stand and gain strength, and to bow and submit. Through better or worse, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, Marriage is Sacred and Good.
Marriage, as God intended and without government interference, is never broken;
divorce, by definition, always is.
In divorce, no piece remains unbroken. Shattered lives, especially of those who had no say in abandonment, cry out for justice. Instead of turning to God for healing, we look to government and court systems for answers and for healing of broken families and defiled Sacraments when that is not where government or courts belong.
The government and churches have united a Sacred event with tax advantages, health benefits, and financial planning granting advantages to those who play their way, denying them to those who believe otherwise. The government plays God by handing out marriage certificates granting two people permission to join as one flesh. It fools people into thinking a government granted marriage certificate offers court protection should something go wrong.
Later, when the unimaginable happens and families are most vulnerable, the government plays God by handing out divorce certificates granting a couple permission to cut apart its own flesh. The courts view children as collateral damage and hides behind euphemisms like “kids are resilient.” Attorneys and judges pat themselves on the back for “doing what is in the best interest of the child” despite the fact that numerous studies show being raised by a biological mother and father even when home life is less than perfect is best for children. They ignore that most divorces today are not “high conflict” divorces, but rather cases where one spouse got tired and wanted something new. They divide assets and children like chattel and restrict movement of abandoned parents unable to find housing, employment, and a fresh start.
Should brave individuals seek love and marriage a second time, they are further fooled into again relying on the court system and additional government contracts through a prenuptial agreement. Attorneys and judges push new agendas and further dependency by telling scarred individuals that to protect themselves they need to purchase prenups and invest in increased premarital legal protection. These individuals believe that, if they just have the right paperwork, they will be safe this time, but what hurts worst in divorce is invaluable. It is your heart, your mind, and your soul. No government contract, no broken court system, no prenup can fix that.
What Do You Rely On?
Our government and our courts want us to rely on them. They would never tell an individual that the best way to protect him or herself is to follow God’s laws, to patiently seek God’s plan, to remain chaste in spite of overwhelming temptation, to patiently pray for the one you love and to, over time, discern whether this special man or woman is a case of lust, friendship, or truly the one God intended for you.
We live in an imperfect world and want instant gratification and sure answers. Instant gratification and sure answers are not often found in God’s timing or in faith, and so we turn to our courts. Worldly imperfections and individuals using free will to advance their own happiness force us to present our cases to government court systems rather than to wait out God’s plan.
We hope for justice in our court systems knowing divorce is a brokenness that cannot be erased. We appear before a judge who goes home at the end of each day forgetting all but the worst cases she’s seen each day. Year after year of sitting, gavel in hand and robed in black, hearing case after case of betrayal and brokenness leave marks. Judges believe they are making a difference and doing the right thing, but they know their hands are tied by laws applying cookie cutter solutions to unique family situations and where money and power buy the attorney who can fight the case better than another.
Where Is God When We Stand Trial?
We see the judge in our courtrooms as unjust and our system as unfair and we wonder what God is doing with our lives. We question the good He has planned for us. We feel like the persistent widow continuously seeking but never finding justice. We wonder why. Why is this situation so bad? Why does no one understand? Why us? We wonder if returning to court again will offer different results, but we know, even as we file the paperwork, that it will not.
When Life is at its Worst,
It Seems Like God is the Farthest Away.
That is because while we are busy pointing fingers at our exes, the judges, and the court system, we too are imperfect. We too want instant gratification. We too want our cases avenged – especially when we have been wronged, but this is unlikely to happen, which makes us wonder if God is like the unjust judge in the Parable of the Persistent Widow. The point of the parable, however, is that God, our Loving, Merciful, and Just Father, is nothing like the unjust judge.
God, Our Judge, is Not an Unjust Judge
In the parable, Jesus says the unjust judge did not fear God. This tells us so much! Most importantly, it tells us that if the judge feared God, he would want to help the woman because that is what God wants. The Bible often tells us how God has a special place in His heart for widows and orphans. God is our perfect Father. He would want the wronged widow avenged and given restitution.
In the same line, Jesus tells the disciples the unjust judge did not respect any human being. This shows the total contrast to our loving God in two ways. First, it shows the judge probably did not know the woman. Had the widow been his mother, sister, or close friend, even an unjust judge should have respected her and quickly granted a positive ruling. Instead, he ignored her. This contrasts to how intimately God knows each of us. He knows every hair on our heads, every unspoken thought in our minds, and every secret desire of our hearts. God loves each of His children perfectly and wants what is best fo all, and He is always working to bring a positive ruling to our cases.
Second, God is unlike the unjust judge in the respect He has for us. He has so much respect for each of us that He allows us free will. We fail Him continuously, yet He never takes away our ability to make our own decisions. He respects us and gives us limitless freedom. The unjust judge keeps us coming back for more and ties our hands. Worse, the unjust judge and his unfair ruling imprison our hearts and eat away at our minds.
The Point of the Parable of the Persistent Widow:
To really understand the parable, we must dig deeper than what is presented in lines 2-7 when Jesus tells of the widow’s persistence. We must look to line one in which Jesus tells us the point of the parable. This is one of the few places the Bible comes right out and says what the point of the parable is so we must not overlook this.
We mistake the parable to be about finding justice in the courtroom. We mistake God for the unjust judge. We make a lot of mistakes and overlook a lot that God sees. We cannot overlook or mistake that this parable is not about getting a just ruling. We know in the end, each of us will be granted a just ruling and can only hope for Jesus’ Mercy and that the Wounds of His Holy Blood cover our sins. God the Judge and Jesus our Redeemer know this better than all of us. What they want us to take from this parable is stated plainly in line 1; we must “pray always without becoming weary.”
Making Connections Beyond The Parable
We must be like the widow and pray without ceasing as we are often told in the Bible, but it goes even deeper than that! We must go back to Luke 17 and what came right before the Parable of the Persistent Widow. In Luke 17, the Days of the Son of Man (v 22-37), Jesus tells the people that He will come again as the Son of Man like lightening from the sky, sudden and quick. He says, to many there will appear to be no warning just as there appeared to be no warning in the days of Noah and Lot.
In the days of Noah and Lot, there was grave sinfulness most of it of a sexual nature, but there was another sinfulness that pervaded. There was apathy and a lot of people caught up in their own lives. In the story of the flood, we see people,
…eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage up to the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Similarly, as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building; on the day when Lot left Sodom, fire and brimstone rained from the sky to destroy them all.
The majority of the people who died in the flood and in the crushing of Sodom were what we would consider good people who had simply moved away from God. They had forgotten to give thanks for gifts given them. They had mistaken material goods as owned by them and as their right. They had put more focus on each other than on what is everlasting.
Much like we do today when we return to court seeking a restoring of material wealth lost in the brokenness of divorce. It is even more pronounced when we return to court hoping the judge, who may not be unjust but whose hands are always somewhat tied, will make a cruel ex into a good person. We focus more on what is here and what seems like justice now than we do on the opportunities presented to give thanks for the possessions and wealth we do have and for the challenges we face. We forget that challenges expose us to circumstances we previously would not have understood and help us grow and love more completely.
Luke 17 closes with a reminder of Lot’s wife, the woman who looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. I used to feel bad for her thinking she’d turned back out of concern for those left behind; however that is a shallow understanding. While maybe a part of her felt bad and was concerned (Remember, Sodom’s people weren’t evil as we think of evil, but they indulged in evil things and were self-centered rather than God-centered) the point was, she loved the world more than she loved God. She forgot, just for a moment, to follow God’s commands and to trust in Him. She needed to pray as Jesus said, without becoming weary.
Will Faith Be Found On Earth?
Luke 18 continues by asking if God any faithful will be found at the Son of Man’s return. It is a powerful question and seems out of place when we only look at the Parable of the Persistent Widow yet fits nicely when we look at the bigger picture as God would. In Luke 17: 20-21, the Pharisees ask when the kingdom of God will come. Jesus replies that the coming cannot be seen and that the kingdom of God is already among them.
The Pharisees did not understand Jesus or how God works. They did not understand how the Kingdom of God could be among them. They expected the Savior to arrive powerfully. Their vision of a savior was limited to one who would swoop down and destroy the Roman empire. Because of their limitations, they could not embrace the humble Man of Jesus Christ, who appeared so contrary to their plans for The Almighty King worthy of Glory.
Often, we also do not understand Jesus or how God works. We expect instant gratification and sure answers. We want vindication when we are wronged and assurance it will not happen again. We expect justice in our court systems and don’t understand when we appear before a judge who we mistake as unjust when really her hands are just tied. We want a savior, but when our vision of a savior is limited to one who would swoop down and destroy our exes we mistake that our Savior is so much more. Because of our limitations, we fail to embrace the humility of submitting to God rather than to our courts and our own abilities. Sometimes, losing in court is in contrast to the wins we receive from the doors that God opens.
The trouble with our court system is that it is trying to fix a brokenness that cannot be fixed in court. It is filled with good people who have forgotten to pray and who see a savior only as one who will destroy, not as already living and active within us who can help us build from our ruins when we turn to Him in continuous prayer.
Which Character Will You be in The Parable of the Persistent Widow?
God knows you. He loves and respects you so much that in all things we are given choices. We fight submission but are always asked to submit to something. The question isn’t will you submit, but what will you submit to?
Will you submit as the people of Noah and Lot’s time to sinfulness and ways of the world? Will you submit as Lot’s wife to the temptation to look back instead of looking ahead? Will you be like the unjust judge who does not fear God or respect human beings? Will you be like the Pharisees who seek triumph only in destroying another seemingly more powerful individual? Will you submit to government courts and their inherent injustice and become hardened, bitter, defeated or depressed?
Or will you be like the persistent widow, not in age, finances, or number of children, but in ways that count? Will you fall to your knees in prayer, asking again and again, not in vengeance or anger, not in fear or jealousy, not in pleading or uncertainty, but in love, with humility and confidence that God is already working on your case, that He is already building within you something that cannot be destroyed, and that He always wants what is best for you, that He knows and loves you intimately, and that He has the utmost respect for you?
The choice is yours. Who will you choose to be?
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