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Love Those Hyperboles! Jesus Tells of the Unrighteous Judge

When my turn came to comment, I pointed out that when a woman is on full throttle pressing for what she wants, nothing, but nothing, does not yield to her.  (I also pointed out that I knew this only from what others had told me—I did not know it from personal experience.) When I took my wife’s hand just after the meeting, the sister behind me said: “Oh, it’s too late now for kissing up! You should have thought of that before!”

“Look at the poor guy!” I had said of the unrighteous judge pictured on the video screen. “Leaning back in the chair in total defeat, his one hand tugging at his beard, the fingers of his other hand running through his hair! He doesn’t care about God. He doesn’t care about Man. But this woman continually pleading before him is driving him to distraction! He’ll give her anything she wants—if only she will stop!”

And then—who is the unrighteous judge said to represent? God!! ‘Look, if you can pester this jerk into giving you justice, how much more so God, who is not inclined to deny it in the first place!’ goes the thinking. Don’t ever say that Jesus does not relish in hyperbole—it is a staple in his tool box—but this is more than hyperbole. It is ‘hyperbole with a twist’ or ‘hyperbole on the rocks’ or something!

Here is the parable from Luke 18:2-7

In a certain city there was a judge who had no fear of God and no respect for man. There was also a widow in that city who kept going to him and saying, ‘See that I get justice from my legal opponent.’ Well, for a while he was unwilling, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Although I do not fear God or respect any man, because this widow keeps making me trouble, I will see that she gets justice so that she will not keep coming and wearing me out with her demand.’”

Then the Lord said: “Hear what the judge, although unrighteous, said!  Certainly, then, will not God cause justice to be done for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night, while he is patient toward them?  I tell you, he will cause justice to be done to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man arrives, will he really find this faith on the earth?”

Judges weren’t in a hurry back then to bend to the concerns of the poor. They might hold out for a bribe, they might insist on indecipherable procedure, they might just be in a bad mood. To some extent this is true today—they hailing from a class that cannot comprehend the background concerns of the lowly. I had my own slight whiff of this years ago when I took a matter to small claims court and the other fellow simply hired a lawyer who knew his way around whereas I did not. All hell broke out when I went to hand the judge a document without first asking to “approach the bench.”

I also like the detail thrown in about God: will he not “cause justice to be done for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night, while he is patient toward them?” Being “patient toward them” is an unnecessary detail—it doesn’t have to be there. It heightens the contrast between God and the unrighteous judge, to be sure, but the parable would stand without it.

So it must be that the concerns we bring to God are, in the greater scheme of things, quite small to him. “Oh, for crying out loud!” we can picture a pompous human judge saying, “THAT is you silly problem that you can’t solve by yourself and have to pester me with it?”

God doesn’t do that. High though he may be, he is approachable over low things.

The second part of the lesson—this was the Jesus Life and Ministry study for the week of 12/8/19—featured another hyperbole of sorts, the contrast between two who approached Him.

Two men went up into the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and began to pray these things to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like everyone else​—extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers—​or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give the tenth of all things I acquire.’

But the tax collector, standing at a distance, was not willing even to raise his eyes heavenward but kept beating his chest, saying, ‘O God, be gracious to me, a sinner.’ I tell you, this man went down to his home and was proved more righteous than that Pharisee. Because everyone who exalts himself will be humiliated, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

If you brag on yourself, that opens up a superior distance with regard to others. But if you don’t brag and yet put others down, the effect is the same—it just shifts to another position on the scale. This jerk of a Pharisee does BOTH. He brags on himself AND he puts down the lowly fellow next to him. (Tax collectors, by the way, were universally despised at the time, because they were more or less thugs given to shaking people down for whatever they could get, often irrespective of what they were owed.)

It’s an over-the-top illustration that somehow conveys in the most touching manner what flies and does not fly in God’s eyes. One brother at the meeting said how, if you put the fasting as a deed of the tax collector, it would mean something, for fasting was a way of showing sincere grief over past moral failings. The Pharisee didn’t seem to grieve too much, did he? Such a self-satisfied lout would be hard to top.

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